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Damaged – Ch. 9

Finch lay gasping, every breath thick and agonizing, and he couldn’t keep from coughing, having no choice but to spit on the floor and unable to wipe away the spittle that dangled from his lips. As his breathing slowly quieted, his desperate need for oxygen resolved, he became aware of his aching body, his skin so cold it hurt. He shivered, stabbing pain in his tense muscles, a puddle forming in the seat as his clothes dripped. But he was alive.

“How…did you…find me?” he asked, shocked by the hoarseness of his own voice.

Reese didn’t answer for a moment, his attention on the road ahead and the traffic behind. “It’s SOP to choose a ground floor room as close to the interior of the hotel as possible, windows facing a courtyard or alley.”

“No, I mean…how did you know…I was at the hotel? That I’d been taken?”

“What do you mean?” Reese asked, frowning as he glanced over his shoulder. “You sent me a text.”

“No, I didn’t. I destroyed my cell so they couldn’t use it to find you.”

Silence filled the car. “So…if it wasn’t you…”

“Maybe the phone wasn’t destroyed,” Finch said finally. “I just tossed it under the car and hoped it would get run over, but if someone else found it-”

“But how would anyone know where you’d been taken?” A damn good question, and one that Finch had no answer to.

“Take me to the library,” Finch said. “I can hack into the phone company-”

“No,” Reese said, his voice quiet. “You’re not going back there until I have a chance to make sure it hasn’t been compromised. Where were you grabbed?”

“On the street,” Finch said, a sinking feeling in his gut, “in front of the library.” He couldn’t bear the thought of the CIA pawing through his books and papers, their inept computer technicians tearing apart his system. They were like monkeys trying to break open nuts with stones – they’d never crack his security, but he’d have to rebuild from scratch again. And if they lost access to the building…He liked that building. It held quite a few of his books. “Where are you taking me?” Finch asked.

“Someplace safe,” Reese said. “We’re almost there.”

Finch closed his eyes in relief. He was cold and wet and hurt like he’d been thrown down a flight of stairs. Each breath still made him want to cough, but he could fight the urge, just concentrating on the air hissing between his chattering teeth. It was several more minutes before Reese pulled off the street and down into an underground parking structure. The car stopped and Finch struggled to sit up, ignoring the vehement protestations of his neck and hip, but the effort and pain left him gasping, which made him cough again, a deep, hacking rattle that brought tears to his eyes.

“Easy there, Finch,” Reese said, climbing out of the driver’s seat and hurrying around to the rear passenger’s side door. Strong hands leaned Finch out the door, holding him up as he gagged and choked, spitting thick, stringy globs of mucus onto the floor of the parking structure. When he was finally able to quit, he let Reese ease him back upright in the seat. “You okay?”

“No…” Finch whispered after a moment. “Cold…” Not to mention that it felt like he had a chest full of razor blades.

“I know,” Reese said, pulling something out of his back pocket. “Let me get those cuffs off you and we’ll go inside and get you warmed up.” Finch leaned forward, resting his forehead against the back of the passenger’s seat, Reese working quickly to release him. Finch almost gasped as Reese’s fingers brushed against his skin, the other man’s hands startlingly hot.

“Can you walk?” Reese asked as he crouched beside the door, his hands pulling at the tape that still bound Finch’s ankles.

“I hope so,” Finch replied, less than thrilled at the idea of being carried again. He sat for a moment, rubbing his sore wrists before trying to wipe the thick, sticky mucus off his face. In an effort to preserve what was left of his dignity, he ignored the hand that was offered to him, grabbing the door instead to haul himself out of the car, but as soon as he tried to put weight on his damaged leg, he realized that dignity was a luxury he could ill afford. The pain was nauseating.

It must have shown on his face, because Reese’s help was suddenly no longer optional. He took Finch by the arm and stepped up close to his side. “Hang on to me,” he said, his voice low. Finch hesitated, then grabbed a handful of Reese’s coat, the heavy material wet from when Reese had carried him, sopping wet, out to the car. Reese wrapped an arm around him, helping to support his weight, and together they slowly made their way across the parking garage.

“Where are we?” Finch asked, peering at blurry lettering on the wall as they waited for the elevator.

“My hotel.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

“No, but it was close and it’ll have to do for a few hours until I can make other arrangements.”

“We could go to one of my safe houses.”

“No, we have to assume that Snow knows about all your aliases. He could have men on any or all of them.” The elevator arrived, the door trundling open, and they limped into the car. “If we run into anyone, don’t say anything, just look really hung-over.”

That’s our cover-story? I’m drunk?”

“What’s wrong with that? You want something more creative? Fine. You were at a bachelor party for an old college friend who is getting remarried next weekend, you had too much to drink, and slipped and fell into the pool while trying to do the Macarena. Is that better?”

“Infinitely,” Finch said dryly, rolling his eyes. The elevator chimed and Finch tensed as the door rolled open.

“This is us,” Reese said, urging him out into the hall.

“What is that?” Finch asked, squinting as he tried to make out the shape of a large, pale something standing at the far end of the corridor.

“A housekeeping cart,” Reese said. “Do you have a spare pair of glasses somewhere?”

“At the library.”

“I told you, you’re not going back to the library for a while. I’ll need a couple of days to check it out and make sure it’s not being watched.”

“Fine,” Finch said, unsure if his annoyance at how calm Reese was being was irrational or not. They needed to be calm, to think things through, to not make any more mistakes, but for some reason, some part of him wished Reese had gotten angry, upset, scared – something. He remembered that horrible night when Reese had gotten shot, the fear and worry and guilt roiling in the pit of his stomach as he ran one red light after another. He wanted to know that Reese had felt the same about him, but he supposed that would be asking too much.

“There’s the maid,” Reese muttered. “Remember, let me handle this.” As they made their way closer, Finch could finally make out the figure standing beside the cart, probably staring at them. He imagined he must look a sight. “Bachelor party,” Reese said with a chuckle. “He fell in the pool.”

“Sorry ’bout the mess,” Finch added, his voice raspy and his words slurred.

“That’s okay, sir,” she replied and he could hear the amusement in her voice, even if he couldn’t see her face. They continued down the hall, to Reese’s room, and Finch leaned against the wall while Reese pulled his key card out of his pocket and opened the door. Reese helped him inside and closed the door behind them.

“I thought I said I’d handle it,” Reese said.

“She wasn’t buying it.”

“You couldn’t even see her.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Get in the bathroom,” Reese said, and it was hard to tell, but he might have been smiling. Finch allowed Reese to help him into the small room, his wet shoes squeaking on the tile floor, and he unexpectedly found himself out of breath, his heart pounding.

“Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Finch said, his shoulders tensing as their voices echoed in the enclosed space.

“Harold, you’re shaking.”

“I’m cold.” He pulled away from Reese, leaning on the counter as he toed off his wet shoes. Reese was right, though – he wasn’t shivering, he was quaking. What the hell was wrong with him? He tried to ignore it, his breathing growing ragged as he struggled to get out of his wet suit jacket.

“Let me help,” Reese said, taking hold of the jacket and gently peeling it off. He set it on the counter and stepped around in front of Finch, his hot hands brushing the chilled skin at Finch’s throat as he loosened the tie. “I thought you said it was burgundy.”

“I was going to change it.”

Reese made a noncommittal sound in his throat. He dropped the tie on the counter and began working on the buttons of Finch’s waistcoat. Finch stared down at the large hands, the long fingers, so skilled and dexterous, just close enough that they were almost in focus. Reese finished with the buttons and stepped back, growing blurry and indistinct once more.

“Finish getting undressed,” Reese said, turning away and opening the door of the shower stall. “I’ve got some clothes you can put on once you’re warm and clean and dry, and then I’ll need to debrief you on the kidnapping.” He turned on the water, the shower sputtering to life, and Finch drew a rattling breath, his chest constricting. He couldn’t breathe.

“Finch? Harold?”

Finch couldn’t respond, he couldn’t move, his body shaking as he fought to breathe. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, but it couldn’t drown out the hissing, the pattering of the water streaming from the shower. Finch could feel it running over his skin, cold as death, choking him, drowning him-

The sound cut out and Finch gasped, starting himself coughing again. He turned and leaned over the sink, eyes squeezed shut as he fought to get control of himself. A hand on his shoulder made him tense.

“I’m sorry, Harold, I wasn’t thinking.”

“I’m fine,” Finch said, wincing as he tried to shrug off Reese’s touch. “I just need to catch my breath.”

Reese pulled his hand back. “Fine, hmm?” He reached down past Finch and turned on the sink faucet, a trickle of water splashing into the basin. Reese stuck his fingers in the stream, then flicked cold droplets into Finch’s face.

Finch reeled back, his heart racing. He tried to take a step on his bad leg and it nearly buckled beneath him. If not for Reese’s strong arms wrapping around him, he would have hit the tiled floor.

“Do you really think that was a normal reaction for someone who is ‘fine’, Harold?” Reese asked. “You were tortured. There’s nothing wrong with not being ‘fine’.”

“That was hardly torture, Mr. Reese,” Finch said stiffly. “I got wet. I’m a little shaken up, but I’ll be-”

“Fine?” Reese finished. “If you’re so fine, then get into the shower.” He took a step forward, forcing Finch back, toward the open door of the shower stall.

Finch swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry, his pulse racing. “I- I’m still dressed!” he protested. “Get off me.”

“Your clothes are already wet,” Reese said, taking another step. Finch backed into the edge of the stall, his heel connecting with the lip, and he grabbed at Reese’s coat, clutching at him.

“John, stop it!”

Reese stopped, Finch’s ragged breathing loud in the silence. “Last night, you said you trusted me not to hurt you,” Reese said softly. “Trust me now.”

“I…I do, I just…I can’t breathe…” Why? Why was this so hard, why was he so scared? He was a grown man, an educated and rational human being. He hadn’t been beaten or raped or shot or blown up, they’d put him a bathtub and poured water on him. He was stronger than this, damn it! Reese had been tortured. His file said he’d been tortured with electricity for sixteen hours. Sixteen hours. And he wasn’t a shaking, gasping, worthless mess. He was fine.

“I’m right here,” Reese said, the low, rumbling voice seeming to break through the panic. Finch looked up at him, his face almost close enough to make out the subtle details that made Reese one of the most handsome men Finch had ever seen. “Just step up,” Reese said, shifting his grip to better support Finch’s weight.

Finch closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and stepped backward into the shower stall. He tensed as Reese took his hand and placed it on the cold, metal safety bar attached to one wall, bracing himself for the onslaught of water. Nothing happened. After a moment, he opened his eyes, staring out into the bathroom as Reese removed his shoes and socks, his coat already hanging from the towel rack.

“What are you doing?” Finch asked as Reese unbuckled his belt.

“Taking off my clothes,” Reese replied as his trousers hit the floor. He unbuttoned his cuffs, then drew his shirt off over his head and dropped it on the counter. Wearing just his dark boxer-briefs, he approached the shower, stepped inside, and pulled the door shut. His breath coming in short gasps, Finch pressed himself back into the corner, not sure what the hell was going on.

“What are you doing?” he asked again, his voice just a raspy whisper.

“Trying to help you,” Reese said, and he reached over and turned on the water.

Finch cringed at the sound, every muscle in his body tensing, but when the water hit him, pattering against his legs, the hot water soaking into his trousers, he couldn’t stop himself from lunging at the door. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t breathe.

A strong arm caught him across the chest and pulled him back, holding him tight against Reese’s bare chest, Reese’s body shielding him from most of the spray. Finch shuddered and gasped, making himself cough again. His lungs burned, his body ached, and his heart wouldn’t quit hammering at the base of his throat. He sobbed, his whole body shaking.

“You must find this…quite pathetic…and revolting…”

“No, Harold, I find this very human and understandable,” Reese said. “You experienced something horrendous-”

“It was just water.” How could he be so scared of a little water?

“No, it was drowning slowly and it was designed to break people, to overwhelm them with pain and fear and helplessness.”

“Agent Snow said you helped perfect the technique.”

Reese was silent for a long moment. “He’s right, I did.” He paused, as though waiting for Finch to say something, but Finch was hardly in a position to cast stones over morally gray choices when he had single-handedly violated the privacy of every human being on the planet. “If I let go now, do you think you can stand here for a minute?” Reese asked finally.

“I- I think so,” Finch said, only then realizing that for the second time in as many days, he had been wrapped in the arms of a nearly naked John Reese, and once again he was in no condition to appreciate it. He leaned on the safety bar, fighting the panic that rose anew in his chest as Reese moved back, letting the water rain down on his legs once more. It was stupid, he knew it was stupid, but he couldn’t make the feeling stop; he had no control over his weak, pathetic body.

He watched Reese open the stall door, expecting him to leave, but Reese just leaned out, grabbed something, and ducked back in. Finch squinted, straining to identify the object in Reese’s hand, a small, white square, it appeared pliable, perhaps cloth- Reese shook out the washcloth and held it under the shower spray. Finch flinched back as Reese raised the cloth toward him.

“Easy, Finch,” Reese murmured, his soft voice making Finch bristle. He was not a child, he was not helpless, he did not need to be coddled or talked down to. He grabbed the cloth out of Reese’s hand.

“I can do that myself,” he said shortly, the skin around his mouth stinging as he scrubbed the rough terrycloth over the abrasions left by the tape.

“I know you can,” Reese said. “I’m just trying to help.”

“Well, thank you, but I don’t need help. I’m fine.”

Reese let out a breath that sounded thoroughly exasperated. “Damn it, Harold, you are not fine. I was trained to withstand the physical and psychological stress of torture, and even I wasn’t ‘fine’ an hour later. I had flashbacks and panic attacks and screaming nightmares for months afterward. I still wake up sometimes in a cold sweat, dreaming that I’m back in that cave, waiting for those men to return and hurt me some more.”

If Reese thought this confession was going to make Finch feel better, he was mistaken. Reese had been trained, and still experienced PTSD, so what chance did Finch have? “I didn’t know that,” Finch said, wondering how hard it would be to get a prescription for Valium no questions asked.

“I’d be shocked if you did,” Reese said, reaching up and taking the washcloth from him. “It didn’t go into my file because I never told anyone, I just kept walking around, telling everyone, including myself, that I was fine. But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t until I almost ate a bullet that I finally got some help. I’m not letting you go through all of that, especially when this never would have happened if it wasn’t for me.”

“That’s not fair,” Finch said, even though it was technically true. “I knew the potential danger when I hired you and decided it was an acceptable risk, and I still feel the same way. What happened to me was a small price to pay for all the good we’ve done.”

“You should have just told him.”

“I couldn’t,” Finch said, wincing as he tried to shake his head.

“Mark would have killed you,” Reese said, his voice low as he rinsed the cloth in the shower spray. “When he realized you did not have the information he wanted, he wouldn’t have hesitated to put a bullet in your head, and that’s a price I’m not willing to pay, not for anything. You’re too important.”

“You’re not exactly so easy to replace yourself,” Finch replied, slightly unnerved by the intensity in Reese’s voice. He flinched again as Reese brought the washcloth back up to his face, but he forced himself to remain still, allowing Reese to rub here and there, on his forehead near his hairline, along the left side of his jaw, down onto the side of his neck, Reese’s other hand rising up to pop the buttons at his throat. Finch swallowed hard.

“What did he want to know?” Reese asked and Finch blinked, trying to remember what they’d been talking about.

“Oh. He wanted to know where you were.” Reese was close enough, Finch could just make out the frown that creased his brow.

“But you said- You said you couldn’t tell him.”

“Correct,” Finch said, moistening his dry lips. “I couldn’t. Not couldn’t as in incapable, but couldn’t as in impermissible. I couldn’t betray you.”

“He would have killed you,” Reese said again.

“I know, but I just couldn’t-” Finch found his words suddenly blocked by Reese’s lips against his own. The kiss was soft and fleeting, Reese drawing back almost before Finch realized what was happening.

“Sorry; I shouldn’t have done that,” Reese said. “I meant to say thank you.”

Finch didn’t think about what he was doing, the risks and consequences, he just reached up, his hand finding the back of Reese’s neck, and pulled him down, capturing Reese’s lips in a deep and possessive kiss, like he had wanted to do dozens of times. He was surprised when Reese responded, lips parting, those big hands grabbing his hips, sliding up his sides, touching him through his wet shirt.

When he drew back, he was out of breath, his lungs raw and burning, but he ignored it. “I suppose I shouldn’t have done that either,” he said, his hand lingering at Reese’s neck. “Thank you just didn’t seem…enough…for what you did.”

“I was just returning the favor.” Reese regarded him for a long moment, then slowly leaned close again, giving Finch time to stop him, but at that moment, there was nothing on Earth that Finch wanted more than to taste Reese’s lips again. They kissed, Finch letting go of the safety bar, trusting Reese’s strong arms to hold him up, his hands wandering across the broad expanse of Reese’s shoulders, touching, exploring, tracing the scars that interrupted that hot, wet skin.

He was dizzy, delirious, his heart racing, his skin tingling as Reese pulled at his shirt, untucking it from his trousers, those big hands working beneath the cloth to press against bare skin. Finch groaned into Reese’s mouth, his eyes closed, leaning against Reese as the stronger man pulled him close. Finch shuffled sideways, letting Reese bear his weight to protect his damaged leg, pivoting when Reese turned him, taking a small, limping step back when Reese crowded him-

Finch gasped, his whole body stiffening as he stepped back into the shower spray, the hot water pounding against the back of his neck. He tried to push past Reese, to get away, but the younger man held him still, muscular arms pinning him against Reese’s chest.

“Just breathe, Harold,” Reese murmured, his lips brushing Finch’s cheek. “You’re all right; you’re safe with me.”

Finch knew that Reese was right, that he was trying to help, but that didn’t stop his heart from pounding in his throat. He clenched his hands into fists, his whole body shaking. He felt so stupid, so helpless. Reese kissed him, a soft brush of lips, but Finch could only stand there, unable to respond. Reese kissed him again…and again, his hands moving slowly beneath Finch’s shirt, callused fingers so gentle and tender.

Why? Why put up with such a sickening display of weakness? What did Reese want from him? Did he get off on this? Did Finch’s fear excite him? Did it make him feel powerful? Was this revenge for the camera? Was it guilt? Did he feel responsible for Finch’s kidnapping? Was he responsible? Had he set it up in order to be the ‘hero’, to try to get closer to Finch in order to learn his secrets?

His stomach churned with the possibilities and he closed his eyes, fighting down the urge to be sick. He felt Reese’s lips against his own and flinched back. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded.

Reese seemed taken aback. “I…I care about you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re important to me,” Reese said. He hesitated. “I don’t let myself care about much, but what I do care about, I protect. I didn’t do that today. I failed and you suffered for it, and now I want to make it right. I need you to be all right.”

So that was the answer – guilt. Finch knew the weight of that burden well, the dull ache of all the failed numbers and the sharp sting of Nathan’s death. It was guilt that drove him most days, when the ache in his neck and his hip threatened to overwhelm him, when the painkillers in his desk drawer tried to seduce him, when hunger and fatigue dared to interrupt his work, when he was tempted just for one day, one afternoon, to not check the Machine. Yes, he and guilt were old friends.

With that understanding came a kind of peace, a resignation. Finch knew the therapeutic value of punishing oneself – he stared at his List every day – and if this was Reese’s penance, Finch could hardly deny the man the right to atone for his perceived sins. If this was what Reese felt he had to do…but why the touching and the kissing, what purpose was there to seducing him? Was that even his goal? Such actions were also used to convey affection, to give pleasure, to provide comfort, but if this was just a guilt trip, if Reese was only trying to help him…

Finch suddenly realized that his heart rate had almost returned to normal, his breathing easy and even, although the water continued to patter against his back. He tried not to think about it, instead returning to his analysis of Reese’s actions, welcoming the distraction. And therein lay the answer. Reese was trying to distract him, to expose him to the source of his panic while providing sufficient alternate stimulation to derail his fear response. It made sense, it was logical, and it seemed to be working.

He lifted his head, trying not to wince as his fused vertebrae gave a particularly painful twinge, and looked up into Reese’s face. “I understand,” he said, “and I appreciate what you’re doing, just promise me you won’t do anything you’ll regret later.” It stung, knowing that the kisses weren’t real, that Reese was working him over like he would any asset, but he understood why and he could approach the situation with his eyes open. He could keep his emotions out of it. He was good at that.

“Funny thing about regrets,” Reese said with what sounded suspiciously like a smirk, “you rarely see them coming. But I’ll do my best.” His lips descended again, mouth soft and inviting, and Finch let his eyes close as he kissed back. He clutched at Reese’s shoulders, fighting back a groan as Reese’s hands worked farther up under his shirt. He could feel Reese leaning into him, slowly pushing him off-balance, pushing him farther into the water, and he knew what was about to happen, but he resolutely focused his attention on the taste of bitter coffee in Reese’s mouth, the smell of his aftershave – which, Finch realized, was the mystery scent on the pillow that morning – the strength in his body as his arms tightened around Finch, nearly lifting him off his feet.

Finch gasped, a strangled cry escaping him as the hot water cascaded down upon his head, running in rivulets down his forehead, dripping off his eyebrows, hitting his cheeks, rolling down his nose, flowing over his lips. He held his breath, trying not to choke on his heartbeat as it pounded in his throat.

“Breathe,” Reese whispered, his lips beside Finch’s ear. “Breathe, Harold. It’s all right. I’ve got you.”

Finch shook his head, just a tiny motion, restricted as it was by the pins in his neck. He couldn’t. He could still feel the water in his lungs, the thickness, the burning; the ache in his chest, the fear, the panic – he couldn’t go through that again. He tried to push past Reese, the pain flaring in his leg as he was met with resistance. Reese didn’t move, he just held him tighter.

He was out of air. Finch dug his fingers into Reese’s back, his whole body shaking as he gasped, drawing water into his mouth. He choked and spat, fighting against the terror that clawed at the inside of his chest.

“Easy; breathe slow,” Reese said, taking one hand, then the other out from under Finch’s shirt. Finch could do nothing more than stand there, hands gripping Reese’s shoulders, his head bowed as far forward as it would go, water running down his face, streaming from his nose and chin. A large, warm hand cupped his cheek, thumb brushing against his open mouth, tracing his lips as he panted. “That’s right, Harold, just breathe. Relax. You’re doing fine.”

Finch would have begged to differ if he wasn’t struggling so hard just to keep his breathing even. But he was breathing. He was breathing.

“That’s it…that’s it…” Reese whispered, touching his face. “You’re okay. You’re going to be fine.” And for the first time, Finch actually believed him. Slowly, the tightness in his shoulders eased, the throbbing ache in his hip fading as his damaged muscles relaxed. Hesitantly, he let his leg take his weight, his muscles trembling slightly, but with only a little more pain than usual. It was bearable. He knew he ought to let go of Reese, now that he could stand on his own, but he couldn’t force himself to pull away. He’d not been held like that in years.

It was Reese who made the next move, reaching past him to turn off the water. The resulting silence was sudden and echoing, broken only by the sound of their breathing and the dripping showerhead. Finch stood there, letting the water run down his face, feeling awkward in his trousers and shirt, soaked to the skin and clinging to Reese. Slowly, he drew his hands back and wiped his face, blinking quickly to clear the water from his eyes.

“Thank you,” Finch said, his voice still rough. He couldn’t bring himself to look up at Reese, though. He wasn’t sure what he’d see. Pity? Amusement? Disgust? Indifference? Instead, he busied himself with trying to unbutton his saturated shirt, the buttons slippery and wet material uncooperative, giving Reese time to take his leave. His hands faltered as Reese reached up, unbuttoning each of his cuffs before starting to work his way up from the bottom of the shirt. When the last little button had been freed, Finch half expected Reese to leave, but as he had learned from experience, Reese rarely did as expected.

Big, strong hands worked his shirt off, tugging each sleeve down its respective arm, the wet cloth clinging to the undershirt beneath. Finch tried to tell himself that Reese was just being helpful to assuage his guilt, but that didn’t change the fact that Reese was undressing him, and he was chagrined by his body’s reaction to the thought. Reese pulled the shirt free and began to wring the water out of it, then shook it out and hung it over the safety bar. He stepped close again, grabbing the hem of Finch’s undershirt and peeling it upward. Finch sucked in his gut as he raised his arms, allowing Reese to have the shirt, which was also wrung out and hung on the bar.

His gaze still averted, he could feel Reese looking at him; his pale skin, his little love handles, the surgical scars over his clavicle and down his left side, the graying hair on his chest…He was old and soft, just a man past his prime, and a fool if he even considered the notion that Reese might actually be attracted to him.

Reese didn’t say anything, he just reached out and began tugging at Finch’s belt, the wet leather stiff. Finch drew a sharp breath as the proximity of Reese’s hands made him harden even more, and he pulled away.

“Something wrong?”

“I can do it myself, thank you.”

“All right,” Reese said, taking a step back. “Hand them over, then.”

“I beg your pardon? I think I’ve exposed quite enough of myself to you for one day.” Why was Reese still doing this? The water was off and Finch didn’t need any more distractions. He was fine.

“Oh, Harold…” Reese said, his tone teasing, but Finch really wasn’t in the mood. “There’s no reason to be shy. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“I’m quite aware of your exploits, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, his tone dry, “but I would still appreciate it if you give me some privacy.”

“Did I do something?” Reese asked, suddenly serious. “I thought…the way things were going…I mean, you were kissing me back and I thought…”

“You thought what? That I’d be easy?”

“No, that you wanted me, too.”

“Stop trying to play me, John!” Finch burst out, unable to contain his anger. “You know damn well how I feel about you.”

“Yeah? How would I? You’ve never told me anything.”

“The same way you’ve found out everything else about me. Because you’re you. You’ve known from the beginning, that’s why you tease and flirt and toy with me; that’s why you came on to me to distract me from my fear, because you knew-”

“And I couldn’t possibly have done any of those things just because I wanted to, because I wanted you?”

“Now you’re insulting my intelligence if you think-”

“Gah!” Reese’s cry of frustration echoed within the enclosed space. “Harold, so help me God, if you say one more stupid thing-”

“You’re going to do what? Shoot me?”

Finch realized too late that that was indeed a stupid thing to say, but by that time Reese had already grabbed him and kissed him, one hand cradling the back of his neck, the other arm wrapping around his waist and drawing him close. Finch stiffened as their bare stomachs touched, his hands finding Reese’s shoulders as he made one futile attempt to push the taller man away.

Reese’s lips and hands faltered, his touch gentle as he raised his head. “Tell me what I have to do, tell me what to say that will convince you that this is not just some game. I’ll do anything.”

“I know you would,” Finch said, looking up at him. “Don’t you see, that’s the problem. You were trained by the government to get close to people, do anything, say anything you had to, and you were very, very good at it, and I’m just another asset…” Even without his glasses, Finch could see the hurt on Reese’s face.

“You are not just an asset, Harold,” he said, and he sounded almost sounded angry. “I wouldn’t have risked my life to rescue an ‘asset’, I’d have fired a grenade into the hotel room to make sure you couldn’t reveal any information about me. Do you understand me? I’d have killed you if you were just an asset. Assets are disposable once they become a liability, but you…you are irreplaceable. When I saw that text, when I realized you’d been taken and by who, I couldn’t breathe, because I knew what Mark would do to you. Damn it, Finch, you mean everything to me.”

Finch looked away, his entire body shaking from the inside out. He wanted to believe, wanted it so badly that his chest ached, but he was too smart to fall for such an obvious ploy, too rational, too logical. He didn’t know what Reese wanted, but it was clear he wanted something. Information, probably. Finch must have said something, done something in his drunken stupor the night before, and now Reese was like a dog with a bone and he wouldn’t quit until he cracked it open to get at the marrow.

Finch took a deep breath. “Mr. Reese, if your friends at the CIA couldn’t get anything out of me after they tried to drown me, what makes you think that little monologue is going to work?” He could see Reese out of the corner of his eye, just standing there, his presence palpable, like a gathering storm. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, but cold.

“Fuck you, you paranoid son-of-a-bitch,” he said and shoved the door of the shower stall open, hard enough to bounce it off the wall with a jarring rattle. Finch didn’t move, his heart pounding as Reese stormed out. A moment later, something dark flew back into the shower, hitting the floor with a wet sound, and Finch glanced out into the room as Reese wrapped a towel around his waist and jerked the bathroom door open, slamming it shut behind him.

Alone in the silence, Finch found himself out of breath and trembling, a tightness in his throat. “It was just an act,” he whispered to himself as he quickly stripped off his wet trousers, briefs, and socks, emerging from the shower stark naked. He found the towels on the counter and dried himself, wrapping one around his waist and staring at his blurry reflection in the mirror. “It was just an act,” he said again to the pale, blind old geek squinting back at him. How could a man like Reese be attracted to that?

Finch looked around for something to put on, but couldn’t find so much as a bathrobe. He briefly considered putting his wet things back on, but the thought made his chest tight and his skin cold. Not that he’d ever tell Reese that he felt that way. As far as anyone was concerned, he was fine. He stood around for a while, listing to the thumping and banging going on in the main part of the hotel room, hoping that Reese would just leave, but as the minutes passed, it became increasingly more likely that Reese would realize that Finch was hiding, avoiding him, and Finch couldn’t have that. Whatever else happened between them, they needed to maintain their working relationship. That was the only thing that mattered.

Towel wrapped securely about his waist, Finch took a bracing breath and opened the bathroom door to the unmistakable sound of a drawer being slammed. He hesitated, then limped out into the room, his shoulders square, ready to do battle in whatever form it took. He could just make out Reese on the far side of the room, and it looked like Reese glanced at him before turning away and picking something up off the table.

“Here,” Reese said, walking toward him. “You can put these on.” He shoved a pile of clothes into Finch’s arms as he stepped around him, not even slowing down as he walked past.

“John,” Finch said, turning to follow him, but Reese pulled open the hotel room door and disappeared out into the corridor, somewhere that Finch was not about to go wearing nothing but a towel. With a sigh, he stepped over the end of the bed and dropped the items in his arms upon the bedspread.

Dressed in Reese’s briefs, T-shirt, and a pair of sweatpants that were too long for him, Finch sat on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing in particular, a thousand different trains of thought running through his head, but the majority of them were some variation of Damn, I really fucked this up. He shouldn’t have lost his temper. He should have been more tactful. He could have been selfish and self-indulgent and allowed Reese his charade while he reveled in the physical pleasure Reese seemed only too willing to give him. If Finch had been accommodating, how far would Reese have taken it?

Reese had already slept with him, albeit in a literal sense. Mostly. He closed his eyes, replaying the image of Reese cuddled up beside him, sharing his pillow, and in the morning, spooning him and nuzzling his neck. Reese hadn’t seemed concerned that he might wake Finch, and if Carter hadn’t called…

But was he just playing for the camera? Groaning, Finch pushed himself to his feet and hobbled over to the entertainment center, reaching back past the television to grab the tiny camera he had installed. He pulled it free, holding it in his fist for a moment before returning to the bed and dropping it on the night stand. Reese could have feigned ignorance and anger to make Finch feel guilty and penitent, which worked, if that was his plan. And if it wasn’t…

Finch sighed, suddenly exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically. He was too tired to even pull the covers back. He just lay down on top of the blankets and reached up to take off his glasses, his fingers brushing his naked face before remembering he wasn’t wearing them. As his head settled into the pillow, he took a deep breath, the mucus in his lungs rattling and making him want to cough. He gripped the edge of the pillow in his fist and waited for the discomfort to pass.

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