Thanks to brickhousewench for the beta. Any remaining errors are, unlike the characters, 100% my own.
our fate is stored with taciturn hearts,
written by Whiplash
He trips over something soft and falls to his knees, hands reaching out first to slow his descent and then in an attempt to make out what caused the fall. Smoke fills his mouth and throat, causing his eyes and nose to run but he pushes that aside, focusing instead on the smooth fabric of an expensive suit and then, as his fingers trail further up, short hair and, there, glasses.
"Finch," he coughs, his voice coming out cracked and barely audible over the sound of the fire.
If the other man can hear him, he gives no sign of it. Instead he remains slack and unresponsive even as John digs his hands under Finch's shoulder and into his armpits, the urgency of the situation forcing him to manhandle his employer without any effort wasted on precision or care.
John lifts with his knees, stumbling backwards with his body hunched forward. Ignoring the burning of his lungs and forcing himself to breath as shallowly as possible, he kicks away debris and clears a path as he backs away from the fire. He moves on gut feeling, following what he hopes is more than just the illusion of fresh air.
By the time his back slams into the half-open door, tremors running down his legs and up his arms, his previously firm grip on Finch has become nothing more than his fingertips digging into scrunched up fabric. Pushing back with all his weight he manages to force the door open just wide enough to let the two of them through it.
It's bright outside and for a few moments he's blind. He blinks and coughs and blinks again, his vision clearing until he can make out his own soot smeared hands and the still shape by his feet.
It isFinch, unmistakably so underneath the grime and soot. Swallowing another cough like it's a mouthful of broken glass, Reese kneels down and straightens out the body; careful, now that it might be too late, to support the neck and back.
The glasses are broken; frame twisted and lenses shattered. Without thinking, John pulls them off and stuffs them into his pocket. There's a pulse against his fingers and Finch's chest rises and falls. The relief almost bowls him over and he begins to cough again; harsh, rattling barks which leave him hacking up dark gobs onto the pavement.
"Aren't we just a pair," he finally wheezes, patting Finch gently on the shoulder.
Finch shows the first signs of consciousness in the car.
He lays stretched out in the back, head pillowed against John's thighs and shirt unbuttoned. The tie, vest and jacket are in a pile by John's feet, though the ragged and dirty pieces of fabric would hardly be recognized as such any more.
Fusco drives, his eyes shifting between the road and the rear mirror.
The oxygen tank, pilfered from the ambulance that had shown up along with the fire engine, lays nestled in between John and Finch and every few minutes John removes the mask from Finch's slack face to take a couple of deep breaths from it himself.
"Hey," John says, noticing the weight in his lap shifting a few heartbeats before Finch's eyes fly open. Finch doesn't lash out, but the panic is clear all the same. His entire body freezes, his eyes darting to take in his surroundings and his breathing pattern changing to something that wheezes and hitches in his lungs.
"Hey," John says again. "It's all right. It's just me."
He never finds out if those would have been the right words to say. Fusco hits a bump and the car jolts, all of them bouncing in their seats. Finch gasps, the desperate sound filling the car as clearly as a scream and John instinctively reaches down to press his free hand against Finch's sternum and feels, through cotton, skin and flesh, the heart which races underneath.
"He should be in a hospital," Fusco growls, speaking through his teeth. "He needs X-rays, blood work... fuck, what if he needs to be intubated? Smoke inhalation can be a bitch, you know that right? Almost killed an old partner of mine."
John knows that. But he knows this as well: Finch is a dead man. He can't show up at a hospital, raising questions with his fused back and scarred body. Can't be a part of another crime scene. Can't risk turning up with his picture in the news.
"Just drive us to the address I gave you," he says, watching his own fingers clench around the wrinkled, sweat-damp fabric of Finch's shirt. Meeting Fusco's anxious eyes in the mirror he smiles thinly and adds; "Don't make me tell you twice, Lionel."
The king size bed dwarfs Finch. With his broken glasses lying folded on the bedside table instead of sitting perched on his nose, John finds it hard to think of the still body as his normally prickly and assertive boss.
A silent woman, reached through a number given to him by Finch after his own shooting all those months ago, strips and cleans Finch with efficient but gentle hands. It's all too easy to see what warrants the gentleness. So easy, in fact, that John turns his head to stare out the window instead. He'd rather not see the bruises that his own hands have left on Finch's body.
His throat itches and he barks out another cough, earning a frown from the woman. She had checked John over earlier; her hands calm and cool against his skin as she confirmed that he, at least, wasn't dying. A second cough and this time she stops to glare at him, the order silent but clear.
In an emergency, Finch would have trusted her with John's life. Acknowledging this, as well as the fact that he's no good to his employer in his current state anyway, John pushes himself onto shaking legs and leaves.
There's a smaller bedroom down the hall and he crawls into the bed, eyelids heavy and mind empty. He falls asleep, the way soldiers learn to in the field, and dreams a soldier's dreams.
He wakes up, shoes still on his feet and the buckle of his belt digging into his skin. The sheets are streaked with soot and his head still aches, though less so than before his nap. He staggers to his feet and into the bathroom with its luxuriously sized shower.
At first he think that the shower gel, thick and scented with sandalwood, has done the trick but as he stares into the mirror he finds abrasions where the grime seems to have wormed it's way under the first layers of skin. It bothers him that he can't remember when that might have happened.
After prodding at the pile of clothes with his toe and seeing the smears they leave behind on the otherwise pristine tiles, he settles for wrapping a towel around his waist. Finch's safe houses have provided for him in the past. It isn't unreasonable to hope that this one will as well.
He pads through the quiet apartment, opening drawers and doors at random until he finds a shopping bag in an otherwise empty wardrobe. There are socks and underwear inside, still in their plastic wrapping, and a pair of soft pants with legs too long to be meant for Finch. John drops the towel and changes right there; any modesty he might have once had long lost in the service of his country.
There's fresh fruit on the kitchen counter and the fridge is stocked. The benefits of working for a billionaire rather than the government, John thinks while peeling a banana. It's sweet and ripe and he eats slowly, his first proper break since he'd run into a burning building with only one thought in his head.
A door closes and steps, too even and heavy to be Finch's, announces the arrival of the... doctor? Nurse? John isn't quite sure yet, but his money is on the first.
When she arrives she looks the same as she had the night before: no smudged make-up, no strands of hair in disarray around the angular face, no shadows under the angular eyes. Nothing to hint at a long night's vigil.
"How is he?" John asks, pushing away from the counter to pour himself a cup of coffee.
That said, she apparently feels that their conversation is over. She moves around the kitchen with a brisk kind of grace and by the time that John has finished his improvised breakfast there's a tray with a bowl of crushed ice cubes and a small glass of a cloudy liquid waiting on the table.
"He's awake, but I have things to do," she says, abruptly. Nodding towards the tray, she adds; "He'll need that."
He backs into the room, having pushed down the door handle with his elbow while balancing the tray in his hands. Turning around he gets his first look at Finch; still in bed, but dressed now and with a thick, navy blue blanket draped over his legs.
"Not quite sure what this is," he greets the other man, closing the distance between them and setting the tray down on the bedside table. "But I imagine it's good for you."
"Seems likely," Finch agrees in a voice that's barely more than whisper. Fusco had been right about that; smoke inhalation was a bitch. "Considering h-how much I pay her."
Still, John makes a face at the hoarse tone and holds out the bowl of ice cubes like it's a candy dish.
Pain flashes openly over Finch's face as he lifts his arm and it's clear from the way he fumbles with the small, slippery shards that he doesn't quite have full mobility in his fingers.
"Apologies, Mr. Reese," Finch finally rasps, letting the arm drop, "I'm afraid I'm not at my b-best today."
Finch sounds resigned and that sets off a flare of determination in John. Putting down the dish he fishes up a few cold chips and drops them in Finch's hand, closing trembling fingers around the ice with his own steady ones before turning away.
"You pay her more than me?" he asks, without caring about the answer. Finch could pay him nothing at all and he'd still keep showing up for work.
The curtains are drawn but he goes to lurk by the window anyway, peering outside at a street busy with weekend shoppers. Everyone's keeping their heads down to the wind, burrowing into their coats and so lost to the world around them that they don't seem to notice the man sitting by the corner with a paper cup in his hand.
Nor do they seem to see the way the beggar's eyes follows them for too long, the shaggy head turning with far more keenness and attention than even such a busy street warrants.
"The money m-makes a difference to her," Finch answers, speaking around the ice chips. "Whereas you... barely touch w-what you're given."
"I don't need much," John allows. "You pay that beggar out there too?"
"An extra s-set of eyes."
There's no mistaking the weariness so John resolves to stay quiet.
After some time Finch falls into a light slumber, his eyelids fluttering open every once in a while but remaining shut more often than not. The glass, clear now with a powdery sediment at the bottom, stands untouched on the bed side table as a reminder of John's true nature.
A man with all the tools to kill, but none to heal.
John sits up, rolling his shoulders against the strain of aching muscles. Not for the first time it strikes him that he's growing old. It's not an exactly comfortable notion but he supposes he might have to get used to it. If nothing else, Finch has proven that he'll work hard to keep him alive.
"Harold," he replies, pushing himself to his feet to walk over to Finch's bed. "You all right?"
Finch, rather than turning his head to face John, stares straight up at the ceiling. His eyes are an irritated red colour, making the greyness of the rest of his face all the more noticeable, but at John's questions his lips curve upwards.
"I was just about to ask you t-the same."
"Me?" John snorts. "I'll survive. You're the one who got knocked out and left to die in a burning building."
"Yes," Finch agrees. "M-making you the hero of the day. Again."
John nods without really agreeing, pushing his hands deep into his pockets and staring down at the still untouched glass as he waits for Finch to continue.
Only instead Finch starts coughing and John knows, knows right away, that it will be bad. Has expected something like it to happen all afternoon as he's listened to one rattling breath after another.
"Sorry," he grimaces, before kneeling down and pushing his arm, as gently as he knows how, under Finch's shoulders to get the leverage he needs to help the man into a sitting position.
Finch coughs again and Reese can feel the muscles in the narrow shoulders tremble and spasm. With his free hand he empties out the bowl of icy water into the tray.
It doesn't take a healer to know that they'll need the bowl.
As expected, coughing had lead to retching and neither activity had been kind to Finch's back. Or pride.
The woman, carrying an anonymous looking bag stuffed with inhalers and blood test results, had returned in time to relieve John before the end but not until the worst of it had already passed.
After exchanging a few words - a few being more than he would have expected considering their previous exchanges – John finally leaves, reassured that Finch will, eventually, recover fully.
John knows how to compartmentalize and figures he'd be able to pack this memory away as easily as he has hundreds of others. Come their next number, he'll be able to look at Finch and see him for nothing but an iron-willed, brass-balled genius.
Remembering Finch's ducked head and flushed face, he just hopes that Finch will be able to do the same.
A week later to the day he steps into his motel room and finds Finch standing stiffly by the bed, staring at the generic landscape painting above John's bed with far more interest than it actually warrants. He looks better, John decides as he pulls the door close behind him.
"I'd offer you a drink," he says, "but I only have the one glass."
Both their eyes go to the bottle of whiskey on the bed side table. John hasn't touched it in a while, just brings it with him from motel to motel the way others bring spare shirts and toiletries. He would say so too, if only he didn't think such a comment would open doors that he prefers to keep bolted shut.
"I came to say thank you."
"That's the good thing about paying someone," he answers, the words automatic and his eyes still on the bottle. "No need for thanks."
It is, he realizes quickly, the wrong thing to say and Finch's reply is instant and curt.
"I pay you to save them, not me."
John stops himself from licking at his bottom lip. He doesn't know what to say and apparently neither does Finch. Staring over at Finch's shoes, expensive and inexplicably clean despite the filth outside, he thinks back to the day of the fire.
Finch had been meant to keep an eye on their most recent person of interest. Had been meant to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. John had told him as much, just before he'd left the warehouse to follow a lead.
As always, they'd kept in touch; Finch checking in every few minutes until he suddenly went silent.
John had found their case dead some yards away from the building; shot once in the leg and twice in the back, no doubt while running away from his would be killers.
Thin, gray smoke had been sneaking out from the doors and windows of the building behind him and Reese had been able to smell the fire as clearly as he had been able to smell the spilled blood.
Everything about that moment is clear in his mind; looking around in the futile hope of seeing Finch limp around the corner as he made one last attempt to dial his employer. Getting nothing but a generic voice mail and finally facing the truth; he'd either have to get Finch out of that building or go back to a life with no purpose.
"That's the good thing about partners too," he says, eyes still on the bottle. "No need for thanks."
Finch is quiet for a bit longer, then his shoes scrape against the cheap carpet as he starts to move. There's a laboured quality to his breathing but he moves with the same surprisingly efficient shuffle-walk-shuffle.
"I see," Finch replies, speaking up just before turning the door knob. "Then I trust I will see you tomorrow, Reese."
For all that he didn't know he'd been tensing up, John can feel his shoulders sag with relief.
"We have a number?" he asks, grinning a little at Finch's back.
"By tomorrow? Yes, I imagine we will."