Disclaimer: I don't own Person of Interest. Written for enjoyment, not money.
The brevity of a takedown when compared to the length of an investigation never failed to amaze Detective Carter. One minute she and John were wading into Cahill's standoff with L.O.S., guns literally blazing, and the next it was over and she was collecting weapons, zip-tying hands, and grudgingly applying pressure to one of the dirtbags' gunshot wounds so he wouldn't bleed out before the paramedics showed up.
She blamed the post-arrest chaos for her not immediately realizing that John had slipped away from the group, and by the time she noted his absence he was already a fair distance away, moving through the shadows at the other end of the lot. It made sense that he'd want to make himself scarce in light of the arrival of backup, especially with L.O.S. having ties to the CIA, and she was about to turn her attention back to the task at hand when she saw his steps falter. He'd been moving slowly, stiffly, ever since his escape from the burning car, but now he staggered against a cargo container. When he didn't immediately push off of it and keep going, her decision was made. Handing off the dirtbag to the nearest paramedic, Carter strode purposefully toward her car.
She slowed at Cahill's voice and turned, "Yeah?"
He nodded in John's direction. "Make sure your partner gets checked out. We knocked him around pretty good."
Carter's expression darkened. "We?" she demanded, even as realization dawned. "You shot him on purpose." She might've known from John's earlier comment about Cahill being an excellent marksman, but John had been so damn casual about the whole thing that she'd thought nothing of it.
Cahill shrugged, equal parts apologetic and matter-of-fact. "He was covering for me, and Vargas was watching. I had to make it look good. Tell him I'm sorry."
"Yeah, okay. You got this on your own?" she gestured to the scene, which was now swarming with police officers and paramedics.
"Yeah, I've got it. Go."
Carter nodded and hurried off. She didn't know what she expected to find when she pulled her car up next to the cargo container at the far end of the lot, but John Reese sitting on the ground, hand pressed against his midsection and hacking up a lung wasn't it. "Need a lift?" she asked for the second time that afternoon.
Unlike before, there was no snarky comeback. He didn't say anything, in fact. The coughing spell went on for what seemed like several minutes, and when he was finally done he just reached out the hand that wasn't clutching his stomach and took hold of hers to lever himself to his feet. Words weren't necessary. The groan he wasn't quite able to suppress and the abrupt loss of all color in his face said enough.
Carter shifted her grip from his hand to his arm and guided him to the passenger seat of her car. He inhaled sharply as he lowered himself into the vehicle, which set him coughing again. She closed the door and quickly climbed in the other side, eyeing him with concern. He was hunched over, and she was pretty sure she didn't imagine the pained whimper that was only partially disguised by his ragged breathing. She dug under the seat for a moment and came up with a bottle of water. "John? Here, drink some of this."
He straightened just enough to accept the bottle and took a few small sips before handing it back. "Thanks," he said with a sigh, easing back against the seat and closing his eyes, only to start coughing yet again, though not as hard as before.
"How long were you in that car trunk, anyway?"
Reese shrugged, then winced. "Couple of minutes, maybe?"
"Uh-huh." She put her car in gear and drove until the vehicle was out of sight behind a building. "Hang on, I forgot something." She wasn't sure whether she should worry that he didn't ask where she was going, but had to admit that it saved time as she jogged quickly back toward the crime scene.
The truth of the matter was that John didn't care where Carter was going. He cared that the seat of Carter's vehicle was softer against his abused back than the ridged side of the cargo container, and that the air inside the car was warmer and so burned his lungs less. He cared that he could finally just stop for a minute and breathe. His fingers searched out the water bottle on the seat next to him and he drank slowly, relishing the coolness on his raw throat. Unfortunately, Carter chose about that moment to return and brought an end to his brief tranquility. John scowled when he saw the small green tank in her hands. "That's unnecessary, Detective, and you should know better. Theft is a crime."
Carter snorted. "Yeah, well, so is the lack of security surrounding ambulances at a takedown." She held out a clear plastic oxygen mask and looked at him pointedly until he took it. "You sound horrible. Humor me, at least until we get to the ER."
"I'm fine, Carter, just drop me off near the precinct. I'll have Finch pick me up."
"John, you were shot, beat up, barbecued, and Lord knows what else! You need to get checked out. Even Cahill was worried about you."
"I'm touched, Detective, but I still have work to do."
Carter shook her head. A little color had returned to his face, but she could tell he was still in pain, even if he was doing a fair job of hiding it. "Yeah, I'll just drop you off on a street corner, 'cause there's no risk of you falling on your face in front of a bus in your condition."
Reese might've been annoyed by her sarcasm if he hadn't been so tired. He tried for a compromise. "A safe house, then. I'll call Finch and get the nearest address. He can pick me up there." John took another drink of water, but it didn't ease the burning in his throat and he was soon back to coughing. His battered stomach ached in protest and he stifled another groan.
Sighing in exasperation, Carter reached over, picked up the hand holding the oxygen mask, and guided it to cover his nose and mouth. "How about this? You keep that on, and I'll call Finch and get the address."
When he immediately lifted the mask again, she thought he was going to refuse, but he just rasped, "Make sure the safe house is a Level 3, and tell Finch I need a new phone," before he put it back on and closed his eyes.
Carter knew from experience how much even a couple minutes of sleep could help rejuvenate a soldier during a lull in combat, but while the fifteen or so minutes John got on the way to the safe house were enough to get him out of the car and through the front door without assistance, she sincerely doubted he was cured of the day's events. The subtle way he stayed within easy reach of a wall at all times, and brushed his fingertips along the edge of a chair here or a table there to steady himself as he moved in the direction of the kitchen seemed to confirm her suspicion. "John, what are you doing?"
Her eyes roamed around the expansive, expensive single-story house they were standing in and then back to Reese. She put her hands on her hips. "I don't think you had Finch pick this place because you felt like taking a mile-long stroll around it. Go get cleaned up and rest for a few minutes. I'll let you know when your ride's here."
Reese completed a final visual survey and reluctantly nodded. She had a point about the house, but its size and opulence were purely coincidental. It could've been a tiny starter home or a studio apartment as long as it had a bed, shower, change of clothes, and a well-stocked first-aid kit: the criteria necessary to fulfill a Level 3 classification according to Finch's system. He started back toward Carter, but swayed as he was passing by and nearly stumbled into her.
"John!" She instinctively grabbed onto his arm. "See what I mean about street corners and buses?" The comment earned her a weak smile, which she returned before readjusting his arm across her shoulders and turning them toward the opposite hallway. "Come on, just take it slow."
Reese absently catalogued the details of the house as he allowed Carter to lead him down the hall. To one side of the glass-walled corridor stood an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi and to the other, back in the corner, was the master bedroom. Only a frosted-glass screen separated it from a home-theater and library, though, turning the space into one massive lounge area. They made their way through it, to the ridiculously large bathroom beyond, where Carter lowered him onto an upholstered bench.
"Need help with your coat?"
"Thanks." She unzipped the jacket and slid it carefully down his arms, but he still had to twist slightly to free his left hand and he grimaced, the torn skin from the bullet graze on his side burning anew.
"Sorry," she murmured and set the jacket aside as she walked to the closet by the sink. Searching through it, she placed a towel on the rack beside the shower and pulled out the first aid kit, which she handed to him.
"I think I can manage from here," he told her, a trace of his usual smirk turning up the corner of his mouth.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you still dizzy?"
"No, just needed to sit down for a minute. I'm okay, Carter, really." This time he made more of an effort with the smile and it actually looked somewhat convincing.
Carter was still skeptical, but finally nodded. "All right then. Holler if you need anything," she said, making her way out of the bathroom and pulling the door closed behind her.
Reese waited until her footsteps retreated a considerable distance before he flipped open the phone he'd lifted from her pocket on their walk down the hall. He put it on speaker, dialed Finch and waited.
The billionaire picked up on the second ring, "Detective?"
"No, it's me. Where are you?"
"At the library. I just lost Detective Fusco's cell phone signal. I'm trying to re-establish a link."
"Do you think he's in trouble?"
"There's no way to be certain, but the signal dropped in a densely populated area, so unless his captor plans to make his demise public, I'd wager he's in about the same amount of trouble as he was five minutes ago. Have you reached the safe house?"
"Yes, and I hope you're still planning to come pick me up because I don't think Carter's going to just let me walk out of here." As he spoke, Reese began to discard the rest of his acrid clothing. Everything reeked of smoke and burnt plastic. It nearly turned his stomach and did reawaken the coughing.
"Smart woman, from the sound of it," Finch muttered, a hint of worry in his voice. "Are you all right, Mr. Reese?"
"I'm fine," he managed between coughs.
"Well, I'll be on my way to you momentarily. In the meantime, I suggest you listen to the detective."
Before Reese could respond, Finch had hung up. John flipped the phone closed and turned instead to the masochistic task of getting out of his t-shirt when it hurt like hell to raise his arms. After two minutes of unsuccessful wriggling, he gave up and resorted to the scissors from the first aid kit to slit the shirt up the middle. He slipped it off like a vest and cursed as he got his first look at the damage. Every inch of his stomach was black and blue, darkest at the crowbar's point of impact just above his belly button. From there the bruising radiated up and out toward his sternum and ribs, helped along on the left side by the bullet graze. Thankfully, that wound wasn't too serious. It was still bleeding a little, but wouldn't need stitches. He didn't even bother looking at his back in the mirror as he headed for the shower.
With nothing better to do while she waited, Carter had taken to pacing the length of the safe house for entertainment. She was lost in thought and didn't hear the front door open, so when she turned back toward the living room and found Reese's nerdy colleague standing before her, she almost jumped out of her skin. "Where the hell did you come from?!"
Finch barely blinked at her exclamation. "Good evening to you too, Detective." He limped over to the dining table, set down the two computer cases he was carrying, and started pulling out equipment. "I apologize for my delay in arrival. I had another matter to attend to," he said as he opened his laptop and began typing.
Carter crossed her arms. "The same matter that caused John to swipe my cell phone and refuse to get medical attention, no doubt."
"Perhaps." He closed the laptop and straightened up. "Where is he?"
"Taking a shower, last I checked."
Nodding, Finch headed in that direction.
"What is it, Detective?" Finch looked mildly annoyed as he stopped and turned to face her.
"Don't you think you could, oh, I don't know, give him a minute before you make him go shoot more drug dealers?"
"I don't intend to make him do anything, Detective, but I do need to speak with him right away. Please excuse me."
"By all means. Don't let me stop you!" she called after his retreating form.
John knew it was only his imagination, but his injuries hurt worse for having seen them and he was doing well to remain on his feet long enough to wash the sooty grime from his body, especially when the increased humidity from the shower triggered another coughing jag. He had no idea how long he stood under the spray, leaning against the wall for support as his airways did their level best to kill him in their quest to be clear of smoke remnants, but eventually he found the energy to turn off the faucet. Breathless and aching, he wrapped a towel around his waist and made straight for the first aid kit, dry-swallowing two ibuprofen. His legs had grown shaky and he was grateful for the bench as he dried off. Ten minutes, some disinfectant, bandages, and a lot of wincing later, John had himself as patched up as he was going to get.
He made his way from the bathroom, steeling himself for the long walk to the bedroom closet, but when he found a change of clothes already laid out for him, he decided it really must be his lucky day. Injuries notwithstanding. His back and stomach were throbbing relentlessly just from being upright, and Reese felt like an old man as he gingerly lowered himself onto the edge of the bed and pulled on the boxers and sweats. The t-shirt was an exercise in futility, so he ignored it and reached instead for the note next to a familiar green contraption on the end table:
Don't think I didn't hear you in there. Use it. –Carter
Reese snorted at her persistence, but lacking a good reason not to, he picked up the mask and clicked on the oxygen flow, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
That was how Finch found him. Calling out from the doorway, Harold received no response, so he moved further into the room-and stiffened at the sight of the long, purple bruise covering most of John's back. Carter had told him about the burning vehicle when they spoke on the phone, but she hadn't gone into great detail. Clearly, John had been hit with some type of bar or pipe on top of whatever else had happened. Just as clearly, he hadn't heard a thing Finch had said. Reese was bent forward, eyes closed, elbows precariously on his knees, one hand supporting his head, breath slowly fogging the oxygen mask he held to his face with the other. Finch reached out and carefully rested a hand on his shoulder. "John? Wake up."
A moment passed before Reese stirred, blinking heavily at Finch. "You find Lionel?" he asked, straightening.
Finch didn't answer. He was too busy gaping at John's black and blue and bandaged torso.
"It looks worse than it is, Harold."
"That's not exactly reassuring, Mr. Reese." Finch was interrupted from saying more by a ping from his phone. Pulling it from his pocket, he tapped at the screen for several seconds and looked up just in time to see John struggling to stand. "Where do you think you're going?"
"You said Detective Fusco's life was in danger. We need to find him."
"And you said you were fine," Harold countered with a frown of disapproval, stepping in front of his pale employee to block his path, "a state for which severe bruising and smoke inhalation hardly qualify you. Sit down before you fall down."
Reese shot Finch a withering look. "The fact that I'm bruised doesn't lessen the detective's peril," he pointed out, but sat back on the bed.
"No," Finch agreed, "but I was able to re-establish a connection to the GPS on his phone and I hacked into a security camera near his present location. He's handcuffed to a police cruiser and the informant is headed off to a poker game. He should be relatively safe, at least for a few hours."
"We should go now, then, before the informant comes back."
Finch held up his phone so John could see it. "Did I mention the cruiser is parked in a secure lot that's being guarded by at least five officers?"
Reese sighed and wearily scrubbed a hand over his face. "This day just keeps getting better and better."
Carter was bewildered as she continued to wear a hole in the living room carpet. Nothing about Reese and Finch could be considered normal, but their relationship with each other was beyond odd, certainly not one of equal give and take. Finch called and Reese jumped. It wasn't a case of simple favors or work assignments, either. Half the time, John was sent rushing headlong into life-threatening situations, like today.
The thing was, he seemed happy to do it, or at least not overly-irritated. It wasn't as though he and Finch were pals from way back, either. Heck, she didn't know if they'd classify themselves as such now. Money could buy loyalty, but from what she knew of John that likely wasn't the case here.
She paced back again and glanced down the hall, then decided she was tired of pacing and went to see what was keeping them. Carter wasn't being deliberately sneaky, but when she reached the glass room partition, it was obvious that Reese and Finch hadn't heard her approach. They appeared to be having a serious discussion, though about what she couldn't tell from their hushed tones.
"What's with all the whispering?" she asked, earning instant deer-in-the-headlights expressions from both of them.
Reese recovered first. "Uh, there's...someplace I need to be. We were discussing the best way to get there," he said, giving Finch a significant look.
"After he's had a chance to rest," Finch added, scowling back.
"I'll sleep later. We've already wasted enough time here."
"Have you even looked in a mirror lately? You're white as a sheet."
"As a matter of fact..."
Carter rolled her eyes. They were arguing like an old married couple, and not very convincingly either. John she could maybe buy into. The day he'd had would make anyone a bit petulant, but Finch? She'd never seen him like this. "Hey!" she shouted, and had to hide a smirk when it stopped their argument in its tracks, just like it always would with Taylor when she used that tone. "You," she said to Reese, "he's right about the mirror thing." She turned to Finch, "And you, how about dropping the charade? If you tell me what you were really talking about just now, maybe I can help."
Finch stared at her with an unreadable expression for several seconds before he answered, "Unfortunately I can't do that, Detective. This operation is strictly need-to-know."
"Of course it is," she said with a humorless chuckle, shaking her head.
"If you'd like to help, however, you can let me know when the green dot on my laptop's tracking program changes position."
"Green dot...tracking program? Really? That's all you've got?" When Finch's expression didn't change, she rolled her eyes again. "Fine. I probably don't want to know what you two are up to anyway, but whatever it is, try not to kill each other," she said as she turned to leave the room.
"Detective!" Finch called her back.
She turned, expecting him to add on some other mundane task that didn't give her any clue as to what was really going on, but instead she found him struggling to support John as he slumped forward. "Dammit," she swore, jogging back over and grabbing one of Reese's shoulders. He was nothing but dead weight, and she and Finch were barely able to hold him up. "Help me get him onto his side," she said.
Finch didn't move, and his wide eyes were locked on his unconscious colleague. "I...I don't know what happened. He was just sitting there, and then he...like before...when he was shot..."
"Finch!" Carter said more forcefully. It took a few seconds, but he finally met her eyes and nodded. Together, they managed to maneuver John the rest of the way onto the bed until he was lying on his uninjured side. Carter pressed her fingertips to his neck, a strong pulse answering her tactile query, even as he began to stir. "John? Can you hear me?"
"Carter? What happened?" he asked, voice barely above a whisper.
"You checked out for a few seconds, about gave your friend here a heart attack."
Reese noticed a nervous-looking Finch standing just behind Carter and he shifted a little, reaching out an arm to push himself up, but stopped with a gasp when the motion set off a chain-reaction of throbbing throughout his upper body. It felt as though he was being hit with the crowbar all over again. He didn't think he'd allowed an actual groan to escape, but Carter seemed to get the message just the same. "Hey, hey, take it easy," she murmured, gently helping him back to his former position on his side. "Just lie still for awhile."
"We don't have awhile," John protested, but didn't try to move again.
"We have long enough, Mr. Reese, if you recall our earlier conversation. The...target's...status remains the same. Until that changes, none of us is going anywhere, so you might as well take advantage of the downtime."
"And put some ice on these bruises before the swelling gets any worse," Carter added, frowning at the wound on his back. "Tire iron?"
"You sure do know how to pick 'em," she said, lightly squeezing his shoulder. "I think I saw some gel packs in the freezer. Be right back."
Reese felt the mattress shift as she left to go in search of them, but he must have been more out of it than he thought because he didn't register whatever magic trick Finch performed to get the blankets he was lying on to actually cover him. He didn't hear Carter return either, and started awake when the ice packs were placed on his back and stomach, mainly because the cold hurt. This time he was sure his groan was audible. He flinched away from the cold reflexively, but hands kept him still, kept the ice carefully against his skin, and eventually his squirming ceased, even if the pain didn't. He heard Harold's voice offering him medication, which he meant to refuse, but suspected he hadn't when he felt a sharp object jab him in the arm. Sleep tugged at him strongly then, and the last thing he heard was Carter's displeased voice saying something to Finch about illegal possession of prescription narcotics.
"...Reese? Mr. Reese?"
Finch's voice was distant, almost ignorable, but the hand gently shaking his shoulder wasn't. John grimaced as awareness slowly returned. He felt like he'd been hit by a truck-an eighteen-wheeler, not a pickup. His limbs were heavy and unresponsive, and it took him several tries just to get his eyes open. "Harold," he managed.
"I'm sorry to wake you, John, but Detective Fusco's captor has returned from his poker game. They're on the move."
"What time is it?"
"Just before 5 a.m. How are you feeling?"
"Buying some stock in Advil doesn't sound like a terrible idea."
"That can be arranged, I own a quarter of the company, but for now we need to get going if you're able."
Reese mumbled something close to an affirmative response and started to sit up. Finch moved to help him, and he was surprised to find he needed the assistance. Slowly, he pushed the covers and several spent ice packs away from his body and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Not trusting them to hold his weight just yet, though, he sat there in a semi-awake haze, trying to get his bearings. Finch disappeared for a short while and returned with the shirt, jacket, and jeans he'd been wearing the day before, but it seemed the articles had found the inside of a washing machine at some point as they no longer smelled of burnt car.
"John?" Harold's voice pulled him from his reverie. He must have been staring blankly for a bit too long, because there was definitely a look of wry amusement on Finch's face. "Demerol isn't without its consequences, I'm afraid. Will you be okay on your own?" he asked, gesturing to the clothing.
"I'll manage," Reese replied with a faint smile. Finch nodded, retreating to allow him some privacy.
Carter watched Reese from the corner of her eye as he made his way down the hall. He still looked exhausted, and the fabled tortoise would have put him to shame in a foot race, but he seemed steadier. Finch apparently didn't think so, though, and hovered until John sat down to pull on his boots.
She was still no closer to an answer about who the VIP was that couldn't wait until a more decent hour to be dealt with, but Finch had rushed to wake Reese the instant she'd told him that the green dot had moved, and even now, sleep-deprived and injured, John seemed to take it in stride. Finch helped him on with his jacket as he was still too stiff to twist very far, and handed him a cell phone, a glass of water, and a prescription bottle, before giving him detailed instructions about something related to the phone. John listened attentively, they both nodded, and only then did Finch move away to pack his computer equipment.
Carter suddenly realized she had her answer: this wasn't a business arrangement, a friendship, or simple loyalty she was witnessing. It was all three combined, in the most bizarre, determined, and sincere sense possible. However it had come to be, it was, and despite the constant danger, both men seemed the better for it. She continued to watch them quietly as Finch finished packing up and John slowly stood to follow him toward the door. "Forgetting something?" she called after him.
Reese turned and looked at her in confusion for a second before comprehension dawned. He fished in his pocket and pulled out her phone. "Sorry about that, Detective," he said with a sheepish smile.
"Actually, I was referring to this," she said, holding out his gun. "Cleaned and re-loaded. I was bored."
His smile turned into a genuine grin as he traded her the phone for the weapon. "Thanks, Carter."
The grin was infectious and she felt the corner of her own mouth turn upward. She made a shooing motion with her hands. "Go help your green dot. I'll lock up."