“Mr. Reese, you’re bleeding.”
John didn’t turn around to face his partner. “It’s nothing.” He could take care of nothing by himself. At the loft.
Finch was not deterred, putting a hand on John’s upper arm to hold him in place as he examined the back of the taller man’s head and neck, which bled in some places and sparkled in others. “Glass? You’re covered with it!”
“It was a choice between crouching behind the counter and below a glass shelf full of wine glasses, or standing upright in the line of fire,” John explained, turning to face him so that Finch couldn’t see the bleeding places anymore.
“Please come sit down so that I can take a look.” It was more a command than a request.
Reese opened his mouth to protest, but Finch was too quick.
“I know you think you’re perfectly capable of taking care of injuries on your own, but removing tiny glass splinters from the back of your own head may be beyond even your talents.” Finch went to get the safehouse’s sizable first aid kit.
Sigh. Finch had a point. Having his head touched always made him feel weird, but in this case, he didn’t have much of a choice.
A few minutes later, John was bare chested and sitting on a wooden chair, a reading lamp tilted to shine on the back of his head. When Finch had the supplies he would need laid out on the nearby table, he removed his glasses. He set them on the table and donned a headband-mounted magnifier, its LEDs adding even more lumens to the targeted areas of John’s skin.
“Fortunately the back of your head and neck seem to have taken the brunt of the glass bombardment,” Finch noted. His words were surprisingly soft, as though the delicacy of the operation demanded an equally gentle voice. “Knowing your tendency to encounter danger, I suppose I should be thankful that you were crouched below a glass shelf full of wine glasses and not of hammers.”
The older man very lightly, very carefully used a fine-toothed comb to loosen the glass fragments merely caught in Reese’s hair, sending the tiny splinters into a folded paper trough that he held in his other hand. “Or a glass shelf full of bricks. Or knives.”
The delicate touch felt like a delicious tickle against John’s scalp. Feeling Harold’s hot breath on the back of his neck was icing on the cake. A shiver ran down his spine, and he took a deep breath to contain it.
Next, Finch donned nitrile gloves. With the sticky side of several pieces of wide masking tape, he went about lifting, very gently, the flakes and splinters clinging to the surface of John’s face, neck, and shoulders. “Or a glass shelf full of hot coals. Or fragile bottles of sulfuric acid.”
When he was satisfied that there were no more slivers on the surface of John’s skin, Finch used a feather-light touch with a gloved finger to palpate one of the bleeding areas on John’s neck. A tiny bump below the surface indicated that a tiny piece of glass was embedded.
“I’m afraid this will hurt, Mr. Reese.” Finch said, softening his voice even further as he leaned closer for a better look. He used a sterilized needle and a gloved fingertip to carefully work the stubborn invader out, then flushed the laceration with a squirt of antiseptic and dabbed up the excess liquid with a bit of cotton. “One down... Several more to check.”
John shook his head just slightly, momentarily bringing himself out of his strange, relaxed state and back to the stings of glass and cuts and antiseptic. “I’m in no hurry.” He really wasn’t.
“I appreciate your patience,” Finch replied softly, lightly caressing another bleeding area while steadying John’s head with his other hand.
John was silent, contemplating the pleasant, sparkling sensation that ran from the top of his head to midway down his spine. He knew he was sensitive on his scalp and neck, and that touches there often made him feel tingly. But the sensation had never felt this strong before.
Finch carefully parted the hair around a bleeding spot that was a few inches behind John’s left ear. Another touch. Another embedded splinter located. Painstaking work with the needle, and another flush with antispetic. “I wish Bear would hold this still while I’m trying to trim his nails,” he mused, still using his gentlest voice.
John shivered, not bothering to suppress it this time. Despite the very slight sting from Finch’s work, the whole experience felt... Good.
By the time Finch had examined all the bleeding spots and was working on the last splinter, just at the base of John’s skull, the younger man was almost in a trance. John sat upright with his eyes closed, enjoying the shimmering ecstasy of sensation that now traveled in waves over his scalp and all the way down to his tailbone.
John startled. “Huh?”
“All done.” Harold removed his gloves and the magnifiers, put his glasses back on, and started to pack up some of the first aid supplies. “You should go rinse off in the shower, in case any more glass fragments remain on your skin. Don’t rub until you’ve given the water a chance to rinse any slivers away. After that, I can apply antibiotic ointment where it’s needed.” When John didn’t respond or react, he added “And then you should get some rest.”
John nodded, oddly agreeable to the suggestions. He slowly stood and made his way toward the bedroom and its en suite bathroom, feeling a little unsteady. It almost felt like he was floating.
“John? Are you all right?”
Reese paused and braced a hand against the wall, just steps inside the bedroom door. “Yeah.”
Harold came close, right up in John’s personal space, his face inches from John’s. “How do you feel?”
“Good.” He made what he immediately suspected was an unintentionally-goofy smile. But he didn’t care.
Finch’s brow creased with worry. “Do you have any other injuries? That I don’t know about?”
“Not any new ones,” John smiled. He couldn’t resist putting a hand on Finch’s shoulder. It was much nicer to steady himself against soft, warm Harold than against the hard, uncaring wall.
Now Harold was really worried. “Mr. Reese, is there any chance that you’ve been drugged?”
After a moment of thought, John shook his head. “I just feel really relaxed. My head tingles.” Seeing Finch’s look of confusion, John’s self-consciousness flared and he looked away. “It just felt nice. Thanks for taking care of me, Finch.” He stepped toward the bathroom, away from his baffled partner.
Harold was silent for several moments, scrutinizing John’s movement and body language. “Perhaps you should use the shower bench, if you feel unsteady on your feet,” Finch suggested with perfect professionalism. “Please be careful, Mr. Reese.” He left the bedroom, softly shutting the door behind him.
John closed his eyes and mentally cursed, again putting a hand to the wall to steady himself. What was wrong with him? How the hell did Finch touching him give him such a weird high, and stronger-than-ever head tingles? Sure, John was attracted to his boss, but shouldn’t that cause something to happen in his pants, instead of on his head and in his chest?
Twenty minutes later, Reese emerged from the bedroom, wearing sweatpants and a v-neck t-shirt. He’d told himself it was so that Finch could have better access to his neck and shoulders. Whether this might be for the purpose of applying Neosporin or for something else, he didn’t dare think about.
Finch finished tapping away on his laptop and came to stand by John and the chair. He put on a new pair of gloves. “How do you feel now?”
John took a seat. “Embarrassed.”
“Hmm.” Finch carefully began dabbing at each of the still-weeping spots in turn, first soaking up fluid with a cotton ball and then applying ointment with the lightest touch of a fingertip. “John, have you ever heard of ASMR?”
“Is that a new club drug?”
“No. It stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s a phenomenon which some people experience, involving a pleasant tingling or static-like sensation. It typically begins on a person’s scalp and can travel down the person’s spine.” He paused to get a fresh cotton ball. “The sensation can be triggered by tender personal attention, or listening to a voice speaking softly, among other things.” Another squeeze of Neosporin onto his fingertip. “The sensation is said to bring about a state of mild euphoria.” Another spot dabbed with cotton and salved. “Sound familiar?”
“Yeah.” John shivered. Harold’s ministrations were bringing the sensations all over again. “I never would have guessed that it had a name. Or even that other people had it.”
“It was only via the internet that people who experience it were first able to connect and discuss the phenomenon.”
“I always just thought I was kind of a freak.”
Finch huffed slightly. “Not fitting society’s narrow definition of ‘normal’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
John was thoughtful. “You know, the feeling was never this strong, before. When I get a haircut, that might score a three on a ten-point scale. With you tonight, it’s been more like an eleven.”
“Hmm.” Harold took off his gloves and capped the Neosporin tube. “Well... Please don’t think that you have to be injured in order to receive tender personal attention in the future.” His voice sounded a little strange. A shy smile as he stepped into John’s field of view. “I’d... be happy to provide it. All you have to do is ask.” Warily, he looked John in the eye.
John felt his face flush. Was Finch really offering to touch him for the sole purpose giving John pleasure? No. No, of course not. Finch didn’t mean it like that. John’s mouth felt dry, but he felt the need to swallow. His imagination betrayed him and he pictured what it would be like to lie in bed next to Harold, touching and being touched just because it felt good. Because they loved one another.
The impossibility of that momentary fantasy felt like a knife in his heart, and he banished the image from his mind. Harold could never love someone with so much blood on his hands.
Chest aching, he looked down and turned away. There was no way Finch could honestly want to be involved with him like that. He couldn’t risk getting his hopes up. He couldn’t risk accepting Harold’s offer.
John couldn’t see Finch’s face. But, after a few silent moments, Finch quietly limped away and began to put away the remaining first aid supplies.