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Hell, High Water and Amnesia

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Chapter 1

 

Reese blocked his opponents' flailing with ease. He couldn't even really call it any sort of martial art, but the presence of a tightly gripped knife was keeping Reese from coming too close. He would have normally disarmed the man before this became a real brawl, but the thug had friends. They were littering the floor now and Reese eyed a fallen piece of furniture and decided that would work nicely to deal with him. Seconds later and knife-man was on the ground, unconscious.

 

“Mr. Reese?” asked Finch after a few seconds of silence.

 

“Everything's under control, Finch,” he said as he picked his way through the debris of a brawl, counting bodies. “Is Carter on the way?”

 

“She is. Where's Janice?”

 

Reese frowned when he realized he was coming up one body short. There should be six thugs but he only saw five. He looked up and glanced out the panel windows but didn't see her outside the bar. She'd run to the back, he remembered and he pushed through in that direction.

 

“Mr. Reese?” came Finch's voice again, worry creeping into the question.

 

“Do you have a location on the target?” he asked, passing through the doors into a small kitchen. “She's disappeared,” he added.

 

He didn't see Janice Archibeque or her intended assassin, but he did see a blood trail. He remembered breaking one man's nose and assumed that's where the blood was coming from. The smell of gas caught his nose and he paused as he came abreast of the stove. A scuffle drew his attention and he watched in horror as the assassin pulled Janice out the back, his gun pointed in John's general vicinity. John knew from an earlier encounter that the man's aim was horrifyingly bad but that wouldn't matter.

 

He started to move, to get out of the line of fire, but knew he couldn't clear it in time. The shot sounded loud and clear and, a moment later, the air in front of him exploded as the spark from the shot ignited the leaking gas. He registered Finch's panic stricken voice and wanted to assure the other man that he'd been through worse explosions and survived, but the words wouldn't form. His body was lifted from the floor and he was thrown like a rag doll back into the main bar.

 

***

 

Finch froze as the sound of an explosion ripped through his earpiece. There had been a shot right before, but he didn't think John had said anything about the men he was pursuing having access to anything more sophisticated than small firearms.

 

“John?” he called, ignoring the way his voice nearly cracked.

 

His partner had already encountered a number of difficult situations in their short partnership. This was just one more. There would be a pause and then John would say something infuriating, but he would be alright.

 

“John?” he said again, sitting back down at his station to pull up the camera footage around the bar and John's tracking data.

 

His phone was still on, though the signal was weak and degraded. He gasped when the screens lit up with images of flames whispering inside the building. It looked like the windows had been blown out, but the fire wasn't massive. There was the chance that someone had survived. Wasn't there? There had to be.

 

He shut his eyes against all distraction and just listened. Time ticked away and then he heard it. John was breathing. Or at least someone within two feet of the phone was breathing. It had to be John. Was it laboured? He couldn't tell.

 

He opened his eyes again and looked to the screen. Detective Carter's vehicle came screeching around the corner and the woman jumped out of the vehicle, radio in hand as she called her dispatch. He typed into his keyboard and the audio from her cell broke the quiet of the library.

 

“--send EMS and Fire,” she was saying as she entered the building, slowing only slightly as she did.

 

He heard her pushing debris out of the way and muttering to herself, but the words held no meaning and he waited for anything that would indicate she'd found John. He wished desperately that there'd been a camera in the bar so he could at least attempt to access the feed. Even a distorted view was better than this. Finally he heard her sudden intake of breath.

 

“John,” she breathed and then the scratching and scrabbling intensified as she pushed things out of the way.

 

Finch wanted to scream at her what? What had she found? Was Reese okay? What the hell had happened? As if sensing his frustration, she started speaking.

 

“Finch, I don't know if you can hear me or if you're listening or what, but John doesn't look good,” she said. It sounded like she was dragging something heavy now and he wondered if it was John. “He's unconscious and there's no way I can get him away before backup gets here.” She paused and seemed to be examining something. “I hope you have a good ID on you, John or your old CIA buddies are going to find you real fast.”

 

Finch opened his eyes, not aware that he'd closed them. Carter's words fuelled him and he started typing furiously. He knew John always carried at least one of his fake IDs on him, but wasn't sure which one he'd had. With ID, the authorities shouldn't have to run his fingerprints, but he couldn't be sure. He put an alert in the system to tell him if they did. John would need to stay in a hospital but he was prepared to have him moved to a private hospital under a different name if the wrong people got wind of his incapacitation. It would take careful planning to orchestrate that, but Harold had the basics ready for just such a situation as this.

 

He glanced again at the footage streaming to his screen as first cruisers and then FDNY vehicles started arriving. He tapped into their radio signals and listened in horror as they began coordinating removal of survivors and bodies.

 

***

 

Carter watched silently as Finch limped into the ER, pausing to look around in confusion. His eyes alighted on her and he started toward her. He looked pale and stricken, like he was in shock. She wasn't sure if he'd heard her at the bar, but no one had come busting down the doors looking for John yet, so she supposed that was a good sign.

 

“Where is he?” asked Finch as soon as he was within earshot.

 

“Upstairs in ICU. Come on,” she said, turning for the elevator.

 

“ICU?” asked Finch, frowning like he wasn't entirely sure what the letters stood for. Or like his brain didn't want to supply the answer.

 

“He's got some cracked ribs, but by some miracle there were no internal injuries. He has second degree burns on his arm and part of his side from the blast. Neither of those are immediately life threatening. But he hit his head pretty hard and the doctors are talking about possible brain damage.”

 

Finch drew in a sharp breath and his face did a funny jump that Carter supposed was his version of concern. She'd never been able to read much in either man's expression before now and she wasn't sure why she thought this situation would be any different. The elevator trip was silent.

 

When the double doors opened into ICU, Finch stood still for a moment, his eyes closed like he was preparing himself for the worst case scenario. Carter stood next to him, holding the door and glaring anyone down who might intrude.

 

Finally, he took a halting step forward and then another and Carter led the way to John's room. Nurse Jenkins was there checking John's vitals and finishing getting him settled. She glanced up and smiled at the two of them.

 

“Detective Carter,” she said in greeting. “He's stable now. The doctor should be back in a few minutes to give you an update.”

 

“Thank you,” said Carter before gesturing to Finch. “This is,” she started but slowed when she realized she didn't know if Finch would want to use a different name. John's ID had said he was John Denton.

 

“Harold Carruthers,” he supplied, cutting in smoothly but not returning the smile. “I'm John's partner,” he added, face straight and letting the nurse make her own assumptions.

 

Her face softened and Carter knew exactly how she interpreted the statement. Seeing the way Finch was staring at John as she watched Nurse Jenkins depart, Carter suddenly wasn't sure she was necessarily wrong.

 

When the door shut, Finch moved to John's side and stared down at the man. All told, he didn't actually look that bad. The nurses had gotten him cleaned up so he no longer had the grime and dirt covering him like he had back at the bar. There were only a few minor scrapes on his face where debris had hit him. The gash on his left temple was covered in neat bandages. The blood from that had definitely looked worse at the scene. Gauze wrapped around his right arm from shoulder to below his elbow where Carter assumed he'd turned away from the blast. She knew that there were more bandages on his side, but the hospital gown covered that. An IV line snaked out of his uninjured hand and two bags hung above him, one saline and the other antibiotics.

 

Carter expected Finch to take John's hand in his own, but he simply continued staring. Startled, Carter realized that the few times she'd seen the two men together, with the exception of the first time during the robbery at evidence lockup and the second when John had been shot, she'd never seen the two men touch. They'd been close more than once and the idea of personal space seemed to have a different meaning for them, but they didn't exchange the casual pats that partners normally did.

 

Finch winced minutely and pulled up a chair, sitting close to the bed with one hand resting next to John's. Carter was close to asking about the two of them but was stopped when the door opened and the doctor walked in.

 

He looked up from the chart in his hands and took in the scene before him in a glance.

 

“Detective Carter,” he greeted, reaching to shake her hand. “Mr. Carruthers,” he said, nodding at Finch. “I'm Dr. Ryan.” He checked one last thing on the chart before tucking it under his arm and giving them his full attention. “I have good news and bad. Mr. Denton's condition is stable right now. The burn and ribs are both non-life-threatening and should heal without much trouble.” He looked at Finch directly. “I did notice it looked like this isn't his first experience with broken ribs?”

 

Finch looked up from where he'd been staring at John's face seeming to will the man to consciousness. “He served in the Army,” he said. “I know he sustained a few injuries during his time in uniform.”

 

Dr. Ryan nodded and looked down to make a brief note in John's chart.

 

“What concerns me,” he continued, his gaze returning to the two of them and moving between them easily. “Is the head injury. There was some swelling in his brain and we're monitoring in case we need to relieve the pressure.”

 

“You're saying he may have brain damage?” asked Finch.

 

Carter glanced to where their hands were so close, where Finch's fingers were twitching like he wanted to take John's hand but wouldn't let himself.

 

“We'll know more when he wakes up,” said the doctor. Carter closed her eyes. It was the kind of non-answer doctors gave when they just didn't know. Or didn't want to tell you the truth. “The MRI looked promising,” he continued. “At this point we're cautiously optimistic.”

 

“How long until he wakes up?” asked Carter, frowning at John lying so still in the bed. She watched Finch slowly tuck his fingers under John's and link them, like he was afraid John would pull away from him even in his current state. It seemed like such an intimate moment even in that one act, Carter had to look away.

 

Dr. Ryan was looking at her, unaware of what was happening on the bed. He furrowed his brow as he considered the question and the medical evidence. “It's hard to say. It could be tomorrow, in a few days or next week. As long as the swelling goes down, I would expect it to happen in the next few days.”

 

“And if he doesn't?” asked Finch, his voice quiet but his gaze steady on the doctor.

 

The doctor nodded, as if he had been expecting the question. “If he doesn't wake within a week, we'll do more tests to try to determine why. But we're far from that point yet, Mr. Carruthers.” He stood straighter and looked around again. “Now, if you have any more questions, Nurse Jenkins will be happy to answer them. I'll be checking in on Mr. Denton again in the next few hours.”

 

Finch turned back to John, effectively dismissing the doctor.

 

“Thank you, Dr. Ryan,” said Carter, shaking his hand again.

 

“Detective. Mr. Carruthers.”

 

Carter escorted the doctor out before turning back to Finch. She watched him as he stared at John, apparently lost in thought. She felt like an intruder. She wanted to leave them in peace, but had a few questions that only he could answer.

 

She moved to stand on the opposite side of the bed and Finch looked up to her, his brows raised and his eyes tired. “Yes, Detective?”

 

“We found Janice Archibeque behind the building, bruised but okay. A,” she paused as she consulted her notes. “Arnold Hass was also there. They'd both been knocked out by the blast. I've arrested Mr. Hass and Janice was released an hour ago.”

 

Finch nodded. “Good.”

 

“I don't suppose you want to tell me how you knew he'd been hired to kill her? Even she didn't know what she'd stumbled into.”

 

Finch gave her that small, secret smile that looked so much like John's. “We have our sources.”

 

“Uh huh. Well, any evidence that happens to find its way onto my desk would be appreciated.” Finch nodded his understanding and returned his attention to his partner.

 

Carter sighed quietly, deciding she wasn't likely to get anything more from him even if John were awake.

 

“Give me a call if anything changes. I can come back and sit with him in the morning if you'd like.”

 

“Thank you, Detective.”

 

“You need anything before I go?”

 

“Thank you, no.”

 

She glanced once more at John's peaceful features and then at Finch's fingers wrapped gently around John's. They'd be fine, she decided.

 

“Good night,” she said, turning quietly to leave.

 

***

 

Harold watched Detective Carter leave the hospital room, grateful that she'd been there to help John, but just as glad to have the room to himself. He listened to the machine beeping out John's heart rate for long minutes, reassured by the sound that John was still alive, still breathing. He kept expecting John to open his eyes, smile sheepishly at him and walk out of the room. But he continued to lay there.

 

“John,” he said, leaning toward the other man and squeezing his fingers. “I don't know if you can hear me, John, but...” he stalled, unsure of what to say. He was here? That much was evident and he wasn't sure if that would make John feel better or worse. That he couldn't die? He wasn't really in any danger of that, or so the doctor had said. “I need you, John,” he finally admitted. “I can't do this on my own. I can't do it without you.”

 

If asked, Harold could not have said if he meant the work with the Machine or life.

 

***

 

Hours later, Harold woke to his phone beeping insistently at him and his spine even stiffer than normal after prolonged time at an awkward angle and without movement. He first looked to John's face, but the man's eyes remained stubbornly closed and his face passive. A check of the heart monitor told Harold that nothing had really changed in his condition. He managed to pull his phone from his pocket without dropping it which, all told, was a small miracle since he was still gripping John's hand and had to reach across his body to get the device.

 

He groaned softly to himself when he saw the readout.

 

“We have another number,” he said, watching John's face and hoping that the statement might break through whatever fog John was under and bring him back to Harold. “Someone needs your help, John.” I need your help, he mentally added.

 

Harold rubbed at his sore neck, half expecting larger hands to bat his own away and dig thumbs exactly into the spot where the muscles had seized and ease the pain. It had startled Harold the first time John had done that, his hands hesitant and Harold had frozen under the ministrations. He preferred to keep his distance from others, both figuratively and in person, but John had managed to slowly break that barrier down between them. Now John's hands were there sometimes even before he'd consciously realized that he'd tied the muscles into knots. Before this moment, he never would have thought he'd miss such a small touch.

 

He considered ignoring the number in front of him in favour of staying with John, but knew he couldn't. Even though John was incapacitated, they had allies now. He may have brought John into the picture as a single asset, but John had recruited others to their cause, even if they didn't know exactly what they helped do. John would want him to continue on, to use them as he could. Belatedly, he wondered if John had recruited them in case of just such an incident as this. It sounded like something the man would do.

 

“I have to take care of this,” he said. He searched for any kind of response but, of course, there was nothing.

 

He stood, grimacing as his back joined his neck in protesting the harsh treatment. Detective Carter entered the room as he was stepping gingerly around the bed. He glanced at the clock on the wall to discover he'd managed to sleep the remaining few hours of the night and into the morning.

 

“Ah, Detective Carter. I need to step out for a few hours. Would you mind sitting with John until I return?”

 

Carter looked him up and down, considering his words. Harold knew she'd noticed his need to be close to John the night before and had been grateful she hadn't mentioned anything. Now she was taking the assumptions gleaned from those brief minutes to determine his motives now.

 

“Did your source tell you someone new is in danger?” she asked.

 

Harold just managed to keep his gaze steady under her scrutiny. The danger of getting so close to her or Detective Fusco lay in either one of them finding out about the machine. Harold knew John would be the first to admit it was much more likely that Detective Carter would make the leap in logic first and with far fewer hints. And she'd had many more than a few hints.

 

“I have business to attend to,” Harold said. “Unfortunately, it waits for no man, Mr. Reese included.”

 

Detective Carter didn't seem convinced, but she let the matter drop. Harold gave John one last glance, still hoping against hope that the other man would sit up in bed and tell him that it was all just a joke and Harold really did need to lighten up. When he didn't, Harold turned back for the door and left without another word.