I loathe the expression: “What makes a man tick.” It is the American mind looking for simple and singular solutions that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm.
~ James Thurber
The first thing he needed to do was to stop the shaking. He was trembling badly enough he doubted he could shoot straight at the moment. He wasn’t sweating anymore and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to piss. Fan-fucking-tastic.
He needed to put himself back together before getting to the library – Finch couldn’t see him looking so rumpled and unsteady. He might start to wonder if Reese was capable of doing this job. Mentally flipping through the list of caches he was slowly building up he was dismayed to realize none were close enough. He’d been viewing the library as a viable bolt hole and building out from there. He’d rectify that mistake with the next lull in numbers. He sighed. If a lull ever came. There was no help for it: he’d have to report in bloody and greasy.
Since passing out at Finch’s feet was just about the worst thing he could think of, he veered into a drug store and headed for the pediatrics’ aisle. An IV would be the most efficient option but until his hands stopped shaking he wouldn’t be able to do that himself and he doubted that Finch could either. Grabbing three bottles of the unflavored Pedialyte he paid and resumed his trek to the library. He guzzled half of a bottle as soon as he exited the store, then downgraded to steady sipping as he walked. Puking was also really high on his list of things to avoid.
Fortunately, it was only a half dozen blocks before he was within the cool, shadowed confines of ‘HQ’. Unfortunately, he was immediately pinned by Finch’s unblinking stare. He’d been waiting for him. Without even thinking about it Reese straightened his shoulders and tried to look more alert. Christ, was there another number already? Reese felt the exhaustion sink heavy into his bones, the weight and ache of it making his posture difficult to maintain.
“That took longer than I expected. We have a new number.”
Reese closed his eyes briefly and focused on not reacting.
“Indeed. I did tell you they never stopped. This one should be fairly simple, however. In fact ….”
Reese tried to pay attention, he really did, but he was having problems focusing: he was sticky, drained of all energy and motivation, and desperate to appear the opposite. And Finch had blanked two of his monitors. That was annoying. His hobby of figuring out his mysterious employer had taken a back seat to his work load. If Finch thought working him to the bone would sideline Reese’s investigation into him … he was right. Also annoying.
“Mr. Reese? Are you all right?”
Shit. Reese came to suddenly, dismayed to realize he had slumped against a book case. Finch had even sounded worried. He could feel the flush of humiliation up the back of his neck and choked it back.
“Fine. I’m fine.”
The look Finch gave him was so level and concerned that Reese decided that he must look as terrible as he felt. Great. He noticed Finch eying the Pedialyte in his hand.
“Perhaps something cold would be better in this heat. There’s Gatorade in the refrigerator.”
“Not unless you want me to puke blue.”
Reese’s lips twitched, delighted at the horror that flitted briefly across Finch’s face.
“Too sweet, Finch. You want to be helpful buy some Pedialyte. Or learn how to give an IV.”
Normally cool and collected, it was funny how squeamish Finch could get over something so simple. Typically, Finch ignored Reese’s small jab.
“I’ll make a note of that. The water in the back bathroom works now – perhaps a cool shower and fresh clothing instead. There’s enough time - I’m still compiling the data.”
“You sayin’ I stink, Finch?”
“You think you don’t?”
Reese returned the favor and ignored Finch’s counter-jab.
“Wait - you have clothes for me?”
Finch raised an eyebrow but kept his attention on his monitors.
“I’ll fetch them momentarily.”
He probably had everything in the right size, too. It was a bit disquieting but very Finch. While he thought he had absorbed the ramifications of Finch’s claim to know ‘everything’ he was still surprised at the level of minutia that it entailed.
Obviously dismissed and under the weight of Finch’s disapproving gaze Reese, as was his fashion, accepted the situation as it was rather than as he wished it to be and moved for the shower. The sooner he got started the sooner he’d be done with it. Life wasn’t often kind to him, no reason to expect it to start now. But he really hoped he could sleep after this one.
Finch watch Reese as he walked away, frowning as he noticed the slumped shoulders and shuffling walk. He hadn’t missed the way Reese had drooped slightly at hearing they had another number. His jokes had obviously been a weak attempt at diverting Finch’s attention from his wandering mind. It had been a busy a week – certainly outside the average. Reese had spent most of it outside as well and New York was laboring under an unseasonable heat wave. Regardless of the cause, the numbers had been constant for 12 days now, often overlapping, and Finch was growing worried about Reese’s condition. However, considering the information on his screen ... Finch was cautiously hopeful this number would not require Reese’s particular brand of intervention.
Sighing, Finch set his system to begin worming into Mr. Wilson’s life before he leveraged himself out of his chair and moved to the storage closets. Reese was touch; alternately stoic and defensive. Asking for assignments but defying orders. Finch wasn’t sure if he was testing him or if Reese himself couldn’t decide between what he wanted and what he needed.
Finch hesitated while reaching for one of the dark suits Reese had taken to wearing while working. Changing his mind, he instead grabbed a cotton t-shirt and a pair of track pants from one of the drawers as well as various necessities. As distasteful as he found it, it was evidently up to him to ensure his agent had the appropriate amounts of rest and recovery – Reese didn’t appear inclined to do anything but work when there was a number. Perhaps he’d pushed him too hard? In any case, it would be better if he rested now while Finch had a number that could be resolved from his computer. They might not be so lucky with the next one.
Walking back to bathroom to drop the clothing off he was surprised to see steam coming from beneath the door. Tapping a warning, he pushed into the room cautiously, clutching the fresh clothes to his chest.
“Mr. Reese, I’m leaving a towel and clothing for you.”
Setting the items on a counter, Finch hesitated before leaving; warring with himself over pointing out that a hot shower was not a beneficial remedy for heat exhaustion.
Uncertain how much interference would be tolerated he ventured his opinion anyway.
“Mr. Reese, perhaps a cooler shower would be more appropriate?”
“I need it hot to get the grease off. I’ll cool it down before I get out. Don’t be a nag, Finch.”
“Of course not.”
Apparently not a lot. There was a fine line between helping and hovering and he had crossed it. Finch moved to step out of the restroom, stopping as he noticed Reese’s discarded pile of clothing. There was blood on the white shirt, both dried and fresh. Reese hadn’t mentioned any injuries. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask about it but in the end, he decided Reese would not be appreciative of another interruption. He’d just have to monitor him more carefully once he was out.
Reese stepped out of the shower cautiously, his limbs heavy and his coordination uneven. Finch was right about the water being too hot. But the warehouse was filthy with old oil and dirt, and a little over tired and dehydrated now was a hell of a lot better than feverish and infected later. He really hoped he didn’t pass out. He craned his neck as he twisted in front of the mirror to try and get a good look at the raw scrapes. They ran down his right side from just under his scapula to his beltline. He was pretty sure he’d gotten all the crud out but there was no way to be sure at this angle. The soap had stung like a bitch. Maybe Finch had some broad spectrum antibiotics in his magic med kit. Seemed likely. He hadn’t seen a kit like that outside a hospital since he left the Special Forces. Didn’t really matter, he’d been worse off and still managed to keep moving. Ordos came to mind as a recent example.
Swallowing thickly, Reese focused on his wavering, foggy reflection. Ordos had been coming to mind too frequently lately. He didn’t like it. God, he needed a drink or five. Narrowing his eyes, he focused on his slack musculature and shadowed eyes. His body was probably still purging alcohol and the current optempo wasn’t the best way to recover. Dissipation was a hell of a way to go – especially when you didn’t finish the job. He was pushing himself too hard and he knew better. But when he was busy, the complexities drove out his obsessive regrets, failures and the pain of betrayals. He knew it hadn’t been personal but Kara’s shot had stung more than a little. The realization that he failed Jessica for an organization that had tried to put him down didn’t set well, either. That wasn’t the Agency he joined. After the realization of the meaningless of his life helping someone in the simple ways Finch asked of him was a breath of fresh air. He almost felt … clean. It was too good to be true and he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop on him.
Finch obviously disliked Reese’s more … violent techniques. Had he decided he was too violent and cut him loose? Was he already looking for a more malleable operator? He closed his eyes against the leaden feeling that thought caused. Well, he was good at this kind of work. He’d just have to do a better job at proving it.
His hands were still trembling slightly so he decided shaving was a bad idea. Grabbing the towel he roughly dried himself off before eying the clothes Finch had dropped off. He’d expected another suit or at least functional work clothes. Finch hadn’t left him much: a soft t-shirt and baggy sweats. No shoes. Reese didn’t like that. He was vulnerable while barefoot. What if he had to move, fight, run? Unhappy with the implication that Finch didn’t think he should be working right now, Reese dressed.
At least he’d left the Sig.
Finch finished laying out the medical kit on the long table, hoping Reese would allow him to clean whatever wound he had sustained. Well, of course he would. Reese was a professional and ruthlessly practical. Finch hoped he’d be able to complete the task without disgracing himself. It appeared as if he was going to have to expand on the diversity of his skill sets if he was going to continue working with Mr. Reese. The man was stubborn about avoiding hospitals and clinics. Although Finch did have a few doctors ready to be used he preferred to save them for an emergency. At this rate it might not be long.
Finch looked up as Reese finally emerged. Dressed in a simple grey t-shirt and sweats he looked a lot more like the Reese from the hotel room when he was hired: worn, desperate and angry.
“Yes. I need a suit.”
“The number can wait, Mr. Reese.”
“Since you walked in looking like something the cat dragged in.”
“So you say.”
Reese glanced at the table between them, lingered at the medical supplies laid out.
“What’s that for?”
“I imagine you know very well what it’s for, Mr. Reese. Whatever injury it was you incurred in that disgusting warehouse should be thoroughly cleaned.”
“And you’re going to do that?”
The skeptical note in Reese’s voice spoke volumes about what he thought of the idea.
Finch admitted to himself that it was not a particularly appealing prospect. He was actually a little nauseous imagining the things that could be hiding under Reese’s too large t-shirt. He stiffened his spine. Whatever was necessary to get Reese ready to go back out on the streets – he’d do it.
“If required, yes."
“It’s just some road rash from the dragging. My shirt rode up. I cleaned it pretty good in the shower.”
“I am positive that ‘pretty good’ is medically insufficient.”
Reese was silent for a few moments as he considered his options. Finch set his face, ready to argue if Reese proved uncooperative. The man could be incredibly stubborn. Instead, movement’s jerky, Reese tugged the t-shirt over his head and hopped up on the table next to Finch.
Deflated by the sudden compliance Finch moved closer to get a better look at the raw redness along Reese’s side. Finch placed a hesitant hand on Reese’s shoulder, pulling forward slightly to get a better look, and was surprised at Reese’s flinch. He looked up. Reese was pale and still, his gaze firmly on nothing. Finch could see a faint flush blooming across his high cheekbones. Pain? Anger or fear? That didn’t make sense. Embarrassment, maybe? Well, Finch had never been particularly good at reading people and Reese was more difficult than most. So much for the simple man of action stereotype. To call Reese a man of complicated motives was a vast understatement.
The ‘road rash’ wasn’t even the worst thing. It was different knowing about Reese’s past... misadventures and seeing them mapped out across his skin. The close up photos of past injuries and dry medical jargon in Finch’s files didn’t cause the visceral horror he felt upon seeing them on his person. He swallowed uneasily.
“If you pass out I’m not catching you.”
That galvanized him into action.
“I am most certainly not going to ‘pass out’.”
Reese had scored a point. Finch huffed in annoyance. That got a faded grin in response.
“It looks worse than it is.”
“Considering how bad it looks ... that doesn’t seem like particularly good news.”
Steeling himself, Finch set to work. He tried to ignore the occasional hitch to Reese’s breathing as he removed all the remaining visible debris. He was methodical and precise. He didn’t think he was gentle. He paused while cleaning the only deep cut on Reese’s back. Reese was still stoically silent.
“Something wrong, Finch?”
“No. This is the only deep cut. There are pain medications of various strengths in the blue box next to you.”
“Of course you are.”
A few minutes later he finished off with antibacterial spray and stepped back. Ignoring the tense set of Reese’s shoulders Finch pasted a cheerful smile on his face.
“There! That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Easy for you to say.”
Reese reached for his t-shirt but Finch stayed him with a hand.
“Give it a few more moments – the antibiotics need time to absorb.”
Reese nodded, bowed his head, braced his hands alongside his thighs, and leaned forward. The stretch pulled on the cuts but none were deep enough to need stitches and no new blood welled up.
“In the future, Mr. Reese, I’d prefer it if you informed me if you have an injury. Hiding it accomplishes little and risks our operation.”
“You’re nagging again, Finch. I’ve been doing this a long time. I know my limits and I’m fine to work.”
“Is there a particular reason you think I want you to work tired, hungry and injured?”
Reese shrugged a shoulder and then promptly withdrew. Mentally checked out of the conversation he gave a vacant stare to the center of the room. Finch’s concern ratcheted up another notch. He found it unbelievably frustrating when Reese did this – he was so difficult to deal with when he blanked out: every barb, suggestion and comment sliding off that stony façade. Only orders got through and even then he simply complied. Finch was doubtful about the wisdom of taking that tack in the current, emotionally charged moment. If Reese thought he’d be regularly forced to share he might simply leave and never come back. Finch couldn’t take that risk. For the moment, a graceful retreat was in order.
“Very well. I have some broad spectrum antibiotics – you should take those, at least. And perhaps something to eat would not come amiss.”
There was a long moment where he thought Reese might refuse that as well. Ignoring Reese’s suspicious stare, Finch busied himself rerolling the unused gauze and waited. Thankfully, practicality won out and Reese unbent enough to nod his agreement.
Sensing victory, Finch pressed forward.
“And you should drink a cold beverage. I put the Pedialyte in the freezer.”
“Water is fine.”
“Perhaps the couch would do for a nap?”
“You don’t need to do all this – I can rest back at my motel.”
“If I thought you’d rest I’d let you, Mr. Reese.”
Reese’s eyes flashed at the ‘let’ and, realizing his mistake, Finch improvised quickly.
“I need you here in case something doesn’t work out with this number.”
He had learned in the first few days of meeting Reese that dangling a task in front of him was the quickest way to get compliance. And as much as Reese bristled at being ‘told’ mostly he seemed to prefer a clear command structure. It was working this time, too. Reese appeared mollified though still reluctant.
Tamping back the triumphant gleam of victory, Finch busied himself with clearing a space for the water bottle in easy reach of the couch. After all this back and forth it would be unfortunate if he ruined his progress by getting caught gloating.
Once Finch left the room Reese took a hard breath. Flexing his shoulders and arms he tried to force himself to relax. As ambivalent as his feelings were towards Finch, he didn’t consider him dangerous. But he couldn’t seem to turn his anxiety off. It was worrying Finch, he could tell. Shoving his doubts aside he flexed and fisted his hand, monitoring for improvement. Most of the tremors were gone but he was pretty sure he was tired enough that his fine motor control was compromised. Not one of his finer moments. He was getting too old for this.
Hopping off the table he pulled the t-shirt back over his head and moved to the old couch Finch kept pushed against some empty book cases. It was long enough he could probably catch a power nap. He could do that. Maybe. Finch was right. If he didn’t get some rest he was eventually going to get hurt passed his ability to push through. Experience and habit were the only things keeping him going right now.
Stretching out right side up, he shifted uncomfortably, overworked muscles protesting at finally relaxing. He bunched up a blanket, shoved it under his head and, closing his eyes, took a few deep breaths. He jerked awake almost instantly. Awkwardly reaching down he tugged the bottom of his tshirt up high enough that the still raw scrap could dry out in the open air.
Dozing lightly he contemplated Finch’s motives. Although his time on the streets had compromised the physical aspects of his skill sets his instincts weren’t dead. Finch’s fluttery behavior this afternoon was odd for the reticent man. He’d never given any indication before this that Reese’s bumps and bruises bothered him. Was he worried or annoyed? And if he was worried, was it for the number or for Reese himself? Was he genuinely concerned? Or simply distressed over Reese’s inability to continue mission? The thought of Finch fussing over him made Reese uncomfortable. How was he supposed to sleep with a suddenly solicitous Finch hovering about?
Finch considered the number’s paramount – he wouldn’t appreciate a mistake that killed one of them. The thought of it alone was enough to raise the hairs on the back of his neck. He closed his eyes, defeated. He focused on the ends of the blanket clutched in his hands, running the soft fabric between his fingers in an attempt to relax. He could do this. He needed to do this.
Finch returned to the back room and watched Reese jerk into watchful alertness at his first heavy step into the room. Drat – maybe he should have just stayed out. Reese could eat when he woke up. He placed the bottle of water and a protein bar within arm’s reach of the couch. He then busied himself with quietly packing away the medkit.
After a few moments of silence he peeked across at Reese’s face, averting his gaze from the raw scrapes on Reese’s side. Reese was drowsing in and out, his eyes red and heavy lidded.
“Go to sleep, Mr. Reese. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”
Finch watched as Reese stroked the corner of a blanket, the repetitive motion seeming to ease his restlessness.
“Yes, it is. It’s cashmere.”
Reese frowned at him, suspicious at the instant offer. Mr. Reese did not appear to take kindness well. Staying firmly placid Reese nodded off after a few sleepy moments. Only to snapped awake again, uneasiness in his eyes.
“Are you sure about the number? I can handle it, you know.”
Finch was exasperated. He was starting to feel anxious about the prep work that needed to be finished on Mr. Wilson. He didn’t have time to constantly placate Reese’s insecurity.
“I know. I can take care of this one from my computer. I can’t, however, guarantee that for the next one. You should sleep while you can. Rest assured I’ll wake you if I think someone will get hurt. I would never let that happen.”
Reese settled into the couch, reassured. After several moments of tense fidgeting his eyes finally fluttered shut. Finch waited, ready for Reese to jerk awake again.
“You don’t have to watch.”
At least his eyes stayed closed, maybe he was finally wearing out.
“I guess ... I just feel responsible.”
“I’m not a pet.”
Finch hummed in annoyance.
“I’m aware, Mr. Reese. Stop stalling and go to sleep.”
“I don’t like to sleep.”
Finch wasn’t sure what to do with that announcement.
“Yes, well. That doesn’t negate the fact that you require it.”
Reese quirked a sleepy smile at Finch, “So you’re saying my resistance is futile?”
Finch blinked, surprised at the Star Trek reference. He wouldn’t have pegged Reese as someone familiar with the genre. Pleased, he replied.
Reese settled into the couch after that, his restlessness finally stilled. Ten minutes passed. Then fifteen. Finch was acutely conscious of the passage of time and the number awaiting his attention. Although he had told Reese the truth about his ability to resolve the number he still had some ground work to lay. Finch contemplated Reese’s face, trying to decide if he was actually asleep or not. It was difficult to tell: Reese didn’t look innocent or younger or peaceful or any of the things most people were supposed to look like while sleeping. He looked tense and worried, as if he was on the verge of leaping to action. Finch sighed, suspecting it had nothing to do with the injury and that Reese always slept this way.
Finally certain Reese was sleeping as best he could, Finch eased out of the room. He had work to do.