A/N: After episode 1.18 “Identity Crisis,” John stays in the area to check up on Finch. Fluffy Rinch slash!
(The line “The key is the key” is from the movie “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” starring Whoopi Goldberg.)
Reese walked out of the library with an effort of will. It had been almost irresistibly tempting to take the high and uncharacteristically jovial Finch up on his word when he had declared, “Ask me anything!” In his altered state of mind, Finch no doubt would have revealed all of his secrets without even much prompting. Reese could have found the answers to the myriad of questions which had been accumulating in his mind over the past several months, regarding not only the history of the Machine’s development but also Finch’s personal history. How had he been injured? Had it been somehow connected with the Machine? Was that what had caused his extreme paranoia? And how was the dead businessman – the father of the young man Finch had hugged and smiled at with such affection – involved, if at all?
Shaking his head to try to shove these and other questions aside, Reese walked briskly down the sidewalk to a bar that he had entered once before. It was dark and the music was not too loud – a good place to sit over a drink for a while and think, somewhat like the place where the real Jordan Hester worked. The waitress must have remembered him as a big tipper from the last time and came over at once to take his order. Reese had not yet eaten dinner, so he ordered a sandwich with fries and a beer. He couldn’t drink any hard liquor tonight; he knew he had to be sober to compensate for Finch’s current condition.
He didn’t mind it, but he couldn’t stop chiding himself for not training his partner/employer more thoroughly. Because Finch was such an intelligent man, Reese tended to forget that he was not accustomed to blatant chicanery and deceit, and therefore less likely to suspect those who seemed agreeable in person of being capable of inflicting great harm. For a man who was cautious to a fault about protecting his information, Finch was paradoxically very vulnerable to common street crimes – if someone approached him and asked very politely for directions, he would be shocked to discover that they had only stopped him long enough to swipe his wallet. He was sometimes too innocent for his own good.
Reese ate his fries slowly, reviewing the standard protocol that he had been taught to follow when in the presence of a possibly hostile operative, such as “Never eat or drink anything that was prepared out of your sight.” He mentally joked with himself that the waitress and kitchen staff of the bar could be covert agents of a hostile foreign nation, in which case he would be screwed. He finished his second beer with a hidden smile on his lips, placed ample cash on the table, and slipped out. It had been nearly an hour since he had left Finch at the library, and although he was fairly certain that the high would be wearing off, leaving Finch to crash and sleep, he wanted to be sure.
After retrieving Finch from Fusco’s squad car, he had spent a delightful few minutes walking with him down to where his own car was parked. He had offered his arm for support, since Finch was still rather unsteady on his feet (or rather, more unsteady than usual), whereupon Reese had been surprised and amused when the smaller man had latched on to his arm as though it were the most natural thing in the world, chatting in a running commentary and greeting everyone they passed on the sidewalk. Reese couldn’t hide the smile that spread, unbidden, over his face at the thought of all those people assuming that they were lovers, possibly drunk, but Finch was so elated that he didn’t take offense at Reese’s unusual expression. He kept looking all around them in child-like wonder as though the ordinary business and residential neighborhood, slightly off the beaten path, were a wonderland of sights and sensations.
Reese had stopped in at a convenience store on the way back to the library – leaving Finch in the car with instructions to play with the radio buttons – just to pick up the pack of bottled water. He knew from experience that most powerful drugs dehydrated the body and needed to be flushed out with plenty of fluids. He was glad, however, that Finch’s dose had been of a much more pleasant variety than the truth serums and other torturous chemicals to which he himself had been exposed over the years. When he returned to the car, he found Finch still punching the buttons, chortling and giggling in delight, and felt an overwhelming urge to pet him while he was still in such high humor. With a silent sigh, Reese instead drove to an alley from which they could walk in relative privacy to the library.
Now he approached it from another way and slipped up to their office area where he had left Finch. The lights were still on, but he could not immediately place the other man. The chair by the desk was empty, the cubbyhole where he fiddled with audio files was also vacant, and the cot in the back room (where Reese knew Finch spent more nights than he was willing to admit) was made up neatly, with no sign of Finch having used it tonight. Feeling a sense of déjà vu, with flashbacks to when they had lost sight of Leila, Reese began quietly and methodically searching the rooms where the lights were on – relieved beyond words that he had removed his arsenal and distributed the weapons to various other hiding places already. He didn’t think Finch would play with them, even in his current state, but he was immensely glad that it was not possible for his partner to accidentally “blow up” the building as he had remarked.
Spotting a bit of blue blanket in the corner of a book room (one filled only with bookshelves, presumably Finch’s collection of favorite literature), Reese breathed a sigh of relief and approached it on tiptoe. The blanket was draped over a several boxes, he thought, until he drew closer and saw that it was actually an enclosure of stacked books – much like the playpen that Finch had thrown together for Leila. He had used a large quantity of books like bricks or building-blocks to construct a wall more than knee-high and extending from the wall to the ends of two rows of shelves, enclosing a rather large area. Reese knelt on the floor and carefully lifted a corner of the blanket to peer inside.
“Shhhhh!” Finch told him, holding a finger to his lips. He was huddled on the floor, hugging his knees with one arm, and from the dilation of his pupils, Reese gathered that the Extasy had not worn off yet.
“Why are we being so quiet?” Reese whispered.
“We’re hiding!” he earnestly informed him.
“From you!” Finch giggled. “And you’re supposed to say ‘From whom,’ not ‘From who.'”
“Oh,” Reese replied softly with a grin. He looked around inside the shaded space and saw that the four bottles of water were on a bookshelf, two of them empty. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Yeah! I feel great,” Finch beamed. “Hey, you wanna come inside my fort?”
“Is it okay?” Reese asked politely, still smiling as he realized that this construction of books and a blanket was supposed to be a “fort.”
“Yeah, sure… but you have to know the password.”
“What’s the password?”
“It’s ‘The key is the key’!”
Finch started laughing and tried to suppress it, wheezing and turning red from the effort. Reese didn’t know what was so funny about it but chuckled along.
“‘The key is the key.’ Can I come in now?”
As Reese peeled back a corner of the blanket and stepped over the stacked books, Finch scooted to the other side and held that end of the blanket steady. It was roomy enough even for Reese’s long legs, although he had to duck under the blanket. The private space made him feel nostalgic about his own childhood days when he had built teepees and forts and secret hideaways himself.
“This is very cozy, Harold. Are you going to sleep here tonight?”
“Sleep? Who can sleep when there are so many books to read?” Finch asked in return, still grinning gleefully. “Grandpa had lots of books, but there must be ten times more – a hundred times more – in this room alone!”
“Are you going to read them all at one go?” Reese asked, shifting into a more comfortable position.
“Nawww, don’t be silly!” Finch drawled. “I have to eat sometimes. But I have water!” He paused for a moment and his grin broadened. “You gave me the water!”
“I did. I see you’ve finished two bottles already. That’s very good, Harold.”
“Yeah.” Finch looked at the bottles on the shelf, then suddenly said, “I have to go to the bathroom. Will you come with me?”
“Why?” Reese asked, startled.
“The light’s not on. I don’t like the hallway when it’s dark.”
“You could turn on the light.”
“Or we could use flashlights, like we’re exploring a cave!” was Finch’s conspiratorial response. Reese gave up with a little laugh.
“All right. Or I could come with you and turn on the light.”
Finch could not climb out of his own construction (obviously he had built it around himself, trapping himself in) so Reese had to tear down a portion of the “wall” with the promise to repair it later. Finch struggled to get to his feet after sitting on the floor for who knows how long, so Reese helped him up with both hands, and Finch continued to cling to one of them as they made their way out of the room and down the hall. Finch happily hummed a little tune which Reese thought he recognized. He wondered if the secretive man had been this trusting when he was young, and smiled at the thought of Finch as a boy.
“I’ll wait out here,” Reese told him after turning on the bathroom lights and stepping back out into the hallway.
“Okay,” Finch said and disappeared inside. A moment later he cracked the door open and giggled, “No peeking!”
“Oh, Harold… I’m gonna miss you,” Reese murmured to himself. Maybe I should lace his tea with mild doses of Ex sometimes, he thought with a wry grin.
He heard running water, but when Finch did not emerge after several minutes, he went in to check and found his partner/employer flicking water on the mirror’s surface.
“Look, John! They’re all sparkly,” he crowed.
“Very pretty, Harold. But I think it’s time we got you into bed.”
“Really? Is it my bedtime already?” Finch whined.
“It’s actually way past your bedtime,” Reese told him very patiently. “Tell you what: I’ll read you a story until you fall asleep. I’ll even let you choose the book.”
Reese smiled again as Finch bounced a bit and clapped his hands together before dragging the taller man back into the book room, where he then made a beeline for one of the shelves. From the thin but large sizes of the books, Reese guessed that they were children’s picture books, and he was right. Finch came back with a well-worn copy of “Goodnight, Moon.”
“It’s my favorite,” Finch told him.
“Mine, too,” Reese admitted, truthfully. “Come on, let’s get you tucked in.”
He turned to go to the room with the cot, but Finch went in the other direction – back to his “fort.”
“Are you gonna sleep in there?” Reese asked, following after him. “It’s hard and cold on the floor…”
“But I’ll be surrounded by books,” Finch pointed out, as though his reasoning ought to be crystal clear.
“Hang on, then,” Reese said in resignation. “Let me go get the mattress from the cot.”
It was hardly a mattress – just a two-inch-thin layer of sponge covered in vinyl – but it was better than nothing and came with a decent pillow. Finch was already busy repairing the hole in the “wall” when Reese returned, but they managed to set the sponge mattress inside the “fortifications.” Once they were both walled in, Finch pulled the blanket over the two of them as they sat side-by-side, their backs supported by the empty bookshelf behind them. Reese was startled yet again when Finch laced one arm through his and leaned against him so he could see the pictures.
“In the great green room there was a telephone,” Reese began reading, his soft voice weaving the magic of the words through Finch’s tired head. By the time he read “Goodnight comb and goodnight brush,” Finch was yawning. By the end of the book, his eyes were closed and his breathing deep.
Reese set the book up on an empty shelf and carefully extricated his arm from Finch’s grasp, then cradled him to lay him gently down on the mattress. Once his head was settled on the pillow, Reese tucked the blanket around him, breathed a sigh of relief, and studied his peaceful face. After about a minute, he rose and stepped over the wall of books to begin turning off the lights. He left a few desk lamps on so they wouldn’t be plunged into total darkness, taking the added precaution of turning up the thermostat. He also grabbed two more blankets from the cot and stepped inside the “fort” again.
“After all, I did promise to keep an eye on you,” he muttered, so quietly that Finch didn’t even stir, then placed one blanket on the floor – folded lengthwise to form an extension of the mattress – and lay down, half on it and half on the mattress, before spreading the other blanket over himself. The tip of his nose was almost touching Finch’s, but he was amazed at how comfortable it actually was, and glad that the other man had created a “fort” big enough for both of them.
“Goodnight, Harold,” he whispered in the same tone as the story, then found his partner’s hands under the blankets and held them. He willed himself to fall asleep (a technique he had learned in the Army), letting oblivion – and dreams of the moon – welcome him into the night.
Finch groaned as he awoke, feeling his body protest in even more ways than usual. He found his face pressed against something rather hard – in fact, his whole body was on top of something hard and warm, which was odd. He rubbed his eyes as he tried to swallow, his mouth seeming to be completely dry, and his head pounded with a splitting headache. Squinting against the shafts of sunlight coming in from a window somewhere, he tried to get his bearings, but the world started spinning and he had to lie back down on his strange mattress.
“Good morning, Finch.”
Reese’s voice startled him, making him jerk and thereby sending shock waves of pain up and down his spine. What made it even worse was the realization that the voice had come from beneath him, followed by the next realization (a split second later) that the object on which he was resting was Reese.
“J—John!” Finch spluttered, trying to back away, only to find something solid behind him as well. “What’s going on? Where are we? And where are my glasses?”
“Easy, Finch,” Reese soothed, rubbing the smaller man’s back with a firm but gentle hand. “You’ve had quite a rough night. Just try to relax for a moment. You’re safe now – we’re in the library. In fact, we’re inside a fort… I can’t imagine a safer place to be.”
Still panicked and confused, Finch missed the note of humor in Reese’s last words, but at least his heart rate started to slow down from the assurance that they were in the secure building. The rhythmic strokes of Reese’s hands on his back had the desired effect of calming him, too.
“Rough night… how do you mean?” Finch asked, a few thoughts beginning to coagulate out of the morass in his mind.
“Do you remember our last case? Jordan Hester?”
“Yes… only… there were two of them…”
“That’s right. You were following the woman, and talked to her in the book store…”
“Oh!” Finch cried with a start. “She… She wanted to get her things, but she put something in my drink!”
“Extasy. You’ve been… trippin’.” Reese paused to let his words sink in. “How are you feeling now?”
Finch considered this for a moment. “Dehydrated. Exhausted. And I ache all over. I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming an addict.”
A low rumble moved through Reese’s body and into Finch’s. Despite the aches that he had just complained about, he didn’t mind getting jostled this way. In fact, he had to admit (though only to himself, of course) that it was surprisingly comfortable to have one side of his face resting on Reese’s chest, with the taller man’s arms wrapped around him protectively.
“The other Jordan Hester – the real Jordan Hester – helped me set things straight. Fusco figured out the imposter’s name and she’s been arrested,” Reese reported, knowing that Finch would be curious about the conclusion of the case. “Now we just need to make sure that you’ve got all the Ex out of your system. Do you think you can roll over to this side, or would it be better if I slip out from under you?”
“Why can’t I roll back this way?” Finch said, although he had felt something behind him earlier.
“Bookshelf. Let me scoot over so you have more room.”
As Reese began to put his words into action, moving in small increments, Finch reluctantly lifted his tired head from Reese’s chest and remarked, “Do I dare ask why we are in such a… strange configuration?”
“I had to keep an eye on you, Finch – you were still pretty out of it,” Reese countered as he extricated himself. “In fact, I had a hard time getting you to go to sleep. I had to resort to desperate measures.” He managed to slip out from under Finch completely and sat up. “I came back expecting you to be asleep, but found you building this.” Remembering that Finch couldn’t see what he meant, he reached over the other man to grab his glasses from the bookshelf behind him. “Here, see for yourself – it’s a great fort, big enough for two.”
Finch put on his glasses and felt some relief at having the world come into focus, but stopped and stared when he saw the number of books piled up around them.
“I did this?” he asked, incredulous.
Reese nodded. “Hyperactivity is one of the effects of Extasy. You didn’t want to sleep on the cot, either, so I brought the mattress over here. It’s really quite cozy. If we got a couple of sleeping bags to make a softer mattress, I wouldn’t mind camping out here on a regular basis. Maybe even make it a… permanent arrangement.”
This time, Finch did not miss the smirk pulling up the corners of the younger man’s face.
“You’re welcome to do so, Mr. Reese, but even with the extra padding, I don’t think my body could put up with such punishment.” With a completely authentic groan, he removed his glasses and lay back down, face-first, on the thin mattress. “Ow… I feel like I’ve been dragged by a horse over a gravel road…”
“Where does it hurt? Specifically.”
“Everywhere… but my back is sore – sorer than it usually is – and my stomach… I think I need some Pepto-Bismol or something…”
“Let me rub your back, Finch,” Reese urged gently. “I’ll be very careful, and you can tell me if I’m doing more harm than good.”
“At this point, I suppose anything would be an improvement,” Finch sighed. He tensed only slightly when he felt Reese straddling his waist, then sighed again – this time in relief – as strong fingers began kneading and massaging down either side of his spine. “Ugh… Oh… Yes, that does feel better,” he murmured.
Reese kept it up for a while, smiling at the grateful moans his hands elicited from Finch, then patted him affectionately before standing up.
“Try to get some sleep. You’ve still got two bottles of water here. I’ll go get some breakfast and a bottle of Pepto. Need anything else?”
“Aspirin. There’s some in the desk,” Finch replied, his face still half-buried in the pillow. Reese returned a moment later with the pills and helped Finch sit up so he could take them with water.
“I’ll be right back,” Reese assured him after easing him back down and tucking both blankets around him. “Don’t wander off anywhere.”
“I won’t. I can’t,” Finch said with a self-deprecating snort.
“At least you have plenty of reading material,” Reese smiled, then disappeared beyond the wall of books.
Finch didn’t have any appetite for breakfast, since his stomach felt like a dozen ulcers had sprung up overnight, but Reese insisted that he eat at least part of a muffin to go with the chalky pink medicine he had chugged down. The aspirin began to kick in and, although he was still exhausted, he felt more able to face the new day. However, he insisted that Reese shower first, since he was rather woozy and unsteady on his feet. Knowing that the former soldier would be out of the bathroom in no time, Finch hastily pulled up the internal surveillance footage of the library from the night before.
“Oh, dear God,” he gasped as he heard himself, flying higher than a kite, offer to answer anything Reese might want to know. He was relieved and extremely grateful that his partner/employee had chosen the gentleman’s route, not taking advantage of his vulnerable state, but he buried his aching head in his hands at his own stupidity. Moments later, hearing his dead friend’s name slip out from his lips, Finch froze for a whole minute.
I called John “Nathan”… he thought, his eyes growing wide open. I got him confused with… Well, of course, I was high and confused and out of my blasted mind! Just a simple mistake…
Fast forwarding through his own toils in building the book fort, he resumed playing it at the normal speed when Reese returned, and was humbled by how patiently the other man had cared for him, even taking him to the bathroom and (Finch’s face burned in horrified embarrassment) reading him a child’s bedtime story. But the soft cadence of his voice was undeniably suited to the task, and Finch’s eyelids began drooping again even now as he replayed it.
“The shower’s open, unless you’d rather go to bed again,” Reese teased him from behind, making him jump. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you had sensors that told you where I was, twenty-four seven.”
“Perhaps a cowbell would work better,” Finch said in some irritation (for his back was aching again from the shock) as he paused the footage and logged out of his computer.
“That’s a good book,” Reese continued, unfazed. “I like books with pictures in them.”
“It’s a classic,” Finch grudgingly agreed. He struggled a bit to stand up, straightened himself, and hobbled towards the bathroom. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to shower and change into some fresh clothes for the second time in twenty-four hours…”
“Careful, Finch,” Reese called out to him. “If you dawdle in there, I might have to come take a peek.”
With an inward groan at having his own words thrown back at him, Finch made his way down the hall, remembering with mild humiliation how he had asked Reese to escort him the previous night because he’d been afraid of the dark – not to mention unable to figure out how to turn on the lights.
Never again, he vowed to himself with firm resolve as he peeled off his clothes. Apparently, he had sweated through them in his drug-induced mania; his own body odor was enough to kill his appetite. But John slept with me, as smelly as I was… He must have been really worried about my condition… and no wonder! I was so utterly and thoroughly out of it…
The warm jets of water pounding into his skin threatened to resurrect his headache, but the joy of being clean eclipsed any discomfort and he simply stood in the shower, reveling in the sensation, for as long as he dared. He didn’t put it past Reese to actually check in on him, so he was glad to make it out of the bathroom fully dressed before his partner made good on his threat.
“John?” he called as he limped into the office, seeing that the chair by the desk was empty.
“In here,” came Reese’s voice from a room further down the hallway, and Finch found him sitting inside the book fort – his head and shoulders visible above the fortifications – reading another one of the children’s books, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
“I’m glad to see that you’re enriching your mind,” Finch said dryly as he approached.
“Reading is a great way to learn new things,” Reese responded, equally deadpan. “You should try it sometime.”
Finch snickered at the irony, but found his eyes held captive by the searching expression in Reese’s.
“How are you feeling?” Reese asked.
“Much better, thank you. It’s amazing what soap and warm water can do.” After a slightly awkward pause, Finch added, “I see that you’ve made yourself at home in this… ‘fort.'”
Reese smiled as he patted the two folded blankets stacked on the floor next to him.
“Would you care to join me? There’s plenty of books here, and the Machine hasn’t given us a new number, has it?”
“Not the last time I checked,” Finch answered, then hesitated for a second before lowering himself onto the makeshift seat. He felt Reese place one arm behind his back, ready to catch him if need be, and pursed his lips at the emotions that the simple gesture evoked. Even after he was settled onto the blankets, Reese did not remove his arm, resting it nonchalantly on the empty bookshelf. Finch stared at the wall of books in front of them while he chose his next words.
“I have to admit, I’m rather surprised and… impressed, that you didn’t interrogate me last night, when I was so… vulnerable.”
“I couldn’t, Harold… not when you were practically volunteering information,” Reese replied. “Where would be the challenge in that? It was a matter of… professional pride.”
“Ah. Well, I just wanted to thank you for your restraint, as well as for going above and beyond the call of duty to… make sure I was all right.”
“Don’t mention it, Harold. Besides, I just wanted you to still respect me in the morning.”
The teasing note in Reese’s voice managed to bring a blush to Finch’s cheeks.
“I believe I can safely assure you… I will always respect you, Mr. Reese.”
Finch was startled but somehow not surprised when he felt Reese’s arm curling around his shoulders.
“Well, if that’s the case,” Reese’s voice whispered in his ear, tickling the sensitive hairs, “I didn’t need to hold back so much, did I?”
Finch swallowed hard as Reese nuzzled the side of his face, letting the tip of his nose slide up and down his sideburns.
“J—John…” Finch stammered, not sure what he wanted to say.
“Mmm… You smell good, Harold. Much better than last night,” Reese told him, a devilish twinkle in his eyes – though Finch could not see it, staring as he was at the stacked books.
“I’m sure I do,” Finch responded faintly.
Something soft and slightly wet brushed against his cheek, and Finch realized that Reese was kissing him – kissing him repeatedly, shifting in a trail that led down to his mouth. He wanted to say something, but his mind had gone blank, and soon his parted lips were claimed by Reese’s without so much as a whimper of resistance. He did gasp in shock, though, when Reese’s tongue entered into his mouth and made its presence known, so Reese drew back to let him breathe.
“I should have warned you, Harold… I’m a very hungry caterpillar,” he grinned, looking deep into Finch’s astonished eyes with tenderness and love.
“Yes… Yes, of course,” Finch murmured, then closed his eyes and leaned towards his partner, who seemed to have no qualms whatsoever in taking advantage of Finch when he was practically volunteering his lips to him.
A/N: The only place I can go after this is smut – like wild, tumbling-in-the-books sort of smut. But I have other, more well-thought-out stories waiting to be written, so this story will probably end here.