Fandom:Person of Interest
Rating: Mature for violence and descriptions of injuries
Word Count: ~37K
Warning: violence and descriptions of injuries and treatments
Spoilers: all of season 1
Summary: Following an explosion, Reese loses parts of memory including everything to do with Finch and the Machine. Not sure who to trust, John evades the FBI, CIA and Carter as he attempts to remember who he's become and why he's drawn to this strange man with a limp.
Author's Note: So this fic was originally started as part of pod_together, but then it kept getting longer...and longer...and longer. And then I saw the announcement for PoI Big Bang and decided that would work better. This fic would never have been written without the initial cheerleading from podcath. I'd also like to thank togsos for her awesome, awesome art. She captured the scene exactly as I'd pictured it in my head. Final thanks go to sevencorvus for letting me participate in the Big Bang at the last minute.
“I never said thank you. For looking after me,” he said, watching Joan with a deep affection he hadn't felt in a long time.
“Who's looking after you now?” she asked, a sad smile gracing her features as she searched his with a penetrating gaze that had always seen through his lies and told him she didn't care what he had done or who he had been. All that mattered now was that he was John and they were friends.
“Someone new,” he said, his own smile quirking his lips as he remembered his partner kneeling at his feet, intent on getting his pant cuffs just right and sounding more like a parent on their child's first day of school.
John stared into space, lost in the pain and the memories. He'd managed to get far enough away that he thought he could surface safely. He'd found a thick wool coat somewhere—he couldn't be sure where as everything was starting to blur together—and stumbled into the first homeless camp he could find. It wasn't one he'd ever been to before and he was happy to realize he didn't recognise anyone here.
“Be careful what you look for, Mr. Reese. You just might find it.” They stared at each other for a long moment before John turned to find their newest number. He just managed to hold the smile until he left the library. If he had read that correctly, Harold had just told him that he wouldn't stop John from finding out what secrets lurked in Harold's past.
He shifted his weight as his muscles started to seize on themselves from hours of tense stillness. The new wound wasn't life threatening by itself, but he couldn't make another pharmacy run in his condition and infection would set in soon enough. He still had most of a bottle of pain pills and he was seriously considering downing them all. At least then he could control when he died.
“Thank you,” he said, not quite looking at Finch across the booth. The other man stopped, confusion crossing his features.
“I beg your pardon?”
John blinked slowly, opening his eyes to look Finch dead in the eye. He wanted the other man to know he meant these words, that he was speaking from honest gratitude and not out of some ploy to gain the other man's trust.
“For giving me a job.” They had a moment of understanding. They both knew John had been maybe a month from killing himself either from booze or a self-inflicted gun shot before Harold plucked him from anonymity and gave him a purpose.
He closed his eyes as emotion pulsed through him. He was leaving Harold to deal with the numbers all alone. He'd watched the camp move in a steady rhythm and he was reasonably sure it had been almost twenty-four hours since he'd first made it here, probably closer to twenty-eight since the roof. The camp was still now, occasional coughs and snores breaking the quiet.
He'd realized he'd been wrong about Harold around dawn. He figured the CIA had seen him help Carter and followed him back to the precinct. He'd been careless and blamed Harold. The smaller man deserved better, so he'd curled up for warmth and stayed here, ready to die on his own rather than cause the other man any more pain.
“The numbers never stop coming. You should know that up front.”
Images of the board filled his mind. The numbers. The machine. He chuckled softly to himself. Mystery solved. He let his head fall back against the brick wall he sat against, amazed that there hadn't been an accompanying spike through his head. As much pain as he was in from his other injuries, his head probably just hadn't gotten the memo yet.
“The numbers haunted me.”
He remembered wanting to put a comforting hand on Harold's shoulder, to put himself between Harold and the memories on that board and remind him that he was with Harold now. They were stopping bad things from happening to good people. Sure, they'd made a few mistakes along the way, but they were working to fix those, too.
“I need you, John. I can't do this on my own. I can't do it without you.”
He frowned. He didn't remember Harold saying those words, didn't have a memory of watching his face as he admitted to more than either of them had ever said before. But he could hear Harold saying them.
John pushed himself up, gritting his teeth as the pain spiked everywhere in his body all at once. When he was on his feet, he pulled out the bottle of pain killers and dry swallowed two of the quarters. Taking a few deep breaths, he steadied himself mentally and physically then pushed away from the wall and started walking.
Harold stared at his phone for a long minute, uncomprehending. He'd installed new motion detectors in the library before he left to alert him to an intruder. With John gone and in an unknowable state of mind, he felt he couldn't be too careful. He would now be alerted if anyone that was not himself entered the tunnel leading to the entrance, then the entrance and various points inside.
He'd been sure he was being overly paranoid when he'd installed them, but now someone had entered the library, apparently moving slowly as the alerts were spaced a fair span of time apart. With the message that the intruder had entered the inner sanctum, a photo of John's haggard face was included, the first time the system was able to get a usable image.
Harold felt a brief moment of paralysing fear at the thought that John had come to kill him for what he thought was Harold's betrayal before he gave himself a mental slap. If John did want to kill him, Harold was quite sure that he would never see it coming and he certainly wouldn't come in the front door looking like death warmed over.
The waitress startled him with his check and he smiled automatically and thanked her. He was sitting at a new diner and had just finished his breakfast before making his own way to the library. He considered his options now. He could continue on and find out what John was doing, he could remotely destroy the computers and report John to the authorities or he could abandon the library all together and leave John to his devices.
He sighed. He didn't really have any actual options. He wasn't going to abandon John now and he certainly wouldn't betray him like the other man thought he'd already done. Dropping money on the table, he picked up his book and began walking toward a man he had assumed he would never see again.
The diner was relatively close and he arrived in twenty minutes. John hadn't disturbed anything as he came in so Harold headed immediately for the second floor. The grate had been left partially askew which told Harold that John wasn't attempting to be particularly stealthy in his appearance, may even have known about the motion detectors when he set them off. Or he didn't care.
Harold set his book down on the nearest shelf and walked slowly toward the workstation. The office was still dark, but various status lights told him it wasn't because John had disabled the power. He stopped at the light switch, considering. As soon as he turned the lights on, John would know that he was here and exactly where he was. Taking a calming breath, he flicked the switch. If he didn't trust John now, then he couldn't ever truly trust him again.
When nothing happened, he blew the breath back out, relaxing marginally and looking around. He regarded the room for several long moments as he took every detail in. It seemed John had come in, taken Harold's extra coat from the rack and disappeared.
“John?” he called, not sure where to look next. He heard movement from one of the back rooms and took a few steps in that direction. The door was partially hidden by his board of lost chances but he could see that John had tucked himself in the corner of the old couch Harold kept for nights when he needed a few hours of sleep but didn't want to return home. Harold's spare coat was draped over his legs to ward off the chill.
As Harold came closer, John kicked the garment off and stood carefully, his arms wrapped protectively around his body. He was pale and seemed small tucked into another coat, this one clearly one he'd found somewhere on the street, the dark garment stained and torn in places but thick. When their gazes met, Harold could see the shadows around John's eyes and the dirt smudged on his face.
“John?” he asked again, staying where he was as John took a few slow steps back toward the main room. Harold kept himself steady as John approached then turned to face the board. Curious, he closed the remaining distance to stand beside his friend and watch John's face as his eyes moved across the pictures and numbers staring lifelessly back at him. Harold had always felt they were staring with recrimination, but then, he'd known something was going to happen to them and done nothing to prevent it.
“They're the ones you couldn't save,” said John, his voice gravelly and sounding like he hadn't used it since his last accusation, but unmistakably directed at Harold. “They're the numbers the Machine gave you before you found me.”
Harold smiled, breathing a sigh of relief that he felt he'd been holding since the explosion almost two weeks previous. “You remember,” he said, allowing himself a glance at the board before returning his eyes to John's face.
John frowned slightly, ducking his head. He opened his mouth once before finally saying, “Not all of it.” He turned to face Harold directly for the first time, searching his face for something. Harold left himself open, letting every feeling float across his features. He'd never allowed John to see this much of himself before, but he knew the other man needed that now. “But I remember enough.”
The smile that had started to fade returned and Harold took another small step toward John. “Good. I was worried about you.”
John turned back to the board, shifting to wrap his arms closer around himself. Was he cold? The library was relatively warm, especially considering the chilly temperatures outside, but if John had been in a homeless shelter or camp all night, the chill may have settled into his bones.
“I'm sorry,” he said. Harold started to brush it off but paused when John continued. “For doubting you. For thinking you had sold me out to the CIA.” He turned back to look again directly into Harold's eyes, making sure he had Harold's full attention. “I know you would never do that.”
Harold took the final step that would put him next to John and laid a hand on John's shoulder, intending to give him some measure of comfort. As soon as his hand settled, however, John flinched away, pain screwing up his face as a hiss escaped his lips.
“John!” cried Harold, pulling his hand away and realizing it was damp with John's blood. John had not had an injury there while in the hospital. Which meant he'd either gotten into more trouble than Harold realized, or the CIA had gotten another lucky shot.
John shook off Harold's attempt to cradle his elbow and guide him somewhere to sit.
“I'm fine,” he insisted, though the statement lost most of its effect as it was said through gritted teeth. “I'm fine,” he repeated after a moment, a bit easier.
“You're not,” said Harold, mentally tallying the medical supplies he had on hand. He'd recently restocked, so was confident they had anything they would need to patch John up. “Please, John, let me help you.”
John seemed ready to argue, to pull away from Harold and maybe even leave again but stopped when Harold didn't back away. The taller man held himself perfectly still for several moments and Harold could see the wheels turning in his head as he considered his options. Finally, the tension eased from his body and he nodded.
Harold led him back into the room he'd emerged from and tugged at the coat, silently asking John to remove it. It took the both of them moving slowly as dried blood had begun adhering the fabric to John's skin. John's suit jacket came next and Harold knew it was a lost cause. It was ripped from John's right shoulder and across the back where the bullet had grazed him. Harold had John sit on a stool as Harold began inspecting the wound through the blue shirt John still wore.
He could see bandages peeking from behind the fabric where John had doctored his own burns. What should have been clean, dry white gauze was damp and beginning to yellow. Beyond that, Harold could see where the flesh had been ripped apart and blood had dried in dark clots along the wound. Harold stepped around so he could see John's face. His friend's eyes were closed and he was breathing carefully and deliberately in a way Harold knew was helping control the pain.
“John, we need to take your shirt off.”
John squinted up at him, lingering uncertainty showing in his eyes. Harold waited and John finally nodded his head again. His fingers were clumsy as he fumbled with the small buttons and Harold easily batted the larger hands away and deftly unbuttoned the shirt, pushing away the quiet intimacy to focus on the job at hand.
As the shirt fell away, Harold found that John had what nearly amounted to an extra under shirt of bandages wrapped around his torso. The bandages that had covered the burn continued down his side to near his belly button. They covered a quarter of his chest and back and gauze had been wrapped around his bicep to just past his elbow. More gauze was wrapped just below his pectorals to help support his ribs. All of the gauze was damp as well as part of John's shirt and Harold suspected the other man had been sweating heavily, though he doubted it was due to temperature.
Harold could see where the worst of the burns were based on yellowing of the gauze from ointment and fluids seeping through the bandages. The roll wrapped around John had begun to curl and the tape was bunching and losing its hold.
“Will you let me check your other injuries?”
John ducked his head again and, this close, Harold could see a slight flush darken his neck. Surely he wasn't embarrassed? Harold had seen his naked chest on more than one occasion following various injuries, had even helped keep the bandage around his middle changed after the first time the CIA shot him.
“I haven't been able to take care of them like I should have,” he said.
Harold brushed a hand down John's good left arm in a soothing gesture. “We can take care of it now,” said Harold softly, assuring John that he wasn't accusing him of being lax. He wasn't sure why John was embarrassed to have been caught in less than stellar health, but he would do everything he could to keep the man from feeling worse.
Harold pulled off his own jacket and vest and rolled up his sleeves as he crossed to the shelf with first aid supplies and pulled out a pair of medical scissors. When he returned, he made sure John could see them and could stop Harold if he was uncomfortable with what he was doing. When John didn't push him away, Harold began cutting the gauze around his ribs and then pulled away the tape. A few more cuts removed the bandages around his bicep. Once the old bandages were removed, Harold took a moment to inspect everything.
There were old bruises on John's left side, though Harold didn't think they exactly marked where he had cracked ribs, rather where John's body had impacted something in the explosion. The burns had started scabbing and the edges even looked as if they may have begun to heal slightly. The worst of it, though, was still deep red. Harold found two places where infection seemed to have taken a foothold, one toward the back of John's bicep and another on John's torso, again toward his back. Both places radiated heat when he put his hand near them.
Harold made his way back up to inspect the new wound on John's back. It appeared to start at the edge of the burn and Harold imagined that spot would be particularly tender when he began stitching things back together. The wound extended a few inches past John's spine, though it wasn't nearly as deep the further away from the burn it got. Small miracles, Harold thought, all too aware that John would likely have been killed or paralysed if the bullet had continued as deeply as it had started.
John jumped slightly when Harold placed careful hands just above and below the torn flesh at his spine and began probing the area systematically, confirming that there didn't appear to be any damage to John's spine.
“We need to clean it,” said Harold, finally as his movements began cracking blood clots and dried blood started flaking off and onto the floor.
John nodded mutely and stood with Harold's help. There was another door on the opposite wall from where they'd entered that led to a bathroom. A full tub and adjustable shower head had been installed not long after Harold had bought the building. Harold helped John sit on the edge of the tub, still wearing his trousers, though Harold knew John would likely need to change those once they were done. Not only were they stained as much as the old coat, but they would be soaked by the water streaming down his back. But that would be a problem to face once they were done.
John leaned sideways against the wall, keeping himself upright enough that his ribs didn't bother him but not as straight as Harold knew he tended to prefer. The pain was taking its toll on his friend. It took a few minutes to adjust the water so it was warm without being scalding and another moment to turn the knob on the shower head so that it was a steady spray without being too hard that it would cause more pain than necessary.
When he was satisfied, Harold turned back to John. He'd closed his eyes and was breathing slow, measured breaths. His face wasn't completely relaxed, but it also wasn't screwed into pain like it had been when he first sat down.
Harold placed a hand on John's uninjured left arm. John opened his eyes and glanced between Harold and the hose currently spraying the back wall.
“Are you ready?” he asked, keeping his hand on John's arm in both support and comfort.
“Yeah,” spoke John, moving sideways so that he was in the middle of the ledge.
Harold gave the arm a squeeze and then moved to stand between John's knees. He was leaning over John's shoulders and John leaned down and rested his head against Harold's side and let him work. Harold started the spray on John's left where the wound tapered off, giving him a chance to acclimate to the new sensations. The first six inches were cleaned quickly, dried blood easily dislodging and disappearing down the drain. As he moved to the deepest part of the wound, he felt John's muscles tighten, saw the tension in his back. His left hand rested against John's temple, silently telling him that he was working as fast as he could while still being thorough.
“I'm okay,” he heard John say, though it sounded more like a gasp than a reassurance.
Harold removed the hand as he moved closer to the burn, needing it to help pull the old clots away. He continued to move the water past the wound and onto the burn, washing away bits of dirt that had gotten past the bandages and winced in sympathy when John gasped at the warm water hitting seared flesh. What felt like a lifetime later, Harold moved the spray away from John and leaned down to turn the taps off, the whole time cradling John's head to his side and murmuring reassurances that they were done as John held himself rigid against the pain.
They stayed like that for long minutes and Harold was beginning to worry that he'd caused John additional injury when the other man finally relaxed. Taking a step back, Harold watched John's face come up, his skin paler than it had been and damp from where he'd been sweating again.
“It needs to be disinfected,” said John in a whisper. Harold suspected he couldn't muster anything stronger than that right now. Harold started to say something, to protest that he'd washed it and that should be enough. With a wound that large, any disinfectant would be agony. “Please, Harold. Just pour it over the wound. Iodine if we have it, isopropyl alcohol if we don't.”
John's jaw was set and he knew better than anyone how much it would hurt. Harold didn't need to remind him of that. But John was right: if they didn't disinfect it now, with how long it had been exposed, John would likely see an infection within a day. Harold nodded and helped his friend lean back against the wall while he moved away long enough to fetch the bottle. When he returned, John had kept his eyes open this time and was watching him blankly. The paleness, Harold was suddenly sure, was due to blood loss.
As he approached, John moved himself back to the centre and took a few steadying breaths. Harold matched those breaths, readying himself. Intellectually, he knew he had to do this for his friend, but that didn't make it any easier to cause him this much pain.
“Do it,” John said, moving his hands to grip the edge of the tub and ducking his head again.
Harold moved to take his position between John's knees and let the other man rest his head against his torso again. He pulled the cap off and pocketed it before cradling the back of John's neck in comfort and to keep him from throwing his head back and dousing his face by accident.
He matched his breathing with John's for two breaths and finally tipped the bottle as they both breathed out. John's knuckled were immediately white as he squeezed the side of the tub and the muscles under Harold's hand bunched. He felt the vibration of John's groan before he heard it and then it built into a wordless cry as Harold steadily poured a thin line of iodine back and forth along the wound and watched as the liquid stained John's back yellow.
When he'd used half the bottle, he stopped and let John catch his breath.
“I'm sorry,” he said, rubbing his hand up and down John's neck and the top of his back. “I'm so sorry,” he repeated as he felt a fine tremor begin in John's body. John's gasps continued as drops found their way deeper into the wound and ignited nerves anew.
Harold reached for a hanging towel and began carefully wiping away the excess while still attempting to soothe the man in his arms. Absently he felt dampness where John's face was tucked against his side and realized that tears had likely escaped at some point. Had their positions been somehow reversed, Harold couldn't say that he wouldn't have been openly sobbing or flat passed out.
He didn't know how long they stayed there, didn't care so long as John began to settle himself. When John did lift his head, his eyes were hooded and his muscles weak. His breathing was closer to normal and he'd quieted a few minutes before.
John opened his mouth to say something, but only managed a croak. Harold immediately looked around for water, but knew he would find nothing within reach. John coughed and tried again, this time managing a coarse whisper.
“Do you remember how to suture?”
Harold should figure that John was still working to direct the situation. Even trembling from pain and exhaustion, completely at Harold's mercy, he still acted like he had it completely under control. Harold wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or cry, to hug or hit John.
“Yes, John,” he said instead. “I remember how to suture. With you around, I can't really forget.” He smiled at the end, making sure John knew he was merely attempting to tease, to put them both at ease. John gave him a small smile and reached out for Harold to help him stand.
John was weaker than either of them anticipated and they both nearly fell when his knees didn't want to support him. Harold somehow managed to keep them upright, gritting his teeth when his own back and neck sent shooting arcs of pain through his body in protest of the harsh treatment, but he turned his face slightly away and held onto the groan. John didn't need to know how much this hurt Harold and his pain was minuscule compared to what John had just endured.
The process went smoother once they were moving and they managed to get John situated back on the stool without any more mishaps. Harold busied himself with washing his hands and preparing the needle while John sat quietly, a bottle of water in his hands that he took regular small sips from.
It was a different kind of quiet than earlier, Harold realized as he was pulling gloves on. They had returned to the easy quiet of two men who simply didn't speak much instead of John's calculating silence designed to pull information from Harold. It continued when Harold threaded the needle and then on as he began passing the needle through flesh and knotting it together.
Harold winced in sympathy each time the curved needle pulled opposite sides of the wound together, but John remained quiet—passive, even. The trembling had abated and John's breaths came in slow, measured releases. Harold wondered as he moved closer to the burn and the worst of the injury if the natural endorphin release was putting John to sleep. His head wasn't bobbing like he might expect, but then John was a trained operative who he was sure could sleep standing up with his eyes open.