Joss had no idea what to expect as she pulled up to the address Finch sent her. Over the phone he sounded worried, which worried her. John was very capable, so if he was in trouble it was serious. The address was an abandoned warehouse. Any gang members who had been there were long gone. She and Fusco were quick out of the car, guns drawn. Joss gently pushed the door open.
Only John Reese was inside the dim building, laying on the dusty floor. His suit jacket was gone, leaving him only in a ruffled white shirt and dress pants. His eyes were open, but his expression remained blank as the pair of detectives approached. “John?” Joss asked softly.
Steely eyes snapped up to meet hers. “So you’re here too,” he muttered, his face resigned. “Finch was here earlier, but he’s gone now.”
Fusco knelt beside him and checked his neck. “Look,” he addressed Joss, pointing out a small puncture wound in John’s neck. “They drugged Wonderboy here up pretty good. Probably some sort of hallucinogenic.”
“Sorry I failed,” he whispered, so soft Joss thought she could’ve imagined it. He rolled his head back to stare up at the ceiling, looking more lost than she had ever seen.
“Don’t worry about that now,” Joss replied, kneeling to help Fusco sit John up. The Man In The Suit didn’t fight as they tugged on his torso, then on his arms to get him to stand. He wobbled for a second, blinking rapidly as if to focus. Joss put her arm around him and began leading him to the car. “We’re taking you back to Finch now.”
John shook his head but didn’t try to pull away. “He was already here,” he mumbled. “He doesn’t want... doesn’t want...” he trailed off as Joss gently pushed him into the backseat. Exhausted, John collapsed across the seats. His eyes closed, presumably passed out.
With a sigh of worry, Joss turned away and climbed back into the driver’s seat, Fusco at her side. She pulled out her phone and dialed Finch. The phone barely rung before he was answering. “Detective Carter? Did you find him?” he asked frantically.
“We got him,” she confirmed. “He’s only a little banged up, but they drugged him Finch.”
“Seems like he’s been hallucinating,” Fusco added. “We’re bringing him to you now.”
The rumble of the car engine did little to calm Joss’s nerves as she drove. Every couple of seconds, John would stir in the back and sleep-talk. “Wait,” he whimpered. “I can do better... I can do better, just let me.” John groaned. “No, wait. Wait. Don’t leave me... I... I love you...”
Tears prickled at Joss’s eyes as she listened to the one-sided, heartbreaking conversation. Fusco kept glancing back at him, the fear written clearly all over his face.
When they arrived at Finch’s safe house, the detectives were both quick to jump out of the car. Joss opened the back door and shook John’s leg firmly. “John, we’re here. We need you to wake up now,” she told him.
His eyes fluttered open, and he stared back at Joss with that same, sad expression. Somehow he managed to pull himself up. Joss took his hands and guided him outside the car. He sighed as he looked up at the small condo, but he let himself be led to the front door.
Before she could knock, the door flung open. Joss helped John cross the threshold where he stumbled into Finch’s arms. “Sorry,” John murmured as Finch steadied him.
“Take care of him and keep us updated,” Joss said. “Fusco and I are going to try to track some of these guys down.”
Finch nodded. His arm was still holding tight to John. It was hard for Joss to pull herself away, but the job needed to get done.
“What are you doing here?” Harold snapped, looking down at John with distaste. “I told you at the warehouse I don’t want you.”
John felt his chest collapsing, pushing the air out of his lungs. “I need you,” he begged. “Just give me one more chance.” He clutched at his chest, trying to find the source of the pain.
A sharp laugh rung through his ears and buzzed against his skull. “I have Miss Shaw now, and she’s ten times better than you’ll ever be. Why would I even bother keeping you around?”
“I can do better, I swear,” John gasped, choking. There was an invisible force wrapping around his neck. He clawed at it but felt nothing.
Meanwhile, Harold was not impressed. He raised a cynical eyebrow as his eyes bore down cold on John. “You’re nothing but the monster the government made you, and you’re not even good at that. Getting yourself captured while someone out there needs you?” Harold scoffed. “Pathetic.”
The word echoed around the room. Finally the pain was too much for John, and he reached out for his employer’s hand. Harold recoiled, looking disgusted. “Please,” John whispered. Surely he was going to die if Harold left him there. “I love you.”
With that, what remained of John’s walls came tumbling down. He looked up into Harold’s merciless eyes, awaiting judgement. “You don’t deserve to be loved.”
Just as Shaw had instructed, Harold had set the IV up to pump fluid into John’s veins and clamped a heart rate monitor around his finger. Now his employee laid on the couch where Harold could help Shaw from his computer desk and keep an eye on him. When he started to shiver, Harold draped a blanket over him, and that’s when he noticed it.
John Reese didn’t cry, not after being beaten into the stone cold soldier the CIA wanted him to be. He held his emotions and pain close to his chest, only bringing the walls down a few times to let Harold in. That was how Harold knew it was bad.
“Oh John,” he spoke out through a pained sigh, wishing desperately there was more he could do for the ex-operative. Feeling helpless, he stroked the other man’s hair, trying to convey comfort.
If anything, it only upset him more, so Harold backed off. He went back to his computer, to Shaw and the Number, where he could actually be useful.
Harold wasn’t sure how long it was until he heard grunting. He whipped around and winced, the sudden movement sending waves of pain down his spine. John stirred and grunted again before his eyes slowly opened. “John!” Harold exclaimed, rushing over to the couch as fast as he could. “How are you feeling?”
His partner looked up at him with empty eyes. “Fine,” John muttered, which was a bold-faced lie, but Harold would deal with that later.
“Do you remember what happened?” he asked.
John squinted as if it could help him see into his memory. “Bits and pieces,” he answered. “There was a warehouse.”
Harold nodded and sat next to him. “You were drugged, Mister Reese,” he informed John. “Looks like a nasty hallucinogenic. Detectives Carter and Fusco brought you here.”
“Oh,” John replied blankly, then to Harold’s horror began to sit up and pulled the IV from his elbow. “Where’s our number?”
“Miss Shaw has that under control for now,” Harold replied, gently pushing down on John’s shoulders. “You need to rest.”
A stricken look crossed through John’s eyes for a second before he put the mask back up. He fell back into the couch silently, which was worrisome. Normally the former soldier would argue, but instead he silently complied and stared up at the ceiling. Harold cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Would you like something to eat?”
John shook his head but otherwise remained silent. That silence was making Harold nauseous, so he quietly excused himself to the kitchen, where everything was supposed to be quiet. He pulled out his phone and dialed Detective Carter.
“Finch! How he doing?” she asked immediately upon answering.
“He’s awake,” Harold started, not sure what to say. “He seems to be alright physically but mentally... I don’t know. It’s like he’s just not there.”
“We’re not sure what he was given yet, but we just caught one of their dealers and are about to interrogate him,” Carter replied. “In the mean time, stay with him in case he starts to hallucinate.”
Harold agreed before hanging up. He quickly made his way back to the office where he’d left John. To his surprise, John was no longer laying on the couch but sitting at the computer, talking to Shaw through his headset. “At your six,” he warned. Harold stood behind him and quietly observed the screen. Shaw had found their Number and was now attempting to escape from a hotel.
“Stairs. Left,” John informed Shaw, who immediately turned to her left and charged into the stairwell. Their Number, a young Miss Kee, ran after her. As they ran, John flipped through the various feeds. “Shaw, they’ve got the front door blocked. You’re gonna have to take the emergency exit.”
At the bottom floor, Shaw turned to the door clearly marked as an ‘in case of emergency only’ type of door. “You’re gonna have to move fast. Once that alarm is tripped, they’ll know you’re outside,” John continued.
Shaw appeared to say something before pushing the door open and bolting with Miss Kee towards the parking lot. “Wait,” John instructed, and Shaw paused. “You’ll never make it that way. You need to go around the back.” From what Harold could see, he was right. The gang members were already rushing the parking lot. Shaw and Miss Kee ran in the opposite direction. There wasn’t much in the back, but there were a few employee cars parked. It wasn’t difficult for Shaw to break into one and hot-wire her way to safety.
With Shaw out of danger, John set the headset down and looked up at him. If Harold didn’t know better he’d think the ex-operative was nervous. Except Harold did know better, and the ex-operative was still nervous. He gave his friend a small smile, trying to put his mind at ease. “Good work, Mister Reese,” Harold said softly.
Evidently, it was a poor attempt because John just looked confused, but at least he smiled back.
Despite having read the report on the drug their gang of last week had introduced into John’s system, Sameen was still confused by his behavior. The effects should have worn off long ago, but her partner still walked around as if he was in a haze. What was worse was that he started to shy away from her and hang back.
As suspected, the drug caused hallucinations, but it also increased the fear response. Sameen theorized that John’s brain simply hadn’t reset to normal, causing him to be scared in the field. It was as annoying as it was worrisome, which is why she started thinking of ways to coax the old Reese out.
She didn’t have to wait long to get her chance. The two of them got into a firefight with a group of Russian mobsters in an old diner that served as a front for money laundering. Stuck hiding behind an overturned table, Sameen took the chance to observe John. On the outside nothing seemed different, but Sameen could tell that he wasn’t going after the shots he normally would have. It was time for a trust fall exercise to remind Reese who he was.
When taking her next shot, Sameen leaned just a little too far away from the safety of the table, and a bullet struck her shoulder. She grunted. Being shot hurt like a bitch, but she needed to shake John awake. She turned to him and met his steely gaze. There was no hint of fear on his face as he turned back to the mob.
It didn’t take much longer for John to incapacitate the rest of the mobsters in a shower of bullets.
Now she sat in a safe house dining room, letting John treat her wound despite being perfectly capable of doing it herself. Normally she wouldn’t let him, but in the interest of finding out what was wrong she did. His hands were gentle as he started her stitches, but there was a look in his eyes that she couldn’t place.
“You should be more careful,” he advised, his voice taking on a harder edge than normal.
Sameen stared in shock. “I’m pretty sure that’s the pot calling the kettle black,” she commented dryly.
His intense gaze suddenly burned through her skull. “I’m serious,” he responded. “Finch needs you.”
Those three words set off alarm bells in Sameen’s brain. She was starting to get the sense she’d misjudged Reese. “What do you mean?” she asked.
John shrugged, looking uncomfortable. He focused solely on Sameen’s stitches until he was done. “The work we do is important,” he finally answered without looking at her. “We can’t lose you.”
“You’re afraid of losing us?” Sameen asked. “Is that why you’ve been acting so squirrelly lately?”
Brows furrowed in confusion, John looked up at her. “Squirrelly?” he questioned.
Sameen sighed and leaned back. “Look, I get it,” she replied. “Being drugged and seeing things sucks, but you need to shake it off. I can’t have my partner distracted.”
“Understood,” John whispered, suddenly unable to meet her eyes again.
If Sameen had been better with emotions, she might have pressed instead of just watching him walk away.
It was impossible to miss the glances Harold constantly sent his way. John tried to block it out, but all he could focus on was the disappointment. Ever since his talk with Shaw, he understood that he couldn’t hold back, even if she was the better of the two, the one who wasn’t a monster.
Weeks had passed since the drug incident, and John had managed to separate his hallucinations from reality. While the things imaginary Harold said were never physically spoken out loud, he knew it was all true. It had just taken hearing the words from someone he loved to realize it.
All he had wanted to do was help people. It was just naive to think the CIA wanted that too, especially Kara. He shuddered involuntarily thinking about her cold, sadistic smile and the way he felt filthy when she put her hands and lips on him and vice versa. She sculpted him into the monster he was now, and he had just let her.
Now he had to live with that.
Then there was the other lesson the CIA taught him that he’d forgotten: he was expendable. He was nothing but a weapon to be used and done away with once his purpose was fulfilled. For the moment it seemed Harold had forgotten too, but one day John would be useless to him and he’d remember.
John started to spend more time holed up in his apartment just staring out the window. He tried to pretend he didn’t exist and just watch the world move around him. Those were the moments when he felt the most at peace with his place in the world.
A harsh knocking snapped John out of his thoughts. He squinted at the door, wondering who could possibly be on the other side. Still he pulled himself up and went to the door, but not without grabbing a handgun first. Luckily there was a peephole John could look out of before opening the door. What he saw on the other side surprised him.
He quickly stashed his gun and opened the door. Harold stood out in the hallway, looking worn out. “Mister Reese, we need to talk.”
Harold paced back and forth while John sat uncomfortably at the dining table. His friend had been acting off for too long now. This conversation was far overdue, but he still didn’t know how to begin. John wouldn’t even look at him. He just stared down at his hands.
“John,” Harold began awkwardly, his voice pained. “Something happened when you were drugged that we clearly need to talk about.”
“Nothing happened,” John replied softly.
He was about to continue, but Harold cut him off. “I know that’s not true. I saw you, John. I’ve been seeing you.”
The words hung in the air as John fiddled with his fingers and Harold stared on helplessly. “Please, John,” Harold begged. “Talk to me.”
“If I’m not doing a good enough job, just tell me,” John said finally. “I get it.”
Shock froze Harold for a moment, his mouth hanging open. His mind raced, trying to comprehend what John was saying. “John this isn’t about your performance in the field,” he replied, confused.
Harold blinked. Surely John knew. “I do care for you as more than... more than a simple asset.”
John shook his head, and that simple action shattered Harold’s heart. “That’s all I have,” he responded. “The CIA made sure of that.”
“Is that what you saw when you were drugged?” Harold questioned gently. “The CIA? Your former partner?”
The pain was slowly becoming clearer on John’s face even though he battled to bury his emotions. “No. I saw you,” John answered.
Cold nausea settled in Harold’s stomach as he tried to imagine what a hallucination of him could have possibly done to torture John this much. “You have to understand that none of that was real,” Harold tried to assure him.
“You may not have been there, but what you said was true.”
Harold shook his head in frustration. “John, tell me what hallucination me said so that I may correct you.”
The former soldier hesitated before answering. “You just reminded me who I really am.” When Harold only stared, he continued. “Just a weapon made by the CIA.”
“You think I would treat you like the CIA?” Harold asked in disgust, not missing John’s slight flinch at his tone. How could he not know by now? “Keep you in the dark and lie to you? Treat you with no more respect than a simple tool? Sacrifice you as if your life doesn’t matter dearly to me?”
Finally John met his eyes. Shock was written all over his face. Harold swallowed hard. He really didn’t know. “Harold-“
“-No!” Harold snapped. “You don’t get to decide that your life is worthless! That’s what the CIA made you believe, isn’t it?” He was breathing heavily by that point, but he didn’t slow down. “I’m not your damn handler, and you’re not my murderer for hire! You don’t get to give up on yourself now, not when I... when I...” He couldn’t handle it anymore. Desperately needing a release for his boiling emotions, he bent over as much as his body would let him, grabbed John’s face in his shaking hands, and pushed his lips up against the other’s. Instantly John melted like butter against Harold, tugging at his lips as if his own life depended on it. Harold let him take control as John’s arms wrapped around his neck. It was desperate, passionate, and very much needed.
Harold was the first to pull away when his fused neck started to complain. John’s eyes were shining now, and Harold could feel the wetness in his own eyes. “Not when I love you,” he continued.
“I love you too Harold,” John said softly. “I’m sorry for ever doubting you after you saved my life.” He rose to his feet and tightly squeezed Harold in a healing embrace. The pain faded away as they held onto each other. Harold couldn’t take away John’s past, but he was determined to write him a better future; one he deserved.
Harold refused to leave his side that night, which was how John found himself with his back pressed into Harold as he slept. A warm arm draped over John’s chest, and he didn’t know why but it made him feel safe. His eyes drooped shut. For the first time in a long time, it was okay to let his guard down.
The road ahead of them would be rough as they both wrestled their demons, but the strength of their love was always there like the north star ready to guide them home.