Author's Note: Many thanks to talking2thesky for the beta!
Carter slammed the door shut and Harold pressed heavily on the gas. The car briskly jumped forward. John's gaze lingered on the detective as her figure quickly shrank into the distance. He hoped she wouldn't get in trouble with Snow for letting them go.
"How bad is it?" Harold asked, glancing at John via the rear mirror.
John looked down at the vivid blood stain on his white shirt. That was a lot of blood. The blood on his dark pants was less visible, but he could feel it, warm and viscous, spreading down his leg.
"Not good," he groaned.
The bullet that hit him in the leg went through and through, but the other one was still lodged in his gut. He was already feverish and weak from the heavy blood loss, and the effort to get down those three flights of stairs had drained all his energy. Exhaustion was making his movements sluggish as he unbuckled his belt. He laboriously managed to slide it out of his waist and under his leg to make a tourniquet. That would reduce the bleeding and save him some time. He still needed to take care of the gut wound but there was no way he'd manage to take out the bullet lodged in his stomach by himself.
"Do you have any on-the-field surgery experience, by any chance?" he hissed between his teeth.
Harold's reflection in the mirror paled and he clenched his jaw. John took it as a no. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was on the brink of passing out. He pressed a hand against his wounded belly, trying to limit the flow of blood.
"I'm gonna need some help to take that bullet out," he breathed. "I can't go to the hospital, that's the first place they'll look." Given the amount of blood he was losing, he probably had left an obvious trail down the stairs of the parking structure. No doubt Snow and his snipers would have figured he was badly injured. He had to hide.
"Don't worry, John, I have a plan," Harold said. "Just hold on."
The car's engine roared as Harold pressed harder on the gas. He glanced once again at John via the rear mirror. His partner was scarily pale. his hair damped with sweat, he had his head thrown backward, and had closed his eyes. He was clearly in pain, despite his efforts not to show it. Turning back his attention to the road, Harold spotted a red light and urgently smashed the brakes. John moaned at the abrupt stop.
"Sorry," Harold apologized.
John opened his eyes and glanced through the passenger window. "Are we going back to the library?"
The light turned green and Harold resumed his race through traffic. He passed a sedan and a couple of cabs. His heart was racing as fast as the car. He was a confident driver, but he had never driven with the urgency of having to save an injured passenger. And it wasn't any passenger, it was John. Even though they had been working together for only a few months, John had already become more than a simple employee. He was a true partner, who had devoted himself to Harold's cause with all his heart. And Harold would not let anything happen to him under his watch. Every single minute mattered, but at the same time, he couldn't afford any mistake. Crashing the car now would jeopardize the already fragile life of his partner.
Harold parked the car a block away from the library and turned to face John, who was stoically sitting back on the rear seat. His heart missed a beat as his eyes laid on the large blood stain on John's shirt. He had a hand pressed against his stomach and blood was dripping between his fingers.
"That is a lot of blood…" Harold muttered to himself, not without a hint of terror.
"Sorry about that," John mumbled. "It probably ruined the leather of your car's seats…"
"I don't care about the leather, John!" Harold exclaimed with a desperation that surprised even himself.
This whole thing was bringing back way too many bad memories. The ferry bombing, Nathan, Dillinger. So many deaths, so much blood… Harold closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had a plan. He was prepared for things like this. He had run a background check on the doctor, he was a good man. He was going to take good care of John. All he needed was to get the emergency cash stashed in the library.
"It'll only take a minute," he said quickly, trying to sound as reassuring and confident as he could. "Don't go anywhere."
A weak smile brushed John's lips. "I promise."
John was startled awake by the sound of the car door opening and closing. Instantly on alert, he tried to reach for his gun, which he had let slide on the back seat. With relief, he recognized Finch, who was back in the driver's seat. He was holding a towel out for John and was looking at him with wide opened eyes filled with concern.
"What's wrong?" John asked in a barely audible whisper. With a shaking hand, he grabbed the clean cloth and put it on his wound, refraining a moan as the applied pressure triggered pain throughout his abdomen.
"Will you be able to hold on a little longer?" Harold asked, his voice riddled with worry. "We're almost there."
John nodded. "Holding on," he hissed, trying to give Harold a reassuring smile.
Not looking convinced in the least, Harold turned back to face the road, and started the engine. Soon, they were back racing through traffic. Despite his best efforts, John's consciousness was flickering. He had lost track of their itinerary and had no idea where they were, nor how much time had passed since he had been shot. In other circumstances he would have been more worried about his chances of survival, but Harold had a plan and for some reason, that felt enough. He hadn't known his new employer for a very long time, and yet, John had the intuition he could trust him. And if he had had doubts about Harold's loyalty, his obvious worry right now would have been sufficient to reassure John. He clearly wasn't going to abandon John to die. It was unsettling, actually, to see Harold so rattled and worried about him. It had been so long since anyone had genuinely cared about John like this that he had gotten used to only relying on himself.
Harold parked the car in a discreet street, three hundred feet away from The Coroner Department's entrance.
"We've arrived," Harold said, turning to John. "Think you can walk?"
But John didn't respond. He had passed out.
Now was not the time to panic. They were just so close to Dr. Madani's office. All Harold needed was to get John to the doctor, and then everything would be good – assuming the doctor would cooperate. But there was no way Harold could carry Reese all the way to the morgue. Harold's brain raced to figure out the best plan from here. He could leave John here and ask the doctor's help to get John out of the car. But dragging an unconscious man through the morgue wasn't the most discreet move. He'd need transport. A wheelchair or something. They had to have some in the morgue.
"Don't worry, John, I've got this," he said to his unconscious friend as he rushed out of the car.
With prudence, Harold circled the building to the employees' entrance. He had cased the building before, he knew where the surveillance cameras were. Careful not to turn his face toward any of them, he retrieved his master electronic key from his jacket's pocket and slid it into the security pad on the door. Harold held his breath until the door clicked open. With a sigh of relief, he let himself in.
"You've got this, Harold," he muttered to give himself courage.
He heard footsteps coming down the corridor and hurried as best as he could to hide underneath the stairways. With his stiff gait, Harold was not really fitted to be a field agent. And by nature, he hated those cat and mouse games. Years of hiding from the authorities hadn't made his heart race any less. He couldn't fathom how on Earth Reese seemed to enjoy it. Unfortunately, today, John was benched, and Harold had to pitch in. And he was not going to let his partner down.
The footsteps disappeared up the stairway and Harold risked an eye into the corridor. The way was clear. Carefully, he started his exploration. It wasn't long until he spotted a closet marked "supplies". Luckily, the closet wasn't locked and Harold let himself in. It was a small closet and there was nothing there that would help him transport John. But as he was examining the shelves, Harold's gaze fell on a pile of lab coats. Now that would at least help him blend while he explored the morgue. He quickly slid into a lab coat and out of the room.
Equipped with his disguise, Harold straightened up and resumed his exploration with more confidence. Behaving like you belonged here was the key to not being noticed. He had almost made his way to the other side of the building, close to the main entrance, when he finally spotted an abandoned gurney in an unoccupied room. A gurney should do.
Surveying the area, Harold made sure no one was looking at him. The end of the corridor was giving access to the main entrance and Harold could hear voices, but no one was in sight. He grabbed the gurney and quickly pushed it all the way back to the side entrance.
Harold finally reached the car, breathing shallow and sweat pearling on his forehead despite the cool night.
John must have dozed off again, because the car door swung open, and Harold was standing on the sidewalk, wearing a lab coat.
"Sorry to wake you up, Mr. Reese," Harold said softly. "I found a gurney, but I won't be able to transfer you without your help."
John looked up at the gurney, and at Harold.
"See, it even has a pillow," Harold said encouragingly.
Playing along, John smiled weakly. "Looks comfy."
Calling on his last reserves of energy, he seized the frame of the door, while Harold put his arm around his waist. With Finch's help, and favoring his left leg, John extracted himself from the car, only to fall with all his weight into Harold's arms, almost tipping him over. Harold made a huff and struggled with gravity for a couple minutes to keep them both upright.
"Next time, you should hire a lighter weight, Harold," John deadpanned, as he clutched to Harold, trying to steady his position on his one valid leg.
Feeling his strength waning and his vision blurring, John hopped to the gurney and crashed, more than lay down, on it.
Harold helped make John comfortable, adjusting the pillow and securing the side rail. He put a hand on John's shoulder. "You can relax now, Mr. Reese. I have it from here."
This was a good thing, because John had all the pain in the world holding on to consciousness. He lost the thread of the night's events. As blinding neon lights passed over his head, it occurred to him that he had no idea where they were going, nor what was Harold's plan. Maybe he should have inquired. He raised his gaze toward his friend, who was towering above him, pushing the gurney through corridors, determined and focused.
Suddenly, Harold pulled a sheet over him. "Shh, stay still, not a word," he whispered.
Not that John had any energy to move or speak anyway.
When Harold finally pulled the sheet away, John squinted his eyes at the abrupt increase of light. A man with a short white beard and green scrubs was looking at them.
"Stitch him up. No questions asked. And you can be a doctor again," Harold said as he dropped a mountain of bundled cash on a table.
John thought it was an incongruous amount of money. He wasn't worth that much.
Farouk Madani shook his head. "I don't want to get in any trouble."
"I understand that us appearing like this in the middle of the night is highly suspicious, but I promise we're not bad people. Look, he's bleeding out, we have no time to argue. Help him, please," Harold pleaded, his hand on John's shoulder. "Don't let him die."
John's heart stirred at Harold's audible despair, right before he finally slid into a blissful oblivion.
The ME moved John's gurney to place it right under the ceiling lamp. He put two fingers on John's neck to check for his pulse, then quickly walked to a cabinet to withdraw a pile of surgical clothes and brought it along with a surgical tray. He tore apart John's shirt and swiped the blood off his torso to get a look at the wound. He then took a pair of scissors and cut John's suit pant and did the same.
"The leg injury is the most critical one," he assessed. "While I stitch this one, could you make a pressure point on the abdominal wound?"
Harold stared at the doctor, horrified. His gaze went from the doctor to John's bleeding belly, back to the doctor.
Farouk Madani shot him a side look and smiled. "I guess you really are not bad people. Not the dangerous kind at least. You aren't used to seeing gunshot wounds, are you?"
Unable to articulate a sound, Harold just shook his head. It wasn't as much the fact that he wasn't used to seeing blood – though he indeed wasn't – as the fact that it was John's. John's life, slipping out of his body with every drop. So much blood.
"Here," the doctor said encouragingly, handing him a clean cloth.
Nauseous, Harold took the cloth and put pressure on the wound with one hand, pressing the other hand on his mouth.
Dr. Madani started working on John's leg wound. "Your friend here, on the other hand, it's not his first time," he commented, pointing at John's torso.
Following the doctor's gesture Harold looked at his friend's bare torso. He recognized the gunshot wound that John had suffered while trying to prevent young Sam Gates' kidnapping. But there were also older scars. There was a long cut next to his right collar bone. And what looked like another gunshot wound scar just a few inches from his most recent injury. Harold's heart tightened, thinking about all the violence John had witnessed and endured. And those scars were probably only a small fraction of it.
Harold's gaze drifted to his friend's chalk-white face damped in sweat. Now that he had passed out, he looked more peaceful, almost innocent. Not hidden behind his usual bravado and confidence, John's openness and vulnerability was fully visible.
You stay away. Don't even risk it. John's words echoed in Harold's mind and his heart clenched. What must they have done to him, that he had convinced himself he wasn't worth the risk of saving. A man of such great talent, with so much to give. And he didn't seem to be aware of his own value. John had said once, about Detective Carter, that she was someone the world couldn't afford to lose. A line that had struck Harold because it was exactly how he felt about John. And yet, John always seemed surprised that anyone would be willing to help him.
I wanted to say thank you, for giving me a second chance.
There was something almost heartbreaking in the way John kept saying "thank you", something deeply genuine and innocent that moved Harold more than he would dare to admit. John was of such a different fiber. Dillinger was good at his job, but it was just that for him, a job. John had thrown himself into the mission, protecting the numbers with his heart and soul, as much as with his body and gun. Harold wasn't sure he deserved so much gratitude, but John was such a good man, he certainly deserved to be protected too.
Dr Madani had now finished stitching the leg injury and checked John's pulse once again to make sure his heart was still beating. Harold removed his hand so that he could extract the bullet from John's abdomen.
"Is he going to be alright?" Harold asked in a small voice, almost afraid of the answer.
"He's lost a lot of blood," the doctor said, "and we don't have any equipment for transfusion here. But he still has a pulse and he's still breathing, so there is no reason for major alarm for now."
Harold clenched his teeth as he watched the doctor dip his tool inside John and finally extract the bullet. How did he hate the sight of blood! If it wasn't for John, he'd have passed out already.
The doctor finished sewing the wound and applied a protective dressing.
"It would probably be better not to move him until at least tomorrow," he said, readjusting the sheet. "Let him rest. Given the late hour, you can use my office, no one will see him."
"I can't leave him alone."
"There is a couch there if you want. I will just ask you to clear out before 7 a.m. I don't want to get in any trouble."
Harold gratefully took the doctor's hand. "Thank you, doctor. We won't cause you any trouble, I promise. Thank you for saving his life."
John woke up confused and vaguely nauseous. The pain radiating from his abdomen and his right leg immediately took him back to the previous day's events. Snow, the sniper, the run down the stairs, the car, Harold…
John remembered Harold's hand on his shoulder, the concern in his eyes, the distress in his voice.
John looked around. He was in some sort of office, lying in that same gurney Harold got him onto – The struggle of how he got on that gurney wasn't exactly something he needed to remember. There was a big desk in the middle of the room, and shelves full of books and folders covering the walls. In a corner, there was an old sofa on which Harold was curled up, his head resting on his lab coat, sleeping.
Harold, who had just spent about a million dollars to have him stitched up. Harold, who had stayed by his side all night, and who was now sleeping next to him.
John lifted his sheet and picked at his wounds. He was still in his old bloody clothes which had been all torn apart. But his stomach was perfectly bandaged, and his leg was enfolded into a brace. He wasn't hooked to any machine and he was feeling relatively well, considering the circumstances. He lay back on his pillow and heaved a sigh of relief. Recovery was going to be frustrating and boring, as usual, but he was likely going to be fine.
Harold stirred and glanced at John, who shot him a smile.
"Good morning, Harold."
"Morning, Mr. Reese," Harold grumbled, laboriously sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He looked at his watch. "We should probably get going. Dr. Madani said we could stay the night, but if someone finds us in his office, it's going to be hard to explain the situation."
"Are you always this grumpy when you wake up?" John asked.
Harold shot John a deadly look. "And are you always this cheerful when you get shot?"
He cautiously got on his feet, stiff from a night spent on a sagging sofa.
"You didn't have to stay all night," John said, watching Harold make a few movements to relax his stiff neck.
"I couldn't leave you alone, injured and defenseless. What if Agent Snow had found you?" Harold argued vehemently. "We should probably think of a better plan," he added after a pause. "A safehouse, maybe. Some place where you could rest up in security…"
John smiled and looked tenderly at Harold. If Snow had found him, there wouldn't have been much Harold could have done to protect John. And yet, Harold stayed anyway. John didn't remember a single time when Kara stayed by his side just to watch over him. Oh she'd made sure he was safe, but then she'd mind her own business, prepare the next mission, workout in the next room, send her report to central. She wouldn't simply stay with John just to be there when he'd wake up like it seemed Harold had done. Kara was a great partner, but for her, it was all just a job. Harold was different. He was more than a partner. He was a good friend. Someone that'd take care of you, not because they need you in one piece, but because they care.
"Thank you," he said softly.
Harold's grumpy frown softened as he looked up at John and something undecipherable passed over his face. "Anytime Mr. Reese."