Reese awoke in a large, comfortable bed with a view of a vast prairie. The rolling hills and wide-open sky reminded him of Montana. Rising to his elbows, he saw that the bed had been moved into what seemed the living room of a log cabin, no doubt to enable him unrestricted access to the spectacular panorama through the floor-to-ceiling window.
Finch was in a reclining chair beside the bed and had just set down the book he had been reading.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, standing up stiffly and coming over.
“Fine. Harold… where are we?”
“Where do you think?” the older man asked with a teasing smile.
“Montana? Somewhere out West?”
“Close. It’s a little north of there,” Finch said before turning to the bedside table. Reese noticed the old-fashioned syphon coffee maker right away — it looked to have just finished brewing. The aroma tickled his nostrils as Finch poured it into a mug and offered it to him.
Reese sighed appreciatively after a sip. “I didn’t know you could brew coffee.”
“While I prefer tea myself, I have been known to make a mean brew on occasion,” Finch replied with a demure quirk of his lips. “Do you feel up to eating?”
When Reese answered in the affirmative, Finch busied himself in the kitchen, insisting that Reese stay in bed.
“You need to rest. You took quite a beating in your… last assignment,” Finch told him over the sizzle of steaks on a cast-iron skillet.
Reese searched his mind and caught vague snatches of a gunfight — the usual hail of bullets — but could not remember anything clearly.
“Did they give me sedatives?” he asked.
“And then some,” Finch confirmed. He must have had the potatoes roasting in the oven already since he was now plating the food and bringing it out. The garden salad had his signature sesame dressing on it and the green beans must have been steamed before being seared in the same skillet as the meat to make them tender and flavorful. Everything tasted delicious and Reese was happy to tell Finch so. As they finished their sumptuous dinner and looked out the window, enjoying how the sunset changed the sky to orange and then brilliant red, Reese felt more well-rested than he had in a long time.
“So… what’s next?” he asked, although he was not at all anxious to get back to the city.
“You rest and relax and recover,” Finch answered. “God knows I need the break, too. We’ll be safe here… for as long as we need to stay.”
Reese nodded in acknowledgement. He would be happy to stay here for a while. With Harold. Always with Harold.
“He’s with Detective Fusco for now, but I also left him Mr. Tao’s contact information in case he needs to leave town.”
Satisfied, Reese settled back into his pillows. The sky was deepening from twilight to full, velvety night, twinkling with a million stars in the clear, unpolluted air. Finch gathered up their dishes and took them into the kitchen to wash, happily humming a tune Reese thought he recognized.
Reese was beginning to doze off when a loud clanging jolted him awake. The noise of a pan dropped on the wooden floor echoed through the high-ceilinged cabin.
“Sorry! I’m all right! Everything’s all right,” Finch called, scrambling to get the pan under control.
The sound — Finch’s voice — triggered something in the back of Reese’s mind. Something very similar had happened in the not-too-distant past… something where a loud noise had echoed…..
Reese was exchanging gunfire with his pursuers, dodging behind the concrete wall. He wanted desperately to get past them, knowing that a SWAT team had been sent to penetrate their subway hideout, where Finch was barricaded in and trying to manage damage control while also subverting their enemies’ online systems. Over their com, Reese heard banging noises.
“Finch! Are you all right?” he demanded.
“I’m all right, I’m all right — the barrier is holding,” Finch answered.
A moment later the sound of an explosion came through. Gunfire erupted on the other side of their connection, and there was a gasp.
“Harold? Are you all right? Are you hit?”
Finch drew in a ragged breath before answering, “I’m sorry, John… I’m afraid… this is goodbye…”
Reese was still under heavy fire but he ceased returning fire altogether. “Stay with me, Finch! Harold?! Stay with me!”
“John… I just want you to know…”
Abruptly their com was disconnected. Reese roared, a primal sound ripped from his bowels. In a haze of anger, he jumped out and started shooting at everything and everyone in sight…..
The memory was so vivid that it felt like it had happened only moments before. Reese threw off the covers as he jumped to his feet, pulling off his shirt to search for the bullet wounds that should be there.
Nothing. Not a scratch.
“Harold…?” he asked, turning to him.
“I’m sorry, John… I wanted to let you know… gently…”
Reese stared at him, not yet comprehending.
“We didn’t make it. Neither of us…”
Reese was stunned into silence.
“This, apparently, is Heaven,” Finch explained. “And what we did… what we tried to accomplish… seems to have counted for something, at least. I was given a choice — to go deeper, or to stay here and wait for you. I chose to wait.” His smile was a little sad, for the first time in this place. “You weren’t far behind.”
Reese looked around him and the cabin started to melt away, leaving them standing on the tundra. A cool breeze was blowing but, far from being uncomfortable, it was invigorating. Reese realized that his body — every single muscle — felt stronger and younger than it had ever been.
“Are you ready to go, John?” Finch asked, gesturing to the north. “There are people waiting to meet you… to meet both of us. In fact Ms. Arndt has sent multiple messages asking me to hurry you along.”
Reese gazed into Finch’s serene face. The lines of exhaustion, which had been growing more noticeable each year, had faded away. He looked to be at peace — truly at peace, with himself and the Universe — for the first time in his life.
“Harold… what we did… it mattered?” Reese asked. “It made a difference?”
“Yes, John. Despite our many failures… it mattered. We made a difference.”
The smile Finch gave him then was nothing short of beatific.
Reese nodded. “Okay, then. I’m ready.”
Harold smiled brilliantly and offered his hand. John took it, marveling at how solid it felt. As they began walking toward a point on the distant horizon where a star pulsed with golden light, he noticed that Harold was no longer limping. He squeezed his hand and felt laughter bubbling up from the core of his being.
“If this is Heaven… and if you’re with me… it was all worth it,” John told him.
“It was, wasn’t it?” Harold agreed with a chuckle, tugging on John’s hand playfully. “And I’m so glad you took that job.”
John shook his head and laughed. “It wasn’t a job, Harold — it was a purpose!”
“Yes, of course! A purpose. And somewhere along the way…” — Harold bashfully looked over at John — “I think we found something else, too.”
“Yeah,” John agreed, grinning. They didn’t need to name it; they both knew perfectly well what they had found.
Suddenly they were running, skipping, leaping, and even somersaulting across the landscape, all the while never losing their grip on each other. Soon they were moving so quickly that their feet scarcely touched the ground, then they weren’t at all. They flew toward the welcoming light.