Chapter 3 – Harold Finch, Part 1

2011/12/15, 21:17:40 – 7-11 on 8th Avenue, New York

I walked into the convenience store hoping that nobody would notice the blood stains on my clothes. What was I thinking? This was New York. I could have run in there screaming that I’d witnessed a murder, and chances were good that nobody would have given me a second glance. I probably drew more stares from the fact that I was wearing a suit, but even that wasn’t as disconcerting as it might have been, since it was still relatively early in the evening and there were enough suits making their way home from a hectic day at the office. I hoped that I looked like one of those as I tried to think what John needed in order to cope with his injuries.

I picked up a bottle of Gatorade to help rehydrate him, although I knew that too much liquid could make him lose that much more blood from his open wounds. I grabbed a case of Boost, thinking he would need easily-digestible nutrition once he was patched up. But where on earth was I going to get him treated? Megan Tillman’s face crossed my mind, but I didn’t know if it would be wise to risk involving her – John had persuaded her to give up her claim on her sister’s killer, of course, but what if she’d had second thoughts? She might not be disposed to give John the best medical attention if she’d reconsidered and decided that she would have rather done the deed herself. Besides, if she were working at the hospital, I couldn’t risk taking John there – his “friends” at the Agency would arrive within minutes to finish the job.

No, I needed to take John somewhere else, someplace that had medical facilities but was not a hospital. A veterinary clinic? The thought irked me. No, I needed a doctor who worked on people, not animals – preferably someone with experience treating gunshot wounds. A private clinic, perhaps? I could look up a few on the laptop, perhaps find one with shady business dealings that I could blackmail, or one with shaky finances which I could simply buy out. Yes, that would be the way to go – that way John could rest in the facility until he was well enough to be moved to my house in the Hamptons. An expensive clinic for cosmetic surgery, perhaps – have him signed in under liposuction or some such. He would whine about it, of course, but at least he would be safe.

That was the main thing, now that the Agency knew that John was still alive. I tried to draw in a deep breath to calm myself as I picked up a package of disposable, flushable wipes – something I knew, from personal experience, that he would appreciate during his convalescence. I forced myself to believe that he would recover, that he would get better, because the alternative was unbearable. I realized that my hands were still shaking from the sight of so much blood on his clothes, seeping out of his body, but there wasn’t much I could do about either at the moment, unfortunately. Somewhere along the line, during the past few months that I’d been working with him, John Reese had come to personify all of my hopes – for success as well as for personal redemption.

I’d come across his file while searching frantically for the right candidate for the job, after several miserable, failed attempts to intervene with the Numbers on my own. Most of his personal information had been redacted, but the lack of physical evidence for his death was intriguing. I hacked into the CIA mainframe to access those redacted files, and tried to suppress my growing excitement; however, the more I read about him, the more I felt that he was the one, the perfect man to assist me in my quest. It was almost… a visceral reaction, a gut feeling, a preternatural sense – before I had ever even met him – that this was destiny. And as if to confirm it, Fate had led him to me, right here in New York City. Living on the streets, down and out, trying (however unsuccessfully) to drown his sorrows in a never-ending row of bottles. A broken man, and yet… I just knew, that if I could reach past the alcohol-induced haze of self-condemnation and disillusionment, he would understand what I was trying to accomplish… that he would make my mission his own.

I tried to follow his erratic movements, hoping to find a moment of sobriety in which to approach him and make my pitch, but he was determined to keep himself from feeling anything – something to which I could relate very well. But I also knew (having come through that haze, myself) that there was no solution in ignoring the problem. Action, however limited and unsuccessful, was still a better option than inaction. And in one fateful moment, he did spring into action – defending himself (or perhaps his bottle) from a gang of young punks on the subway. I watched the video footage with my mouth agape. Even as inebriated as he was, he moved like lightning, efficiently incapacitating the youths in a matter of seconds.

What truly caught my attention was when he had gripped the neck of the last one: he could have choked him to death or crushed his windpipe with his bare hand. But suddenly, he backed off, releasing the punk and staggering back in shock at what he had almost done. “What the hell am I doing?” was the thought written clearly across his face, his eyes wide and staring. His trained reflexes had very nearly turned him into the killing machine that the Agency had wanted; his humanity and moral compass, however battered they might have been, had prevented him from devolving into that beast. I knew then, for sure, that he was the right man for the job – the job I offered him as soon as I was able to arrange for his rescue from the police station, to which he had gone like a lamb to the slaughter, opening not his mouth.

He hadn’t accepted my offer at first, not that I’d expected him to – although I’d certainly not expected him to peg me for some sick stalker trying to con him into tailing a woman who had slighted me. But when he’d walked away, leaving both of my bodyguards blinded by pain with just one blow, he’d only proven his skills and planted in me a seed of almost desperate determination to convince him, whatever the cost, to join me in my enterprise. I’d hunted him down after squinting at literally hundreds of camera feeds, and had my men bring him to the room at the Ritz where one of the Numbers had been murdered by her husband for money. Her screams had haunted me ever since the night she had died, and I hoped that they would pierce through Mr. Reese’s self-induced coma – awaken his dulled senses to reality, to life as well as to death – so that I could persuade him to try living once again… if not for himself, for others.

Miraculously, or perhaps because it really was his destiny, he’d listened. He’d agreed to jump down the rabbit hole and see where it led. It had almost been disastrous, for he’d walked into a meeting of thugs without realizing that the woman was not only in on it, she was practically the ringleader. However, he’d managed to not only extricate himself from that predicament but also bring the criminals to justice. I offered him a way out of his current situation (it seemed only fair after his excellent performance in that case) but he had actually chosen to stay. To live, to fight, to do what good he could to make a difference, despite the overwhelming strength of the wrong. To not go gentle into that good night…

For it had been tantamount to suicide, that relinquishing of himself to the police in the subway. He’d even allowed them to take his prints, which led to those redacted files and those men at the Agency who still wanted him dead – really dead. And they had caught up to him, eventually; what was surprising was that they hadn’t caught up to him sooner… perhaps because of their arrogance in assuming that he was dead. Well, now they knew better, and they would never relent in their pursuit of him – to hunt him down, not to arrest him as Detective Carter had so naïvely supposed, but to kill him.

I couldn’t let that happen. Not now, not ever. He meant too much to me, to the Cause – he had made my plan work for the first time ever. Sure, there had been a few mistakes along the way, but by and large he was preventing those crimes of which the Machine was warning us, meting out justice to those who deserved it and making a difference in the lives of people – good people, like the judge who got his son back safely, or the childless aunt who had her dead niece raised to life again. John was able to do what all my knowledge and wealth had heretofore been unable to do: get results.

And so I scurried to the cash register to pay for the items that I’d deemed necessary for his recovery, figuring out in my head the nearest safe house with a large stash of money hidden away, knowing that regardless of where I took him to get treated, great sums of cash would be necessary to buy people’s silence. I was hardly paying any attention to the cashier as I gave him a twenty, but the man’s thick accent made me glance at him as I picked up the bag and took the change. Was he from India or Bangladesh, or possibly Pakistan? There were so many immigrants in this city now, and I wasn’t as well-versed in their native tongues as to be able to pinpoint where they were from; although perhaps John would know, having spent some time in that region of the world.

I had already walked out of the store, heading back to the car, when the idea occurred to me – it was almost literally like a light bulb turned on in my head: I needed to find a doctor who was an immigrant. Someone who was skilled enough to make it to America, but still had family in his native country who were poor, possibly even in desperate situations. There were countless stories like that, where immigrants (both illegal and legal) had to resort to low-paying, menial jobs that Americans – no matter how bad the unemployment rate was – would not stoop to take, just so they could support their families with the buying power of the US Dollar. If I could find a doctor in such a situation…

Excited now, I hurried back to the car and checked on John to make sure that he wasn’t going into shock. Of course, even if he were, he might not have shown it, but he seemed to be holding up as well as could be expected. After giving him a sip of Gatorade and wadding up my suit jacket to make a pillow for his head, I drove to the nearest safe house to pick up the bag of cash I had hidden (for just this kind of emergency) in the wall behind the bathroom sink. I changed into a set of clean, nondescript clothes, and found a blanket to keep John warm and covered. He had helped himself to some more Gatorade while I was inside, which I took as a good sign.

“Where’re you… taking me?” he asked as I searched on my laptop.

“It looks like… our best bet…” – I typed a bit more, hacking into a bank account to confirm my suspicions – “is the city Coroner’s Office.”

“I think that’s… a bit premature, Harold,” John croaked at me from the back seat.

“Just hang on, John – I’ve found the best surgeon in Najaf for you,” I told him, putting the car in drive.

I was relieved when Dr. Madani began to examine John’s wounds very efficiently and to prioritize which to repair first. It occurred to me then, rather belatedly, that the doctor might have refused to treat him if he had been spooked by my knowledge of his personal affairs; however, I got the sense that he relished the opportunity to work on a live patient for the first time in years – someone who would appreciate the skills which he obviously possessed. Seeing some of John’s old scars for the first time (as the doctor thoroughly disinfected him) I realized anew what a dangerous life he had led, and was still continuing under my employment… It was one thing to read about his past missions in a file, but quite another to see them mapped out on his flesh.

When we had to roll John onto his side to treat the exit wound on his back, John actually tried to help pull his body over but I stopped him in time – I knew he needed to conserve as much of his strength as possible. I supported his back while the doctor worked on the gaping wound, and then I could not stop the trembling that started up in the core of my being. The wound looked even worse on this side, and I realized how close to death John had come. How close I had come to losing him… My hands were shaking now and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I couldn’t even hide the fact from John, since I needed to keep holding him steady so the doctor could do his job. If John decided to make wry remarks about it to me later, then I would simply have to bear it… perhaps welcome it as a sign of recovery. There were worse things than to be teased by him, I acknowledged silently – like never hearing his voice again.

It seemed to take forever but the doctor finally finished patching up the worst of John’s wounds. When he was resting on his back, he looked at me… but there was no teasing or humor in his dark eyes. He knew as well as I did – perhaps better – what a close call it had been. He had been ready to give up, to forego the risk of a rescue… Why? Because he had thought his injuries too severe to recover from? Or simply to spare me from being exposed to the Agents? Because I had to survive, no matter what, to make sure that someone did something about the Numbers?

I suddenly needed to turn away so he wouldn’t see my tears. Hobbling over to the sink, I dampened some paper towels (having noticed the sheen of cold sweat on his face) and used the action to mask wiping my own face. I was angry at myself for not being able to control my emotions – especially when right now, I needed to be strong and levelheaded for both of us. But I had just realized with acute clarity that saving those Numbers meant almost nothing to me in comparison with saving the one man that I knew and… I had to admit, loved. I had lost Nate already. I was still mourning that loss. I hadn’t expected to love anybody else so deeply while I was still grieving for him, and yet, against all odds, I had. And I wasn’t about to let him die, too – not if I could help it!

Bracing myself, I returned to John’s side to blot away the clamminess on his skin. My hands were still trembling slightly, but I tried to be careful not to scratch him with the rough paper towels. His eyes seemed to pierce my soul as he gazed up at me without a word, and I could feel his concern surging around me almost like a palpable thing, causing the lump in my throat to grow so large that I could hardly breathe.

“He is lucky that the bullet did not penetrate his intestines,” the doctor’s voice broke in on my thoughts. “A few centimeters to the inside, and not even the best ER in the city could have saved him.”

“Not luck,” John answered, startling me. “He wasn’t… aiming to kill.”

“Oh, of course… how considerate of him,” I retorted, surprising myself with the bitterness of my tone.

“We were trained to… hit right there… Least amount of… permanent damage… but… high yield of pain,” John rasped out, both his words and the effort it was costing him making me cringe. “Supposed to… incapacitate… subject…”

“Hush,” I told him, grabbing one of his bloodied hands and starting to clean it in an attempt to distract him. “At least you’re still alive… and I plan to keep it that way. Just relax, and let me take care of this.”

I was babbling, I knew, but at least it had the desired effect of making John stop talking. He didn’t resist when I reached for his other hand to clean that as well, but when I’d finished with both of them, he grasped my nervously fluttering fingers in his with a gentle but firm grip. I was shocked to realize that he was trying to calm me, when he was the one lying there with bullet holes in his body… and I was humbled to concede that I needed him to, that I did derive strength from the simple contact with his rough, often-injured hands. I didn’t know if I were giving him anything back in return, but continued to hold his hands in gratitude and comfort until the doctor had to roll him onto his other side.

“Do you need more medication?” I asked, anxious lest it run out of his system and leave him in pain again.

“No… No more drugs. Don’t worry – I’ve had far worse before.”

My heart ached to hear him say that so calmly, knowing that it was all too true. I didn’t want to over-medicate him, so I had to trust his judgment, but he tensed as the doctor began stitching his leg – it was wearing off, as I’d suspected, but he was probably trying to wean himself off of it so he could be on high alert, just in case the Agents caught up to us. With a sigh, I gave up on making him take any more pills at the moment. Once we were back in the car and safely out of the City, I would try to persuade him again.

“Harold,” John said in an even softer tone, “I almost forgot to tell you… the girls are all right.”

“Of course they are… I wouldn’t have expected any less of you,” I shot back, unable to moderate my words as they spilled out, rough and ragged with emotion. Here John was, getting sewn up from nearly getting killed, and his thoughts were focused on everybody except himself. He was a goddamn hero, through and through. It really had been Fate that had led me to him!

“They’re safe now… They can take care of their mom’s house.”

I couldn’t even find any words to say to that… he was worried about their mother’s house, for Christ’s sake! His grip on my hands tightened as though to bolster me, but it didn’t prepare me for what he said next.

“I’m sorry, Harold… I shouldn’t have called Carter… It’s all my fault…”

“John, never mind that now!” I blurted out, dismayed to think that he felt like he owed me an apology. Of course, I couldn’t understand his need to help Carter, who was, after all, trying to arrest him; but then again, that was just the kind of man he was, and I would probably never understand it. That didn’t mean that I blamed him for getting hurt! If he had turned himself in to the police or CIA, that would be a different story, but it wasn’t like he was trying to get killed…

“But she saw you,” he insisted. “If I hadn’t screwed up, she would’ve never known…”

“John, just… try to rest,” I told him with a sigh, cupping his face with one hand to try to convey that I wasn’t upset with him, even though I would have chosen to do things differently. “It will all work out, I promise. You just need to concentrate on getting better…”

“Thank you, Harold,” he said, holding my gaze with his. He must have sensed my confusion – he’d already thanked me for giving him this job (for the second time) as he’d tried to say his goodbye to me… a farewell that I’d refused to accept – so he clarified his words by adding, “for coming to rescue me.”

What, really, had he expected me to do? Stay away, and leave him to die like a dog? Or even, best case scenario, arrested by Carter and taken into the hospital for treatment (the irony that I’d had to bring him so far to get treated when he’d been shot in a hospital parking lot was not lost on me) only to be murdered later by his erstwhile coworkers? Did he honestly think I could have stood by and let that happen? That I was so unfeeling, so inhuman, as to sacrifice him on the altar of the Cause as… “collateral damage”?

How could I care about the Numbers, whom I only knew by photos and data, and not care about John Reese, about whom I knew exactly everything? And not just knew, but whom I had met and worked with and observed and been observed by and joked with and worried over and argued with and admired and respected and cared about and… and loved? How could I even pretend to care about the Numbers if I were willing to let the person I was closest to die?

I knew I couldn’t speak now without blubbering like an idiot, so I kept my mouth shut and grabbed John’s hands again. What I wanted to do was yell at him, to demand if he actually thought I could have done any differently, but as his hands gripped mine back, I knew I didn’t need to say anything at all. He knew. He understood. But he’d had to thank me, anyway, because he’d been betrayed by his supposed “friends” before – probably the same lot as had just shot him – and he wanted to tell me that he would never take our partnership for granted. That it meant something to him that I cared about him. Perhaps even (I dared to hope) that I meant as much to him as he meant to me…

Doctor Madani finished stitching up John’s injuries and went the extra mile of helping me get him into the car. When he assured us that our secrets were safe with him, I was able to exhale a good portion of the tightness which had been building up in my chest. John thanked him in his native tongue, bringing a genuine smile to his tired face, and I made a mental note to ask John (when he had recovered) to teach me a few phrases in Arabic.

He was quiet on the drive out of town, gratefully sipping the Gatorade now that he wasn’t bleeding so profusely. I pulled out the bottle of painkillers and handed it to him.

“You should take another dose now. I don’t want you to even try to move when we get home – I can’t afford to have you rip out your new stitches. They cost a small fortune, you realize.”

He chuckled at my attempt at humor and made a great show of swallowing one pill.

“So… we’re going… ‘home’?”

Always alert, always digging… but I was thankful that he was strong enough to want to know.

“Yes, Mr. Reese. As I haven’t placed a hood on your head or blindfolded you, I’m sure you can see that we’re headed out to the Hamptons. I have a… summer house out there. I suppose it’s as much of a home as any one of my properties…”

“Hmm… ‘Home’ sounds nice,” he softly remarked, and a moment later slipped his hand under my seatbelt to rest on my thigh. I gulped involuntarily at the touch, but didn’t demand that he remove it – I couldn’t. It felt good, despite the intrusion into my… personal space. By the time I remembered to call the house and alert my staff to expect us (I’d need Mr. DeYoung’s assistance to move John out of the car), it almost felt… natural… there…


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