Chapter 5 – John Reese, Part 1

2011/12/16, 03:08:46 – Finch Estate, Southampton (Village), New York


I was glad that Finch had made me take another painkiller by the time his bodyguards finally laid me down on the bed. The repeated lifting and moving (because of course, Finch wanted to change my bloody clothes – all of them) made my muscles ache even where I hadn’t been shot. But his pills had made the pain bearable, and I was able to lie back at last and let my body rest. It did nothing to ease the embarrassment of being stripped naked by Finch himself, in plain sight of his two guys (whom I’d clouted rather soundly the last time we’d met), but it did feel good to be cleaned up before being tucked into bed by Finch, who was fussing over me like a mother hen. He probably would’ve cleaned up the blood on my privates if I’d let him! Thankfully, I’d intercepted his hands in time, before he embarrassed all of us. At least I hadn’t been shot in the arms or shoulders this time, so I wasn’t completely helpless.

Leave it to Finch, though, to have not just a hospital bed in his house, but a whole room set up like a trauma ward. I was impressed in spite of myself. The older bodyguard (“Mr. Doherty”) must’ve had some medical training, too, since he had me hooked up to an IV in no time. On the other hand, the big guy (“Mr. DeYoung”) was a piece of work – I hadn’t expected any welcome wagons to be waiting for me, especially after our last encounter, but the dislike that was emanating from him hit me almost like a solid punch. Still, he was careful not to inflict any more pain than was necessary when he handled me. At least he wasn’t mean-spirited, although it was obvious that he considered my presence a threat. For what, I wasn’t sure at first, but even with my brain half-fogged with the pain medication, I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t professional rivalry – he had it bad for Finch, and didn’t like how chummy I’d gotten with the boss! Well, I had news for him: I’d earned every bit of it, and wasn’t about to back off just because I had some competition.

Actually, though, he wasn’t posing much of a challenge – at least, Finch was politely ignoring his near-constant attentions, so I assumed that the boss man just wasn’t interested. For that matter, I wasn’t sure if Finch felt any attraction for me that way, per se, but his actions tonight had dispelled any lingering doubts I might have had about my place in his tidy little world: he cared about me. I was sure of it now. I’d suspected it for a while, ever since he’d risked his own life by placing himself smack dab in the middle of the lockup robbery to warn me of the trap. As well as every time he’d snapped at me in supposed irritation when I’d gone incommunicado. And every time he’d inadvertently called me by name – just “Reese” or even “John” – when he was worried about me or downright panicked. I meant more to him than he’d ever expected, in all likelihood… which was a success for me. All of my hard work – the actual work that I’d done for my job, as well as the teasing banter that I had coaxed him into – had paid off.

It was funny, almost, how we’d had to grope our way in the dark to forge a working relationship. Neither of us trusted people easily; neither of us liked working with other people, since most were less competent than what we needed. So I realized that it was hard for Finch to ask me for my expertise (for my help) and let me run with the operations as though I were in charge, not him. But as I repeatedly proved to him that I was capable of doing the job, I could sense his relief, elation, and even joy at finally being able to do something about the information he had. And that, in turn, had told me more about him – about the person he really was inside – than any amount of information I could have dug up on him on the Internet, even if he hadn’t erased all traces of his existence there.

He, too, wanted to protect people. He was tired of feeling helpless, like he was caught up in a machine (not his creation, but life and the world in general) that he could neither escape nor change. He was haunted by demons from his past – demons named Guilt and Self-Blame and Loss – which he wished to exorcise by doing something good and positive for the future. All of these traits, I realized, were ones that I could relate to as well. Finch had been entirely correct: we did have a lot in common. Including even (to our mutual surprise) a fondness for dry, understated humor. I doubted he could have predicted that just from reading my files, no matter how many classified accounts he might have hacked into. We were simply, undeniably, a perfect fit. A match made in heaven, as it were.

I’d started flirting with him right from the get-go, because finding myself tied up to a bed in an unfamiliar room made me wonder what other things the mysterious Mr. Finch might be interested in – or even what he might have done to me while I’d been unconscious. Sure, I’d been furious at first, since he’d scared the living daylights out of me with that recording; frankly, I’d thought he’d flipped out and was killing that woman in the next room as some sort of sick punishment for my not playing along with his game. He’d even struck a raw nerve, bringing up the fact that I’d been unable to save Jessica from a similar fate as the woman whose screams he’d used. But when I had him pinned against the wall, helpless before my rage with his bodyguards nowhere in sight, I realized that he had risked everything to get my attention – just to get me to listen to what he was saying. About the chance to “be there in time.”

He’d risked getting strangled to death just to recruit me for his crusade, or mission, or whatever you want to call it. It not only made me pay attention to his words, it also spoke of a desperation that the impassive man never showed on his face: he wanted me for the job, and had gone to great lengths to find me. I have to admit, I was flattered – he’d gone to much more trouble to track me down than the Agency had after I’d staged my death.

So, Mr. Finch wanted me; he was utterly convinced that I was the one, perhaps the only one, for this “job” after finding out “exactly everything” about me. I couldn’t help but wonder how far he would go to keep me… something I tested out fairly early on, by asking – demanding, even – for him to get more involved in the case. When he’d shown up at the lockup, I had my answer: even if it was only to spare himself the hassle of finding a replacement, he would do pretty much anything to keep me safe. Of course I realized that he’d calculated the risks in that brilliant mind of his before jumping into the thick of things. Of course it probably wasn’t for me, personally, but for me, the operative, the asset, the ideal tool or weapon in his campaign for justice. But still… it felt good to be wanted.

He was also right in his assumption that I would try to narrow that “disparity” gap as quickly as possible. When he’d warned me that he was “a very private person,” I took that as a challenge – and I do love challenges. Finch struck me as intelligent enough and tenacious enough to put up a decent fight (in the information arena, anyway) and I wasn’t wrong in my assessment. So the chase had begun. The flirting had just been a part of it – to knock him off-balance in an effort to make him reveal things that he wouldn’t ordinarily. Not that it had worked much, as a technique, but it did serve to amuse me, and it had uncovered the dry humor which I hadn’t suspected Finch of possessing. In fact, I think he rather enjoys it – enjoys having someone make a decent attempt, at least, at matching wits with him.

I learned that he was quite capable (despite his injuries) of spotting and losing a tail; he learned equally quickly that I was capable of finding him, even without hacking into multiple surveillance cameras around the city. He retaliated by spending the night at the library rather than going home, knowing that I was waiting to follow him; I countered by slipping past the alarms at the library the next morning, startling him out of a sound sleep. And always, I kept up the teasing banter, trying to get under his cool, calm, mask-like skin – with not a single crack showing in his titanium exterior. If anything, he grew even more wary, reading hidden meanings into my words that I’d not even thought of and guarding his privacy as carefully as a wild animal hides its offspring from a predator.

Not that I would have harmed him in any way… I only kept after him in the hopes of getting some sort of reaction – humorous or human – out of him. Even though I’d figured out where a couple of his safe houses were, I didn’t immediately act on that information. I was waiting for the opportune moment to show up one night, perhaps waiting for him there with dinner for the two of us, to surprise him but also (if it worked) to make him admit that I wasn’t half bad for company after a hard day. If I ever find out when his real birthday is, I might be tempted to greet him at whichever apartment he goes to for the night, with a cake covered in candles. Or maybe tie myself up to his bed like he’d done to me in the hotel, just for the pleasure of asking him if that sort of thing excited him.

Of course he would probably respond, deadpan, that it only excited him insofar as I could be kept tied up, or some such snide remark, delivered with an almost utter lack of emotion. I’d noticed that the more I tried to get a rise out of him, the more inscrutable his responses became. But then again, he began letting glimpses of his humor show through – like his comment that implied I was asking for a raise in a backhanded way. (That had truly been the farthest thing from my mind at the time – he was reading that into my words, no doubt giving me more credit than I deserved for craftiness or, possibly, just trying to ensure that I was happy with my work arrangement.) It led me to wonder if he didn’t so adamantly and completely refuse to acknowledge my flirting because he was afraid that any response would reveal too much – that if he began to tease back, it might show that he actually… enjoyed the teasing. Maybe even… that he liked the idea of us being more than just business partners, as my innuendos often suggested. It was a heady thought in more ways than one.

When I’d finally dropped all pretenses and simply thanked him for what he had given me – not just a job, but a purpose, a reason to live, and the joy of seeing good people saved from tragedy – it had caught him by surprise. I felt rather bad about that… In spite of all my teasing, I’d hoped that he knew how much I appreciated what he’d done by rescuing me from the police station that night. If he hadn’t, I probably would’ve been dead (actually dead) either from the Agency catching up to me or from alcohol or some more efficient method, just as he’d guessed. If he hadn’t kept hounding me to take his offer, I would have died of despair. Finch was a smart man, a genius, and he accurately read between the lines of my few words this time – he understood what all I was thanking him for. And for the first time, he gave me a snippet of information about himself: he liked the eggs benedict at that diner, and yes, he’d been there many times. I already knew that it was close to one of his apartments, but still… it had warmed my cockles that he had volunteered this information. That he was beginning, ever so gradually, to trust me.

The very next case, he revealed a bit more of his heart to me – of how he’d been “haunted” by the Numbers that he hadn’t been able to help. I knew this already, too, but it was good to hear it from his lips; it was especially good to hear him say (even though he hastily tried to cover it up) “we” in reference to our collaboration. He was feeling safer about telling me about himself – not details, of course, but how helpless and frustrated he had felt before he’d found me, which also validated the work that I was now doing for him. And he began using words like “we” and “us” and “our” more often, with increasing comfort in the idea of the two of us being in this together. Because we really were – he might have hired me to do a “job,” but his crusade had become my cause as well. We were just two sides of a coin, brought to this point in our lives (even united in our supposed deaths) for this very purpose. I’d never believed in Fate, but the manner in which our paths had converged almost made me believe in some higher power.

I’d almost blown it all, though, after the fiasco with Elias. Finch was quick to shoulder part of the blame, but still, I felt like I’d let him down by not realizing that “Charlie” the teacher was a mole, a sleeper. There were terrorists who spent years (some even their whole lives) living duplicitously, just waiting for the right moment to spring into action and unleash violence on their unsuspecting neighbors – their sworn enemies. I’d been trained to spot such sleeper cells, but with Charlie… I’d failed miserably. I’d even thought that he reminded me of Finch! Where had my senses gone wrong? I couldn’t blame it all on the bare fact that I’d lost contact with Finch, and besides, I was the one who’d spent sixteen hours with the guy (twenty-two if you count the time I’d kept surveillance on him). I should have been able to see through him, but I hadn’t. He was smart – maybe not as smart as Finch, but smart enough – and had been undercover for so long that his alter ego had become a second skin to him. And I had swallowed it all, hook, line, and sinker…

Finch had tried to console me, but I’d walked away from him for the second time. I was exhausted, frustrated, humiliated, and hungry – not a good combination by any standard – and I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to continue this job. I was supposed to be making the world (or at least my corner of it) a better, safer place, damn it! But Finch had understood, and had patiently waited for me to walk off my anger before approaching me again. He’d reminded me of the good that we’d been able to accomplish together already, and of those who would need our help in the future. He’d reaffirmed his faith in me, in the system we had developed.

“It’s not foolproof, Mr. Reese – very few things ever are. But it’s still the best chance we have to… to make a difference. We might not be able to change the world, but it might mean the world to the people we do help. Isn’t that worth the effort? Even with the mistakes we’ll make (and I have no illusions, Mr. Reese – I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we’ll misjudge someone)… I still believe that what we’re doing is good and right, that we are making our small section of the world a better place.”

His impassioned appeal worked on me in two ways: first, it persuaded me that he was right, that it really was “better to light a candle than to curse the dark”; and second, it forced me to realize that I wanted to continue doing this job, if for no other reason than to help Finch deal with his demons – that I didn’t want to leave him in the lurch without anyone to be the “muscle,” the brawn to his brains. He had already confided in me how much he had suffered when he’d been unable to help prevent the violence which the Numbers represented. I didn’t want to put him into such a frustrating position again, or (God forbid!) have him trying to intervene on his own – without the proper training, knowledge, or tools – and getting himself hurt or killed in the attempt. And above all else… even apart from the fact that I honestly had no other place to go… I had to acknowledge that I didn’t want to leave Finch. I wanted to help him if I could, yes, but more than that… I wanted to stay with him.

Funny, how I had set about flirting with him and teasing him as a means of gathering more information about him, but had ended up getting hooked on him myself. I wanted to know more, and not just to prepare for whatever hidden agenda he might have (as I’d suspected at first). I found his personality to be… almost addicting. Compelling, perhaps, is a better word for it, but… his candor in some areas paired with his paranoid secretiveness in others, for instance, is a curiosity in and of itself. His altruistic nature – that drive that makes him give of his time and resources so generously – tells me that there is so much more to him (and his past) which would be fascinating to know. And his intellect alone is something I admire and appreciate. But it’s all inextricably coupled with a man who is (without being condescending) limited in his physical body. Vulnerable and weak, he’s the type of person that I instinctively want to protect. He wouldn’t stand for it if I put it in those terms, I’m sure, but I can’t help the way I feel about him. In short, I consider him my responsibility now – while at the same time I have to concede that I need him, too. He is a necessary part of my life, without which I couldn’t function; and I would dare to claim that I am just as integral a part of his life as well. Like I said before, we’re two sides of the same coin. A co-dependent, symbiotic organism.

Nothing else had driven this reality home to me than the way Finch had ignored my warnings – ignored my attempt to bid him goodbye – to come rescue me. I had learned, or thought I’d learned, that in the end each person is all alone and no one is coming to save you. Finch had proven me wrong. For all of his privacy and secrecy and reclusiveness, he had risked everything to come rescue me – even if that rescue had meant the end for both of us. Unlike the lockup robbery, he had walked (or driven) into the situation completely blind. He had no way of knowing how badly wounded I had been, or even if I would survive. Carter could have arrested both of us. Even if he’d managed to escape, with or without me, Mark or one of the others might have seen him and been able to identify him. Worst case scenario, Mark could have found both of us – in which case both of us would have been shot dead.

I had known from the beginning that Finch was fixated on me, but somewhere along the way, I’d come to embody all of his hopes for the Numbers. Perhaps there’s even more to it, that I don’t dare speculate on just yet. But with as much money and resources as Finch has, even if I’d died in that parking garage, he would have been able to find someone else to take my place. I was expendable; he was not. I was a mere foot soldier – a pawn or, at best, a knight – while he was the general, the commander, the king. He should never have exposed himself to such danger; and yet, he had. It wasn’t logical; but then again, I was finding out that Finch – for all his computer-based geeky-ness – was not a machine. He was human, capable of compassion and attachment and even (dare I say it?) love. I wasn’t just a tool to him anymore.

When I felt his hands tremble as he rolled me onto my side and held me there, allowing the doctor to do his work, I knew. He was worried sick that I wouldn’t make it. Not because he would lose a valuable asset in his mission of justice, but because he would lose me. He’d mentioned once before that he’d lost someone; I’d guessed that that loss had motivated and mobilized him to launch his little crusade. It must have been devastating… and now as I lay there, getting treated for two gunshot wounds, I knew that my death would be no less devastating a loss to this tight-lipped, poker-faced, seemingly unflappable man. It made me rethink all that I had assumed about him before. Even more, it made me regret my hasty, arrogant actions which had led to my near demise – for the sole reason that it had made Finch frantic with worry. I vowed silently that I would never be so careless again.

Something of my resolve must have shown on my face, because when I was able to look up at him again, he hurried away to get some paper towels to wipe the cold sweat off of my skin. I suspected that he had turned away so suddenly to hide his tears, which pained me more than all of my injuries combined. He didn’t deserve this – didn’t need to be put through so much trauma again. Thankfully, the doctor made a remark which broke the tension and allowed me to distract Finch for a moment. But my partner was insistent that I not talk, so after he had cleaned my hands of the blood that had stained them, I grabbed his to stop their nervous movements, trying to convey to him that I was still strong enough, that I would pull through. And that I was so grateful that he had come for me.

It did seem to calm him a bit, and I was amazed, myself, how good it felt to have that contact with him. I’d been so relieved to see him in the parking garage, and had almost collapsed in his arms, but he’d been surprisingly strong in supporting me – his grip steady and sure – until Carter had taken over and put me in the car. I would never forget the warmth of his hand on my back, and how his arms had tightened around me at the sound of Carter’s voice, as though he would have held me with the very last ounce of his strength rather than give me up to my enemies. I was glad that Carter was not my enemy, of course, but even gladder that Finch was my ally.

When the doctor had to roll me over to work on the back of my thigh, Finch offered me more of his drugs but I refused, wanting to be more clear-headed so that I could be of some help to him. But the pain was coming back, so I started talking again – to distract myself this time. About the girls, and the successful completion of that part of the mission. It affected Finch more than I’d expected, since his emotions were still raw and ragged. But there was one more thing that I had to tell him – to assure him that I would never knowingly place him in this situation again. I gripped his hands harder before forming the words.

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

“John, never mind that now!” he interrupted, his voice shaking almost as much as his hands had been.

“But she saw you,” I pointed out rather needlessly. “If I hadn’t screwed up, she would’ve never known—”

“John, just… try to rest,” he sighed, placing one hand on my face with a tenderness that wrung my soul with longing. “It will all work out, I promise. You just need to concentrate on getting better.”

The earnestness in his eyes was nothing short of the truth. He didn’t blame me for what had happened, or even for my own role in it, despite the fact that (given his cautious nature) he would have never made that sort of mistake. As demanding of a boss as he could be, he didn’t fault me for having faults or for being human. All he was concerned about right now was my injuries and making sure that I recovered from them. From the moment he’d learned that I’d been shot, his only goal had been to rescue me – to keep me safe.

“Thank you, Harold,” I told him, looking up into his kind eyes. His lips parted and the tell-tale wrinkle in his forehead showed up, meaning that he wasn’t quite sure why I was thanking him. “For coming to rescue me,” I explained, although he couldn’t have known – even after reading all of my files – how much it meant to me. How absolutely convinced I had been that there would never be anyone willing to risk everything in order to rescue another person, least of all me. How grateful I was that he had proven me wrong. How much it healed my soul (if I even had such a thing, still) and restored my faith – maybe not in mankind, as a whole, but in him as a person, at least.

I’d made him choke up again, which hadn’t been my intention, but it was nice to have him just hold my hands again for a while. Reminding me that I wasn’t alone – not anymore. Even with two bullet holes in my body, I’d never felt so… whole, in a long time. Not for over ten years, in fact.

As he drove us out of the city, he made me take another pill, but gave me a balm that was even better: he was taking me “home.” Maybe it wasn’t a “home” like what most people would mean, but it was the closest thing that Finch had to one, which was good enough for me. I could feel the euphoria wash over me (or was that the medication?) at the thought of being allowed one step further inside Finch’s private world. Maybe there was a chink in his armor, after all – a theory that I tested by worming my hand against his nearer thigh. Much to my surprise, he didn’t shake it off or even make a droll comment about it. I dozed for a bit until we arrived at his house – or mansion, rather, from what I could make out in the dark – and after some fuss, here I was: finally clean, patched up, and settled into bed.

I glanced over at Finch, who was also settled into a wing-back chair and buried under a good layer of blankets. It seemed like he was planning on staying beside me, all night if necessary. I hoped that the chair was as comfortable as it looked, because I really couldn’t find it in me to tell him to go lie down in his bed upstairs. I wanted him near me right now… I was still feeling a little vulnerable, and wasn’t at all sure if I could trust my well-being to his bodyguards – especially the big one. I’d apparently startled the other one, too, when I’d called Finch by name. It had been a deliberate move on my part, to test the waters, and I was glad that I hadn’t tried it in front of the big guy yet.

That, thankfully, was taken care of by Finch himself – although I’m not sure it was deliberate… but then again, knowing how brilliant he is, it probably was. The poor fellow looked about as crestfallen as anybody I’ve ever seen when his precious “Mr. Finch” called me “John.” I almost felt sorry that I’d taken up such a special place in his boss’ heart. But I wasn’t about to relinquish my claims on Finch – not after fighting so damn hard to get this far! And I had to figure that if “Mr. DeYoung” wanted someone special in his life, he could go out and date anyone he wanted to. For me, the only human contact I could have (apart from fleeting acquaintances with the Numbers) was Finch. And he meant everything to me.

Even now, my hand twitched to reach out to him where he was curled up, half-lying and half-sitting in his chair with a book propped up on his lap. He was close enough that I could touch him if I did, but I didn’t want to press my luck. At least I could look and drink in a more relaxed picture of Finch than I usually got. He was trying (or pretending to try) to read his book, although his eyelids were drooping. He’d had a rather harrowing night… on my account. I swallowed, feeling a lump form in my throat.

Finch looked up, probably feeling my gaze on him.

“What is it? Are you in pain?” he asked, instantly alert.

“No,” I mumbled, pressing my eyes closed. It almost physically hurt to see him so worried about me.

“Please don’t be a hero about this, John – it’s not like I don’t have enough painkillers here to make a drug dealer drool.”

I chuckled at his tongue-twister and looked at him again.

“No, I don’t need any more drugs – really. But if I could ask a favor…”

“What is it?”

“Will you give me your hand?”

There was that crease furrowing his brow momentarily, but when I slipped my hand out from the covers (thankfully the IV was on the other side) it disappeared in understanding. His hand met mine as he rested his elbow and forearm on the bed.

“Hmph. For a second there…” he began, then blushed.

“What?” I prodded, sensing something good.

“For a second, I wondered if you were… asking for my hand i—in marriage…”

I couldn’t stop the grin that spread across my face, and squeezed his hand once before pulling it closer to my face to kiss his knuckles.

“I’m afraid you’re putting the cart before the horse, Harold,” I teased, watching him squirm and loving every moment of it. “I haven’t even asked you out on a date yet. But when I do, you need to make sure that Mr. DeYoung comes along as your chaperone. After all, I’m a dangerous, wanted criminal…”

Finch groaned and heaved a huge sigh. But he didn’t withdraw his hand, and I fell asleep holding on to it like the lifeline it was.

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