Even with the Kevlar vest on, Reese could feel the bullets plowing into him. Armor-piercing rounds. These guys don’t play around, he thought ruefully. His mission had been accomplished, though, and that was all that mattered: Harold was safe. Harold, who had tried to protect him by locking him into the vault, not realizing that Reese had anticipated a situation like this and had struck a deal with The Machine long ago in preparation for it. Reese was the Contingency, after all. He was also a better chess player than Finch knew — at least inasmuch as ruthlessly sacrificing pawns could win victories. And he was happy to be the pawn himself. Anything to protect Harold.
The gunfire echoed off the surrounding buildings in a deafening cacophony, which prevented Reese from hearing the noise of the med-evac helicopter until it was almost on top of him. He wondered if he were hallucinating when he saw Joey Durban and Pierce Logan jump off, even when they grabbed him and roughly hauled him up into the helicopter. He was sure he was hallucinating when he saw Megan Tillman inside. With a lurch the aircraft moved to the starboard and a few moments later — while Dr. Tillman was still assessing his wounds — Harper Rose landed it on another rooftop.
“Brace yourselves!” she yelled. The next moment the shockwave hit, tilting the helicopter to the side before it fell back with a bone-jarring crash. Reese groaned, every inch of his body protesting.
“We have to stop the bleeding,” Tillman said as she prepared an injection. “You, apply pressure here. You, here and here.”
Reese thought he would pass out from pain as the two men followed her orders. He barely felt the sting of the needle being inserted since his nerves were already on fire everywhere. But soon he felt the familiar sensation of becoming detached from those nerves, floating into the woolly haze of anesthesia.
“Hold on, John,” Pierce told him. “We’ve got your extraction plan covered. Just hold on.”
Reese hoped he didn’t mean to consciousness, because that was quickly slipping out of his grasp.
He drifted in and out several times before he finally was able to get a grip on his surroundings. When he did, he was in a hospital bed, hooked up to IVs and a heart monitor. The room was unfamiliar but definitely not in a hospital — the curtains were too posh, the lighting more like an upscale hotel. He tried to move and was appalled to discover how weak he was.
“Do not move,” came a voice from behind him. The man who walked into view looked vaguely familiar; Reese thought he might have seen him from the same angle before. “Do you remember me?” the man asked. “I am the man your friend paid with a bag of cash to stitch you up. I did the same for you again, only this time a different friend paid me. It is good that you have such friends; bad that you continue to need treatment for such injuries.”
“Occupational hazard,” Reese managed, his voice scratchy from disuse.
Dr. Farouk Madani helped him sip water to ease the dryness of his throat. “You will be able to eat soft foods in a few days,” he informed him. “For now we must ensure that you heal correctly. Rest, and do not move. Press this button if you begin to feel pain.”
Pierce was sitting beside his bed the next time he woke.
“Hey, John,” he whispered while stroking Reese’s hair. “How are you feeling?”
“Like Swiss cheese,” Reese replied dryly.
“Well, yeah… but you’re going to be okay. We’ll take good care of you, I promise.”
“The others… How are the others?”
“Don’t worry — they’re okay. Harold was shot, too, but he’s better now. He’s gone to Europe… somewhere in Italy, I think. And your partner from the 8th was cut up by a Samaritan operative, but he’s recovering. Your lady friend has gone underground but The Machine says she’ll be just fine. Oh, and she’s got Bear with her.”
A smile flitted across Reese’s face. “Good.”
“You did a noble thing, John,” Pierce continued, “but I wish you’d remember… you’re not in this alone. And as long as one of us is alive, we’ll always come to save you.”
Reese gazed at him for a long moment before nodding ever so slightly.
“Well,” Pierce said with an awkward smile, “I should let you rest. Doctor’s orders. But I thought you would want to know.”
“Thanks,” Reese told him, then watched him leave the room. He thought about what the others might be doing now, feeling a stab of pain in his chest that had nothing to do with the bullet holes when he remembered that Grace had gotten a job in Italy. But he reminded himself that Harold was safe — alive and well — and that was all that mattered.
His recovery and rehabilitation was a slow process. It didn’t help that Pierce and the others would sometimes leave abruptly, called away to handle another Number given to them by the new version of The Machine. Reese pushed himself too much a couple of times and paid for it. It was humbling for him to realize that he could not heal as quickly as he would have ten, even five years ago. The job Finch had given him, while it had saved his life, had worn him down physically.
But that’s all relative, Reese thought as he stared out the window. The government job would have been just as rough, or I could be dead by now — actually dead, he added with a wry smile.
He often asked The Machine, via Pierce, how Harold was doing; from its answers he formed a pretty good picture of his former employer’s current life: working for a startup software company, adopting a dog from a shelter, settling into a routine. Reese knew The Machine was not in contact with him and thought it was probably for the best. Harold deserved to live a normal life; he’d fought long enough in a war that had demanded everything of him.
When Reese finally felt like he could function again, he asked Pierce to let him help with their Numbers. At first he was on surveillance duty but little by little he was drawn into the cases in more of his original capacity. Their jurisdiction, as it were, grew from the DC area to include Baltimore and Philadelphia. He wondered why they were not receiving Numbers from New York; he also wondered whether Shaw might have something to do with that.
He dropped Fusco a line every now and then, just to let him know he was still alive — mostly postcards with strange motifs, such as the zombie apocalypse or references to obscure horror films. No return address, of course. He figured he’d gotten the detective into enough trouble to last a lifetime.
Six years passed. Reese and Pierce were now working exclusively in Philadelphia and Atlantic City while Joey and Harper handled the DC area. He had grown used to hearing The Machine’s directions in Root’s voice; in a way, it was like she was still with them. Even catching its references to him as “the big guy” was more endearing than annoying.
Pierce had started calling him “big guy” as well. Although the young billionaire had made it obvious that he was interested in being Reese’s partner in more than just working the Numbers, Reese continued to brush it off. Their banter had become a sort of running game, where Pierce would infuse his remarks with unnecessary innuendo and Reese would try to parry with equally tantalizing innuendo that Pierce knew he would never follow up on. But it helped dispel some of the tedium when they were on extended cases.
One day a link popped up on Reese’s phone without any commentary from The Machine. It was an obituary, written in Italian — Reese froze when he scrolled down to find a photo of Grace looking back at him. He asked The Machine to translate the article, which said that she had died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Afterwards, The Machine spoke in his ear: “I thought you would want to know.”
“Thanks,” he said, his voice strained. “I need a ticket to Milan.”
Harold was at odd ends in their apartment, which suddenly seemed too large. It was the weekend, so he couldn’t work without raising eyebrows — there were laws restricting overtime now — but it was depressing to rattle around in the rooms he had shared with Grace, doing nothing. Even Chumley was depressed, as though the little dog realized that his mother was never coming back.
The doorbell startled Harold out of his miasma and set Chumley to barking. He hurried to answer it, hushing Chumley as he went. When he opened the door, however, he was struck absolutely speechless.
“Hi, uh… I came as soon as I heard.”
Harold struggled for a moment before he could utter the one word: “John!”
“I’m sorry, Harold.”
They stared at each other for a long time — long enough for Chumley to sniff the stranger’s pant leg and decide that he might not be a threat.
“You’re alive,” Harold said at last, his lips trembling and his eyes filling with tears.
“Actually, everyone thinks I’m dead,” John deadpanned.
Words became irrelevant as they held each other in the doorway.