A/N: Missing scenes during and after Episode 1.21 “Many Happy Returns.”
Finch had many regrets in his life – too numerous to mention – but the latest one had left him gasping for breath. When Reese had disconnected his cell, shutting out Finch’s pleas to allow law enforcement to handle Jennings, Finch had called his name several times, but in vain. The constriction in his chest then had nothing to do with the condition of his health and everything to do with the awful suspicion that Reese was done, finished – that he would not work with him on the Numbers again. When he had finally managed to calm himself enough to breathe properly, Finch reached out to Detective Carter in a last-ditch effort to stop Reese before he did something that they would all regret: make good on his threat to kill Jennings. As much as the wife-abuser deserved it, Finch did not want Reese to abase himself to that monster’s level, for Finch wanted to believe that Reese was not a monster, regardless of how Reese might view himself.
When even Carter had not been able to persuade Reese, Finch had given up all hope. This was it, then: Reese would become the nightmare that the CIA had tried so hard to mold him into. Finch could not reach him. He would have to find someone else and start anew. The very thought was abhorrent, but he was left with no other choice. Reese had driven Jennings’ car out of New York, taking Interstate 78 into Pennsylvania, driving non-stop at highway speeds…
And that was when Finch realized that Reese had not removed the SIM card from his cell, allowing Finch to track his movements even though he refused to pick up Finch’s repeated calls. As Finch watched the dot indicating Reese’s location, it sped through Virginia, making a brief stop at Roanoke, then continued into Tennessee, straight through Knoxville but stopping overnight in Chattanooga. It continued going south and west to Houston, where it made another stop or two, then headed towards the border with Mexico.
Finch knew Reese had worked for the Agency in Mexico before and was fluent in Spanish. Perhaps he had some connections there – even people he could blackmail – and was planning to disappear completely. But then, why would he allow Finch to track his whereabouts? Why not throw the SIM card out of the car window somewhere and cut ties with him altogether? The dot on the computer screen stopped once again in Monterrey, and in less than an hour it was making its way back along its original route, heading east and north. Finch finally realized what had happened – what Reese had chosen to do, rather than devolving into the killing machine which he had resisted becoming for so many years. Having heard him threaten Jennings, Finch had imagined the worst; however, he should have trusted Reese’s own moral compass to hold true.
Under the circumstances, Finch did the only logical thing he could think of – he sent a text to Reese’s cell, hoping that the other man would read it even if he didn’t respond. The message was short and simple: “I’m sorry.” Sorry not only for having deceived him – despite having promised to never lie to his operative – but also for not having trusted him. Finch hoped it would be enough but could not be certain. Reese had sounded angrier than he had ever heard him before. Even when Finch had awoken him to the sound of recorded screams, Reese’s response had been merely reactionary. What Finch had heard in his voice just before he had hung up was cold fury. If the man never returned to work for him again, Finch could hardly blame him.
There were new Numbers that the Machine gave him, new people who needed help in their dire circumstances, but Finch did not know how to help them anymore. He passed one or two numbers along to Carter, having hacked their personal information enough to give her a good idea what to look for, but his heart simply was not in it. He wandered through the library, picking up random books to read, only to realize that his eyes were skimming over the words without comprehending any of them. He returned often to his computer, following the dot of Reese’s cell as it made its laborious way back (he hoped) to New York. When he could stand the uncertainty no longer, he would walk through the city. Often he sat on the bench under the bridge where he had first spoken to Reese, looking back over the months they had worked together. He came to one conclusion: even if Reese wanted out and they never worked on another case again, it had been worth it. Worth all of their disagreements and (at times) downright arguments, for the chance at being able to do something about the Numbers. To have made a difference, in at least a few people’s lives. If Reese wanted to part ways, he would allow him to do so, and with his blessing.
Another, minor regret that Finch had was having forgotten to give Reese the address of the apartment building. He had been so focused on getting Reese out of the library that morning – so concentrated on deceiving him – that he had forgotten to give him the information he needed. If Reese had had the address, he might have spent the day inspecting the apartment, perhaps even shopping for a few items to spruce up the place to his liking; instead, he had spent the morning in the park, the afternoon wandering around the city, then another lonely evening in the cramped, dilapidated apartment where he’d been staying. Finch would have kicked himself if it were anatomically possible. No wonder Reese had been in such a bad mood the next day when he’d accosted Finch on the street. No wonder he had been following Finch – out of sheer boredom if nothing else.
As much as Finch had been relieved to be rescued from Jennings’ interrogation by Reese, he had felt as though the bottom of his stomach had fallen out when he’d seen Reese approaching, his brows like thunderclouds. The tense silence in the car as Reese had driven them back to the library had almost crackled with caustic electricity. Deciding that the best defense was a good offense, Finch had attempted to deflect some of Reese’s anger by pointing out that the former agent had been following him, but his accusation had been weak and easily overridden. Reese was rightfully angry that Finch had been working a case without him – it had been a breach of trust, on top of the outright lie that Finch had told him. And Finch was honest enough to admit that Reese had probably only been following him to protect him, to make sure that he didn’t get in over his head.
All things considered, he could not blame Reese at all if he never returned. Humbled, bereft, and feeling the chill of loneliness seeping into his bones once again, Finch continued to sit on the cold, wind-swept bench by the river. And he waited.
It was a long drive to Mexico, but an even longer drive back. On the way down, Reese had been focused, intent on his mission (or at least his goal – could it be called a “mission” when it was solely his own idea?) to dump that piece of human filth in a hell-hole where he would rot until kingdom come. It had been easy enough to break into a drug dealer’s hideout in Houston to snatch the cocaine he needed to have Jennings incarcerated; he figured he was doing the Houston Police Department a favor as well. He had bought some supplies before going in, though – a hooded sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, along with some clean underwear – so that the “man in a suit” description wouldn’t trigger the CIA or FBI’s search teams to take a closer look at the heist. It had all gone smoothly and, after ensuring that the warden would call Carter to reassure her, to let her know that he wasn’t a killer, Reese had begun heading back the way he had come. Now that he didn’t have Jennings in the trunk, however, it was harder to concentrate on the road. It was also tedious with nothing in particular to think about and nobody to talk to; not that he had talked to Jennings on the way down, of course, but Reese had grown accustomed to having Finch’s voice buzzing in his ear. Not having to wear the earwig was a relief, but he was finding the long hours on seemingly endless highways so mundane that several times he caught himself reaching for the cell, just to have someone to talk to, and only stopped himself at the last moment. He was extremely tired as well from having driven so many days almost non-stop, so he was forced to stay overnight in a few motels to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
One of those mornings, he came out of the shower and put on his clean clothes, having washed his white oxford shirt the night before and hung it up to dry. He would have been more comfortable in the jeans and a t-shirt but knew that if he were pulled over for speeding by the local police, he would present a more respectable appearance in the suit. As he grabbed his cell off the bedside table to tuck it into his pocket, he checked it (almost out of habit) for any missed calls, and saw that there had been an incoming text message.
That was all that Finch had sent him. Reese read it several times to let it sink into his mind. It was the first time in a long while that Finch had reached out to him. Sure, Finch had called him, many times, on his way out of New York; however, after being consistently and thoroughly ignored, he had given up at last. Reese debated with himself whether he had wanted an apology out of Finch. He could imagine the tech-savvy man listening in on the conversation between the warden and Carter, which would have informed him as to Jennings’ fate. Reese wondered if that was what had changed Finch’s mind – knowing that Reese had not killed him in cold blood. Of course Finch had considered Reese capable of such a murder… and Reese was surprised at how much that thought had hurt, even though he knew quite well himself that he was capable of it. Or at least, he had been, once upon a time. Finch must have known that, too, which would have been reason enough for him to worry about Reese stooping to such desperate measures again. And he very easily could have. Reese would be the first person to admit it. Yet when Finch had tried to stop him, to persuade him to let the local law enforcement handle Jennings, his hackles had risen at the fact that Finch had assumed the worst of him. It would have been easy to tell him what he actually planned to do with Jennings – just a few words would have sufficed – but instead he had lashed out, telling him to hire someone else if he didn’t like how Reese was handling things. If he couldn’t trust Reese to do the right thing.
And that, Reese realized, was the crux of the whole matter: trust. He had felt hurt when he’d discovered that Finch was working a case without him; even worse when he knew that Finch was aware of what had happened in New Rochelle; and downright patronized when Finch admitted to keeping him out of the loop because of his supposed “sensitivities.” In all of his years of working for the military and then the CIA, Reese had never been mollycoddled, and his first response towards Finch had been seething anger at being slighted, even insulted. He had still been angry when Finch had called to dissuade Reese from (as he’d supposed) killing Jennings, so Reese had let his resentment spew forth from his lips unrestrained. That bitterness had lasted well into his trip south, making him refuse to answer Finch’s calls with stony-faced silence.
Now, as Reese got back into the car for another hard day of driving, he could feel no anger, no resentment, no bitterness. He was just tired beyond words and had this irrational desire to go home. He didn’t even have a home, really, but he wanted to go back to someplace familiar – and the only place that even remotely fit that bill was New York. The Big Apple. Where he could get lost among the millions of nameless faces. Where he might still do the world a bit of good, make a difference for the better. If Finch would take him back. If Finch would trust him to do not only what needed to be done, but the right thing.
When Reese stopped at a gas station later in the morning, using the facilities and buying a few food items to keep himself running as well, he paused before he turned the key in the ignition. Pulling out his cell, he read once again the words that Finch had sent him. After a moment’s thought, he typed in a response: “I’m sorry, too.” Sorry for the hasty words spoken in anger. Sorry for blaming Finch for thinking him capable of cold-blooded murder, when he knew full well that he was. Sorry for not seeing Finch’s concern for what it truly was: concern. As he drove back onto the highway, Reese was finally able to admit to himself that Finch had only done what he had done – lied to him to keep him off the case – out of concern for his feelings. Finch hadn’t wanted to dredge up some of the worst memories in Reese’s head. Not on his birthday. Finch had only wanted to give him a day off, to give him some freedom and space and time without pain, just one day out of the year.
Reese gritted his teeth as he stepped on the accelerator, perhaps a little harder than was wise, but with renewed purpose and eagerness to get back to New York. To Finch, who cared about him – not just as an asset, but as a person, who had real feelings and needs. However misguided Finch’s concern might have been, Reese knew that he was the only person on the planet who cared for him that much, and he could not afford to lose him. He pushed the car even faster as he headed home.
“I was beginning to wonder when I was gonna hear from you again.”
“I had some business to take care of out of town.”
“I trust you now fully appreciate why I couldn’t tell you about Sarah’s case…”
“I hope you now understand why you should have.”
The address Finch had given him was for a spacious apartment on the border of Little Italy and Chinatown, overlooking the park where Reese spent a good portion of his free time. He had befriended the blind Chinese man and learned words and phrases in the man’s mother tongue, hoping someday to be able to translate what he had heard the software engineer say to Stanton. Reese smiled to himself as he considered how to give Finch a hard time about tracking him on his off days, in spite of his claim that he “respected his privacy” – although he knew Finch would retort by pointing out that Reese had followed him on more than one occasion and even had Fusco tail him. But there would be no rancor in Reese’s teasing anymore. He could see that the apartment had been furnished with care, even though it was sparse; every item spoke of Finch’s thoughtfulness and consideration. Reese would never take that sort of care for granted.
When he arrived at the library after a good night’s sleep in the large bed that Finch had outfitted at his new apartment, it was with a peace offering of doughnuts and green tea. Finch looked up from the desk, where he had been running an investigation on the Numbers in their queue.
“Good morning, Finch,” Reese said, setting down the pink box.
“Good morning, Mr. Reese. I hope you found your new accommodations adequate,” Finch asked rather blandly – what Reese interpreted to be evidence of his caution.
“More than adequate. Thanks.” Reese sat down in the other chair and looked directly into Finch’s eyes as he said so. He wanted Finch to know that his gratitude was sincere. But he also wanted Finch to know a few other things as well. “Before we get into the next case, we need to talk.”
“I see…” Finch murmured, then pushed his chair back from the desk so he could give Reese his undivided attention. “It’s my understanding that when someone says, ‘we need to talk,’ it’s best to listen. I’m listening, Mr. Reese.”
Inwardly wincing at his employer’s formal address, Reese chose his words. He had rehearsed what he wanted to say, over and over in his mind the night before, but now he struggled to reclaim those words.
“I appreciate the time and effort you put into selecting that apartment for me,” he finally managed. “I was going to needle you for tracking my moves, but… I appreciate your thoughtfulness. And… I regret how harsh I was in my response to you, when I found out you were working that case without me. I… It hurt, to think that you didn’t trust me for the job.”
There. The words were out there, curdling in the air, but at least he had managed to spit them out. Finch stared at him in surprise, then his eyes quickly turned kind and compassionate.
“John… it wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. That wasn’t the reason at all! I only grew worried about… what your intentions were, regarding Jennings, after you threatened him. Please believe me, I had no intention of slighting your abilities or… or casting doubt on your character.”
“No… The fact is, you would have been right,” Reese countered. “I got defensive when you suspected the worst of me, when the truth is, you had every right to. And I know you were just trying to spare me from… reliving something painful. But what I want you to realize, Finch, is that helping Sarah (or whatever her real name is) was as much about helping me get over the past as it was for her. I needed to be there in time for her, because… because I wasn’t able to, for Jessica.”
Finch drew in a sudden breath, not having seen it in that light before.
“I see… yes. In that respect, it was a form of… closure.”
“Yes. So in the future, if we get more cases like that… please don’t try to ‘spare’ me. I can handle it. In fact, that’s the one kind of case that I… I would get the most satisfaction from solving.”
Finch nodded once, slowly. “I can appreciate that, John.”
“And there’s one more thing…”
“Only one?” Finch queried, with something of his usual humor in his tone.
Reese’s mouth quirked in a faint smile in response. “The next time you want to do something nice for me… don’t give me a day off. I’d rather keep busy, working.”
“All right,” Finch replied, his voice gentle. “But perhaps now that you have a place to call your own, you could find some sort of hobby with which to occupy your free time.”
“Oh, I don’t know… painting? Bonsai gardening? You could fit a grand piano in that room if you wanted to, you know – the previous owner did.”
Reese pursed his lips as though considering it, then responded, “I can’t play the piano.”
“You could learn. Or maybe a drum set would be better?”
With a snort of a laugh, Reese finally smiled. “I’m sure the neighbors wouldn’t be pleased.”
“Possibly,” Finch conceded. “Mr. Reese… may I make one request of you as well?”
“Of course,” Reese answered without hesitation.
“When you left for Mexico… I had no idea where you were going, or how long you would be gone… or even… if you would ever come back…” Reese cringed to see the pain in Finch’s face, but the older man continued quietly. “Please… don’t shut me out again. If you need me to back off, to give you some room to work in, just say so. When you left… I felt so… useless. I could have helped you by distracting the police in the areas you were passing through, or set up reservations at motels… Anything would have been better than just sitting here, waiting for you… just as powerless and helpless as I’d been before… I’d enlisted your help. You’ve no idea how frustrating that can be…”
Reese swallowed hard. He did know how frustrating it was to be so helpless – it was exactly how he’d felt after realizing, too late, that Jessica had reached out to him for help, and that he had been unable to save her. He could easily imagine how tortuous it had been for Finch, seeing the Numbers come in but unable to gather intel on them like Reese, or follow them, or operate in any of their usual methods. All he could do was work his magic on the computer which, while considerable, was no substitute for good, solid legwork. Reese knew that he had left Finch in the lurch, and for several very long days.
“I’m sorry, Finch,” he said, his penitence genuine. “It won’t happen again. I… I’ll never do that to you again.”
Finch met his eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded.
“I’m glad to hear that. Now, we have a lot of catching up to do. Our first Number owns a restaurant in the Bronx…”
Reese was finally able to breathe again, too, as they settled into their usual routine once more.