"I'll tell you where the bug is if you answer some questions for me."
Finch started. He supposed that, eventually, hearing the voice of either Reese or Shaw behind him at three in the morning would cease to become startling. That day was not today.
"Miss Shaw," he said, swiveling the chair around to face her. He shot a dirty look at Bear as he turned; the dog's tail was wagging, but he hadn't barked or otherwise alerted Finch.
(Mental note #341 for the day, he thought, find out how she continues to get in to the library undetected. There can't be that many more blind spots I haven't yet patched.)
His second employee was slouched against the further bookshelf, leaned against it as if it were all that held her vertical. Finch glanced to her face, expecting the smirk that Shaw boasted every time she circumnavigated his security, but her face was drawn into a vague frown, and she seemed to be having difficulty focusing on him.
He frowned in turn. "Miss Shaw, are you feeling alright?"
"I'm fucking peachy," she answered, not moving from the bookshelf. "I went to your damn doctor. I'm loaded to the gills on codeine. Happy?"
"Thrilled," Finch said after a pause. "Would you like to sit down?"
"Suit yourself," he sighed, turning back to his screen. It was altogether too much like dealing with Reese had been in the first days of their partnership: like a wounded animal, ready to snap at the hand that offered food, growling as a default method of communication.
Perhaps he ought to rename the enterprise The Harold Finch Project for the Rehabilitation of Damaged Ex-Government Assassins, he thought in the punchy whimsy that came from too little sleep and too much work. Of course, that would require their enterprise to have a name to begin with. Mmm.
Bear got up, walked across the floor with his nails clicking to lick at Shaw's hands. Shaw closed her eyes, then buried her fingers into the dog's thick fur. He watched the two of them in his monitor's reflection. Out of the three trained killers on staff, Bear was by far the easiest to manage.
Shaw sat down after a minute of silence: lowering herself onto the floor by Bear's doggy bed, eschewing the perfectly serviceable chairs.
"C'mon, Harold," she said, and he could pick up the bit of slur now to her words. "You're never gonna find my bug, so you'd better agree to my terms."
He didn't break stride with his typing. "As I'm sure Mr. Reese has told you, Miss Shaw, I'm a very private person. I'm afraid I must decline your offer. Besides, it's been a while since the last time someone successfully hid a bug from me. Professional pride dictates that I find it."
She laughed, a throaty bark that he thought he'd be forgiven for assuming might have come from Bear. The dog's head was in her lap. Shaw's head was leaned back against the shelf, eyes closed.
"Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Where's Wonder-boy?"
"Mr. Reese is currently off-the-clock. As are you."
"Woo for us. Where is he?"
He arched his brows at the screen, the digital logs he was creating of all the analog tapes they'd recovered. "Miss Shaw, are you suggesting that I keep tabs on Mr. Reese's location at all times?"
"Please," she huffed dismissively, as if he were insulting her with the mere question. Finch's lips twisted in a half-smile.
Similar to Reese, yes, but not the same. Shaw treated the tracking as a given in a way Reese had not-- an impersonal fact, as unremarkable as breathing-- and at the same time, resented it more than Reese ever had. Or at least, took a certain grim pleasure in ditching her own bugs and tracers. Reese never bothered, anymore. Reese hadn't bothered in a long time.
His private theory had been that after so long as a ghost, John had secretly welcomed the knowledge that someone in the world knew where he was, cared enough to want to know.
In his screen, the mirror-Shaw stretched out her legs, and grimaced at the shift in her position.
"Are you in pain, Miss Shaw?" he asked, because she was exactly like Reese, in terms of that strange breed of machismo where admitting injury was somehow admitting a failure.
Finch admitted he had pain. Finch managed his pain, through a regimen of pharmaceuticals, microchip implants, breathing techniques, and physical therapy. Reese and Shaw both subscribed to the incomprehensible school of 'bull through it on sheer stubbornness'.
But she shook her head, let her shoulders sag. Her fingers were still buried in the fur of Bear's neck. "Nah. Nope. Your doc gives good drugs. I'm not feeling shit."
"How 'bout you?" she asked, and Finch blinked at his screen.
Reflection-Shaw waved her hand vaguely in the air, then dropped it back down to Bear's head. "You. How are you feeling."
It was unexpected enough that he went to the effort of turning the chair around again, clasping his hands in his lap while he studied the woman seated on his library's floor.
"…I... suppose that I appreciate the unprecedented concern as to my welfare," (he most certainly did not) "but I must ask: what's brought this on? For that matter, why are you here at all?"
"Trying to get rid of me, Harold?" Shaw asked, with an overdone flutter of her eyelashes.
"Of course not," he sighed. "I have no objections to your company, Miss Shaw, but I was under the impression that you had some to mine. Well, ours, really."
"I like Bear's company fine," she said, with a nod down at the dog. Finch sighed again. It was like dealing with a toddler, he thought. And it was worse when she and Reese were in the room together. Then it turned into two toddlers.
Bear turned a placid brown eye on Finch, as if chastising him, and he leaned back in his chair. Shaw hadn't stopped touching the dog since he'd padded over to her, and of a sudden the memory came to him: himself, after Root. The hours he had spent petting Bear, because Bear was alive and warm and didn't judge; the way the dog had become a talisman and anchor for him. Bear pulling him out of a street in a panic attack. Bear sleeping at his feet.
Shaw's face was a thousand miles away, lost to drugs and exhaustion and system shock. He doubted she'd remember the conversation come morning.
"I feel happy," he said. "Since we managed to do well by Mis-- by Genrika--"
("By Gen," Shaw muttered.)
"—by Gen, yes. I feel the relief that I do every time we save somebody. I feel rather tired. I feel unenthused at the prospect of continuing to convert--" he glanced to the tapes, "fourteen more cassette tapes to digital. Were you hoping for a specific emotional reaction?"
Shaw mulled all this over, lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I guess. I don't know. That's the thing. I really don't know."
He waited. Silence was the most useful interrogation tactic he knew.
Shaw's face twisted up in a grimace. "The kid, Gen, she said things to me and I don't... part of me wants to say this is all bullshit, you know? Your stupid mission, it's like that fucking story, that one about throwing starfish back into the ocean. I can't believe I'm getting into it. I can't believe I'm buying your shit. I can't believe that one mouthy kid who isn't half as smart as she thinks she is can make me..."
He waited some more, but she left the words hanging. Finch cleared his throat.
"With all respect, Miss Shaw, I think that if it's a heart-to-heart you're wanting, you likely have more in common with Mr. Reese, in terms of background experiences and--"
"Oh Jesus," she said with another hoarse laugh, thunking her head back against the shelf. "I'd rather shoot myself. I seriously would. Reese and I? We're nothing alike. Okay?"
She lifted her head enough to give him a glare. "This feelings-shit-- his problem is he's got them bleeding out his fucking ass. I don't know how he made it as an agent and didn't eat his gun. The asshole emits empathy in this fifty-foot radius like he's leaking radiation."
Harold's mouth twisted again. "A colorful way of putting it, but... I admit I've had similar thoughts about John on occasion. I've wondered how he survived the... the violent life, as it were, with so much of his innate decency intact."
Shaw rolled her eyes. "Write him a love sonnet on your time, Harold. No. If I'm like anybody on your dysfunctional baseball team, it's you."
It took him several seconds to reply. He doubted he could think of any person he was less alike, then Shaw with her... penchant for eating steak off of knives, for sitting on floors, for making wagers on life and death, for dressing in basic black every single day-- the list could go on.
"I'm sorry?" he said with a slow blink.
Shaw lifted her hands and scrubbed at her face. "Gen said... Gen said she's pretty sure I feel things but that it's-- low. The volume's cranked way down. And you are like that."
Shaw nodded. She hunched forward, curled herself over Bear, pressed her face into his fur and said nothing for a while. He dared to hope she might have fallen asleep, and was pondering the dangers of moving an unconscious special-ops agent to a horizontal location like a couch without her waking up and breaking his nose on reflex, but--
"You're an idea guy. Not a heart guy. I get that."
He sat still, his fingers laced in his lap. Nathan flashed through his head, years and years gone, back before, before things had gone bad, even-- you and me, Harry, you're the brains, I'm the heart, but together we can make anything work--
"I assure you I have feelings, Miss Shaw. As do you, for that matter."
"Sure," she mumbled, sitting upright again. His spine twinged to see how easily she bent and twisted. "Sure. Okay. But-- I just asked you how you felt, and you gave me a numbered-and-indexed listing.
"And when Root grabbed you, and Wonder-boy was running for you-- you looked back, at us, at him, and then you got in the goddamn truck with her. There was something big enough that you had to see it through, some idea shit, and so you cranked down the emotion and you went ahead and kicked Wonder-boy in the heart-- man, you should've seen his big broken blue eyes-- because you saw a need.
"John wouldn't have been able to do that, if positions had been reversed. If he had to, he wouldn't be able to. He," Shaw said clearly, "is a big-ass pussy."
Finch carefully did not envision how John had likely reacted to that incident. He folded his hands together in his lap. "I prefer to think of it as a strength on Mr. Reese's part."
"What, that he cares so goddamn much?" Shaw snorted. "Yeah. 'It's a feature, not a bug.' Admit it, you've wanted to choke him when he gets some hair up his ass and goes AWOL over the poor-sap-of-the-week, when he loses all sense of perspective because they punched his empathy buttons. It's goddamn unprofessional, and you know it, and it pisses you off when he goes and does his own thing and doesn't listen to you."
Finch couldn't help a small smile. "As someone else also did, today."
"Oh shut up," she growled. "No. That's just it. I don't, shit, I don't know how to operate like this, where you fucking congratulate us for breaking protocol, for getting too invested. I'm living in a mirror universe of the real one. Here, fucking up gets you a cookie, and we save puppies and Christmas and precocious children. And my boss happens to be fucking unreal."
He crossed his arms, helpless smile still twitching at his lips. Oh, but he hoped she didn't remember this conversation in the morning.
"I assure you that I am also quite real, Miss Shaw."
"You tried to get me to have a tea party with you. Who does that?"
"Technically, I tried to have a discussion with you, over tea, but--"
"No. Just stop." Shaw stared at him over the intervening space, her dark eyes smudged beneath with who-knew-how-many hours of sleeplessness, and the day's pain and blood. "You. You asshole.
"You-- you've got more money than God, and you use it to do-- this," she gritted out, waving a hand around the room, at the board.
"To save the lives of total strangers, because--" her voice shifted to a mockery of his own tones, "it's the right thing to do, Miss Shaw--
"You're a legitimate genius, I can tell that much, and you could be changing the whole goddamn world but instead you get your jollies playing Good Samaritan to half of New York City.
"You talk like someone's goddamn Victorian aunt half the time. When you're not giving me instructions on how to rig a chemical explosion.
"In the time I've known you've been kidnapped, knocked out-- you're a goddamn liability in the field, in any field, and you've got to be smart enough to know that but you keep putting yourself out there like your safety doesn't matter, and what fucking handler does that? Who drives solo to go check up on the lunatic who kidnapped him? You have people for this," Shaw hissed.
"I. Don't. Get. You. You're some asshole out of a storybook. The Mysterious Benefactor. The Kindly Uncle. The only people in the real world who are anything like you, Finch, always turn out to be bastards in the end. Nice suits just cover up a fuck-ton of blood. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall, for you to reveal the son-of-a-bitch that you are, and you fucking offer me tea."
She broke off, her fingers knotted in Bear's fur. The dog made a small, plaintive whine into the silence following Shaw's ragged words.
Finch sat still, blinking in the heat of her vehemence. He had no idea what to say to her-- accusations, for that was what they were by her tone alone, but what exactly was he being accused of? Why did she sound so personally angry?
Shaw looked at him with dull loathing when he said nothing. "Make a pass at me."
"You heard me. Grab my ass one day. Stare at my tits like a creeper. Or lose your temper, the next time I tell you to fuck off. Do something to prove you're not Saint Harold the Fucking Benevolent and Superior, 24/7, that you're a goddamn human being beneath your damn professor's suit.
"Because you're throwing me off my game. You both are. But at least I know John's stripe of fuck-up. You? I've got nothing."
He let out a helpless, breathless laugh. He shook his head, settled back in the chair.
"Miss Shaw-- really. I promise you-- I have my share of mistakes and flaws too."
"Yeah?" Shaw drawled. "What, did you turn in a library book late one time? Cross the street against the light?"
He took off his glasses. He picked up his glasses cleaning case from the desk. He felt old. He felt tired.
"Shaw. Just Shaw. Goddammit, it's just Shaw. Sam if you have to."
She was a dark blur in his vision, without his glasses. He squinted her direction. "...why do manners offend you so?"
"Because they're not real," she snarled, and Bear sat up with a whine of protest for how hard her hands had gripped. "Because they're the rules that some people sat down and wrote, in order to pretend that the world is civilized. That people are decent. And that's one. Big. Fucking. Lie. Why do you cling to them like oxygen?"
He clasped his hands together, his glasses dangling from them by the stem of an earpiece. "Perhaps because I want to make myself believe that people are decent."
He couldn't read her expression, without his glasses. He caught the motion of her head as she looked away after beats of silence. Finch got out the cleaning cloth and let his elbows rest on his knees as he polished the lenses of his glasses.
"The world isn't civilized," he said softly. "And whatever you may believe of me, I do know that. I'm not naïve. The world is... brutal, dangerous, and cruel. It's full of--" bad code, he thought, but did not say. "--people such as you describe, the sons-of-bitches.
"And in truth, it's a thin line from any of us... to any of them." (Root's face, in his mind's eye. Root's empty, terrifying smile.) "A twist of fate, a change of circumstance, and we could so easily be monsters. I know John believes himself one, some days."
"Gimme a break," Shaw muttered. "He's a big Boy Scout."
He smiled despite himself. "Perhaps. But-- my point is-- we choose to be better than that. We choose to embrace something... more. We choose to be decent people, Sam. Someone has to."
She groaned something he didn't catch, put the palms of her hands over her eyes. More loudly she said, "It's useless, though. You get that, right? You're sticking your fingers in a dike, like that kid in the story. You're chucking starfish back in the sea, and for every life you guys save, there's ten other people being bastards to each other. A hundred people. Right now someone's raping someone else and someone's killing someone else for their five bucks and someone's beating his wife, right now, somewhere."
"I'm familiar with the statistics," he said softly.
"Then what's the point?" she said, her voice ragged-soft with tiredness. "Where are you making a difference, Harold?"
"You saw Gen," he countered. "You can ask me that, after today?"
Shaw fell silent. She rubbed at her face. She dropped her hands back down to Bear, who whuffed and snuffed and decided it was okay to settle his head back in her lap again. Finch cleaned his glasses.
"So that's the point?" she said after fifteen seconds. "The starfish story, again. 'It made a difference to that one', and all that shit?"
He slid his glasses back on. The world became clear again. He swiveled the chair around to resume his work.
"It makes a difference to the people we save, certainly. But it also makes a difference to us. To the people that we choose to be. Don't forget that, Sam."
"Yeah," she said after a beat. "Okay. I guess."
It was enough to be getting on with. Finch worked: swapping out tape after tape, running conversions, tagging each conversation with relevant data for future reference. Shaw sat in silence, perhaps asleep. She certainly looked as though she needed it.
At half-past four, he left the room to make himself tea. He heard the sound of Bear's feet, the sound of the rubber ball thrown down the hall.
"Miss Shaw, would you like a cup of tea?"
There was no answer. When he came back down the hall to the central room, she was gone. Bear was curled up by his own chair, again. The bright yellow square of a Post-It Note waited for him on his monitor:
The bug is in Bear's collar. You're welcome.
And this too, Finch thought, was enough to be getting on with.