The first time Reese spends the night at the library, it's not by choice and he doesn't remember most of it afterwards.
He remembers a fight in an alley against some two-bit thugs, remembers a crack against the side of his skull. He doesn't remember finishing the fight and limping back, but when he opens his eyes to Finch leaning over him, he assumes that's what's happened. Finch prods his head gently back and forth, saying something, but Reese is concentrating too hard on not vomiting to listen. When Finch nudges his hair aside to get a look at the blow, Reese winces and tries to push him off.
"I'm fine," he says.
"If by 'fine' you mean 'I have a concussion,' you're correct," says Finch. He steps back, and Reese's vision is so blurry that he would completely lost track of him if not for the tap of his shoes across the tile. Water rushes from a nearby faucet.
Tile and water don't sound like the library, and Reese struggles for clarity. He blinks around at soft lighting and flowered wallpaper, shifts against the plush sofa cushions beneath his back. "Is this a women's bathroom?"
"It's the most comfortable sofa in the building."
Finch returns to his side and uses a washcloth to clean the blood out of Reese's hair. "Doesn't look severe enough for stitches," he murmurs, mostly to himself. "But you're going to have a nasty bump. What about your cognition? Do you remember what happened?"
Reese closes his eyes and tries not to wince with the memory. "Alleyway," he says. "Cement block--no, brick?"
"Close enough." Finch presses the washcloth to Reese's head and guides him to hold it in place himself. "You'll be happy to know, they were picked up by a patrol car that happened to be nearby. Lucky you didn't run into it yourself."
"Yeah," Reese sighs. "I'm lucky like that."
He doesn't see it, but he doesn't have to--he feels Finch give him that tightlipped expression of half-disapproval, half-amusement. A pair of painkillers are nudged into his hand, and once they're on his tongue a glass of water follows. "I think you should spend the night here," says Finch. "I want to keep an eye on you, in case your concussion is serious."
Reese gives Finch a tightlipped frown of his own. "Or I could just go to a clinic," he suggests.
"I would let you, if I thought you would actually go," says Finch. He's moving away again. "Get some rest, Mr. Reese. I'll come back to check on you in an hour."
Finch's shoes tap out of the bathroom, and the door creaks in his wake. Reese listens to him disappear into the white noise of the rest of the library and wants to laugh. Rest. It's an almost cruel joke.
Reese punches the cushion under his head and tries to settle in. He spends a few minutes imagining the ways he can escape Finch's watchful eye, but everything is still pounding and hazy, so he gives up and just concentrates on each slow breath.
It's been two months since Reese fell in with the mysterious Mr. Finch. In that time he can't consider himself as having "rested." Not in any of the motel rooms that have served as residence, not in the tense quiet of the library, not on a park bench or in a nighttime alley or the breathy heat of a steaming shower. He sleeps in fits and starts, in stretches of churning black, always conscious of the gun barrel just waiting to be pressed to his temple, his throat. His body refreshes and he no longer bears dark circles under his eyes, but it's not exactly rest. It's just a heavy, anxious imposition.
Reese spends all night in the library, hours ticking by in dizzy obliviousness. Not even the most comfortable sofa in the building is tempting enough. Finch checks in on him several times, sometimes asking him questions, sometimes falling for the ruse that Reese has dozed off. But Reese doesn't sleep.
The weather takes a sharp turn come late November. Reese just turns his collar up a little higher, but he sees the effects of the cold on Finch, in every stiff rise from his desk chair. The library generator devotes so much of its attention to running the equipment that only space heaters give warmth to the workroom, leaving the staircases and lobby below practically a tundra. Finch is stronger than most, more than he gives himself credit for, but Reese notices when his steps become creakier, his breath heavy with fatigue and hampered by phlegm.
It isn't until the case is over and there's nothing left but heading home that Reese teases, "Catching a cold, Harold?"
Finch reaches for a tissue and delicately blows his nose. "I'm fine," he says.
"If by 'fine,'" says Reese says as he saunters over, "you mean 'I have a fever of at least one hundred point two,' then you're correct."
Finch glares up at him from his desk chair, but he remains still as Reese presses the back of his hand to his forehead. His skin is hot and moist with sweat, but it's exasperation so much as concern that drives Reese to sigh. "Finch."
"I'm fine, Mr. Reese," Finch says stubbornly, easing the hand away. "You're dismissed for the evening. If you're lucky, I won't be calling on you come morning."
"Let me drive you home," says Reese. He's sure that his tone is neutral, friendly, without any cause for suspicion, and yet Finch casts him a cold and wary eye.
"That won't be necessary."
"It's late," says Reese, "and you're sick."
"I am perfectly capable of finding my own way home," Finch insists. "Go ahead, Mr. Reese." When Reese doesn't move, he adds, "I'll have my driver pick me up when I'm ready to retire."
Reese tries not to smile as he drops into a nearby chair. "Then I'll wait until he gets here, so I can see you off."
Finch glares at him, but the effect is lessened when he's forced to hide in his tissue for a sneeze. He's in bad shape, and he knows that in this state he's even more susceptible to being followed home. It's ridiculous, really. Finch has put his own life in danger several times now for Reese's sake, depended on and trusted him in lethal situations, but the thought that Reese might take note of the direction his limo uses to take him home is practically debilitating.
"What's the worst that could happen?" Reese asks, his tone casual, but he knows that Finch can see beneath it. "Do you think if I know where you live, I'll steal from you?"
Finch blows his nose. "Of course not."
Finch tosses the tissue away and doesn't look back. His answer takes a beat too long in coming. "No."
"Do you think I even care enough to follow you home?" Reese continues.
"Yes," says Finch, this time without hesitating. And he's right, of course. "You may as well leave. I don't intend to leave ahead of you, and if pressed, there is a spare bedroom made up for me just down the hall."
Reese's lip quirks. He can't help but admire Finch's tenacity; if he displayed any less, he wouldn't be worthy of working for him. "And a lovely sofa in the lady's bathroom," he replies.
So Reese spends that night at the library. He keeps Finch company at the computer for a while, keeping him stocked with tissues and tea. When Finch can't stare at the monitors any longer he disappears into a back room, and Reese pushes two chairs together near the exit. It's cold in the library at night, but he manages to curl up tight and catch a few hours' sleep.
In the morning, Finch is gone. Reese searches the spare room for trap doors and fire escapes but finds nothing.
Finch's hand glides over the board. His fingertips flit over each handsomely carved piece, teasing, until settling on the pointed cap of the bishop. He slides it three spaces and topples Reese's knight with a decisive tap.
Reese, chin in palm, removes the piece from the board. He wonders if it's some kind of psychological warfare tactic that Finch is employing by letting them clatter across the playing field until Reese clears them, no matter whose kill it is. He's already debated with himself several times whether or not it would be falling into Finch's "trap" to even mention it. But it's a slow night, a pleasant night, and he's not as interested in adding barbs and sarcasm to their battle of wits.
"Do they play much chess in the CIA?" asks Finch, missing the sarcasm memo.
Reese stares at the board. He knows he's going to lose and doesn't particularly care, but he'd rather not look like a total fool doing it. He takes Finch's bishop just because he can. "Not typically, no. Used to play back in Special Forces, when we needed to pass the time." He smiles sideways. "Didn't have proper pieces, so we just used whatever was around. Shell casings, mostly."
Finch's brow perks. Reese has a hard time imagining his long hands dancing over a bed of bullets, flicking them to the board. "We did something similar back in school," he says, something approaching nostalgia in his tone. "With bottle caps and capacitors." He repositions a pawn.
Reese has very little trouble picturing that. He takes his time making his next move, just to let Finch think that he's taking it seriously. His mind has been out of the game for a while now. "There was this soldier in my unit," he says. "He was the one that got us into it. He used to say that it would help us be better soldiers. Get us to think strategically, about placement and tactics and sacrifices."
He presses one finger to the top of a rook and leaves it there. After a few seconds of patience, Finch prods, "And? Was he right?"
"Yes and no." Reese swirls his fingertip along the piece's tiny ridges, letting it tip back and forth on its base. "Of course, being a soldier requires all those things. Being an agent does, too, but it's not always about well-laid plans, knowing your opponent. Sometimes it's just gunning in the dark. Latching onto whatever works and pushing through. It's not elegant or sophisticated. Chess is a game for kings, not soldiers."
He slides the rook across the board. Finch smiles, and pinches a pawn in two fingers. "I think, Mr. Reese," he says, "that you're simply underestimating chess."
The rook clacks loudly across the board, stopping at the king's feet. Finch and Reese play all through the night.
Reese closes his eyes. He listens to Finch's fingers on the keys, concentrating hard as if he can pick out each stroke based just on the sound. He imagines lines of code cascading down the black of his eyelids, taking shape as background checks and security camera footage. He licks salt off his upper lip and lets the taste remind him of days in the summer sun. He does everything he can think of to keep from focusing on the pain.
It's cold in the library again. He can't seem to get the sting of the winter air out of his lungs, and with every shiver he can feel his dry skin stretch and pull against the stitches in his gut. His leg is even worse off. When he's chasing a perp or rushing to a number's rescue it's easy to be reminded of how weak the limb still is and adjust his pace and balance accordingly. Five hours stalking his target across uptown let the agony creep up on him slowly, unnoticed, and now it's all he can do to keep from wincing audibly through every throb of his pulse.
Reese keeps his eyes closed and listens. The clack of Finch's space bar stands out against the rest of the keys, striking in a swift, syncopated rhythm. He locks his focus onto it, imagining it as the bass in a song he can't quite remember. His breath hisses softly, in and out, through his winter-red nose. When he finally comes up with a melody that fits, he hums it to himself, and his throat itches.
Finch stops typing. "Everything all right, John?"
Reese coughs against the back of his palm. "Fine," he says. "Any luck finding our wayward Mr. Wesley?"
"Not as of yet," says Finch, and the typing resumes. "It's likely that he's found a place to hole up for the night--a cash-only motel, an acquaintance's residence. I doubt he'll surface before morning. You can go home if you like. I'll contact you if I learn anything new on my end."
Reese tenses each group of muscles, one by one, up and down the length of his body. He's unable to keep from hissing as his thigh complains with a stabbing pain, but he manages to transition it into a halfway believable sigh. He won't be able to walk any time soon. "No. I think I'd rather stay, just in case. He might get twitchy and pop up early."
"I hardly think so, in this weather." Finch's fingers pause again, and though Reese doesn't look, he can feel the precise moment when Finch notices his distress. "But you are welcome to stay, of course," he continues, barely missing a beat. "It's going to take me most of the night sort through all these dummy accounts of his."
Finch continues prattling on as he gets up from his desk. "He's got a sharp mind, that's for certain. I would almost say I was impressed, if not for his poor naming scheme for each new account." Reese can hear him rummaging about in the hall. "Puns and film references. His passwords are slightly more sophisticated, but still related too closely to the account names."
Something scrapes across the library floor, and Reese finally opens his eyes just as a footstool bumps into him. Without pausing in his rambling, Finch very carefully grasps Reese's injured leg below the knee and stretches it out, bracing it on the cushioned stool.
"Likely because his memory is not as good as it ought to be, to be keeping up with so many accounts," Finch continues. He slips Reese's shoes off, letting his toes wiggle free in the cold while he turns back toward the hall. "I'm betting he has a notebook somewhere with all of them written down, probably on his person. Next time you catch up to him, check his inside jacket pocket."
Reese watches as Finch returns with an old quilt folded over his arm. It's covered in wiggly gray trails that Reese eventually identifies as roadways: it must have come from a children's section, set down for toddlers to trace their little wooden cars and trucks over. "It could be at his apartment," says Reese.
"He's still doing business on his phone." Finch gives the quilt a shake and then spreads it over Reese, drawing it up to his chest. Immediately his toes feel a little better. "He'll have it on him, I'm sure of it. A lovely New Year's gift for Detective Fusco, don't you think?"
Reese settles deeper into his chair. "Maybe." He says nothing more, just watching as Finch adjusts the quilt and smooths the wrinkles out. Some part of him wishes he could have refused, the rest, grateful he didn't. Still fully dressed, the quilt draped over him immediately traps in what little warmth there is to be had, easing the sharpest of the pins and needles out of his sore thigh.
Finch sits back down at his desk. Reese dozes off to the melody of the spacebar.
"My fingerprints are too big," says Finch.
Reese slumps against the door frame. "Finch."
"No no, I'm positive." Finch is seated on the edge of the bed in the spare room, his legs stretched out in front of him, both hands splayed before his face. His eyes are wide with wonder. "They weren't this big yesterday."
Reese rubs his eyes. He's starting to regret having taken this babysitting task after all. "Finch. Go to sleep."
"But the ridges." Finch turns his hands to and fro, squinting down at his fingertips. He rubs each against his thumb, then steeples his fingers, then touches them to his face. "They're so distinct. I can feel the swirls."
Reese grumbles but still hesitates at the threshold, watching. Finch is always so composed, so tight-lipped and cautious. Even when Finch is in a corner he's always on his feet, always thinking and acting and finding a place of calm control. It's not the same kick of instinct that overcomes Reese when he's forced into his own corners--it's tight and thoughtful and people don't get hurt. He admires that about Finch. Finch will never break someone's arm because he couldn't think of a better option.
But Finch now isn't any of those things. Finch is blathering and incoherent and downright loopy. Reese imagines he ought to feel some sort of amusement at Finch's expense, but when he tries to think of what dry remarks he'll make come morning, he's got nothing. He doesn't like seeing Finch like this. There's nothing cathartic or entertaining about watching the smartest man he's ever known unravel before his eyes. It's almost frightening.
"Finch." Reese forces himself into the room. "You really should just try to sleep it off."
"Do you have any lycopodium powder?" asks Finch, still rubbing his fingertips against his cheeks. "I should document these ridges. They're going to change by morning."
Reese kneels in front of Finch, without a word removing his shoes. "But we'll have to be careful," Finch continues as Reese unbuttons his vest. "It's extremely flammable. Due to high fat content, of course. That's why they use it in ice cream."
"Do they?" Reese helps Finch out of his jacket and vest, a task hampered by Finch still trying to keep a close eye on his fingers.
"Yes! Yessssss." Finch sighs happily. "Fortunately, its flammable properties do not carry over to the ice cream. We can't have flambé all the time."
Reese frowns. He wants to leave, but Finch is talking about fire and he remembers what Fusco said about how he found Finch in the first place. He pushes gently on Finch's shoulders. "Lie down."
Fortunately, Finch complies. "Ahhh," he says, staring up into the ceiling. "Fireworks. Yes, they use lycopodium powder in fireworks, too. What a pleasant hallucination."
Reese drops onto the bed next to him, propping himself up against the headboard. He'd be just as happy in a chair but he's tired enough that he might fall asleep, and he doesn't want to allow for even the slightest possibility that Finch will slip out undetected. There's no telling what he might get into in his current state.
"Tell me about it," Reese says, uncapping one of the bottled waters he brought for Finch.
"It's blue," Finch obliges. He wriggles on the bed, hissing briefly as if trying to escape a sting brought on by his position. "And green. And it's kind of...shimmery." His eyelids droop and Reese prays that he's finally running out of steam. "It's really beautiful. Oh! There's another one." He smiles, and when he relaxes deeper into the mattress he's also relaxing into Reese's hip. "I used to be afraid of the boom."
Reese tenses. His imagination provides him with a fleeting conjecture of Finch as a child, huddling behind beach chairs on the fourth of July, but he doesn't want to hear anymore. Fortunately, Finch falls quiet. His breath evens out and he mumbles quietly in his sleep.
Reese is finally able to relax. He takes a few long gulps of water and the sets the bottle aside. Though he considers leaving the room several times, ultimately he stays at Finch's side until morning.
It's 1:37 in the morning and Reese is in the library, alone.
Spring has dulled the perpetual chill in the lobby and staircase, but he still gets goose bumps as he climbs to the workroom on the second story. The generator is humming cheerfully, giving light to the various lamps and computer monitors that keep the room adorned in overlapping shadows. The city grinds on beyond the shaded windows in constant activity and there's even thunder in the distance, but the absence of fingers on keys still manages to render the space silent. It's like walking into a void.
Reese sits down at the desk. A press of the space bar calls up the log-in window, but Reese's fingers only hesitate over the keys without every pressing one. Finch has never mentioned a self-destruct mechanism triggered by too many improper inputs, but he doesn't doubt that a failsafe exists. Finch probably has a hundred contingencies in place. If only he'd ever gotten around to sharing them, Reese wouldn't be in this damn position.
Reese gets up, paces the library. He sits for a few minutes in the spare bedroom, trying to think, unsuccessful. He passes up and down the shelves and visits the men's and women's bathroom. He peers through dusty blinds to the street below. Nothing has changed. There are no notes to find, no secret plan B's. There is nothing.
Reese stands in the hall overlooking their workspace. He thinks that maybe if he just waits long enough, Finch will slide in from a side room he's never noticed before. Finch will materialize in the spare bedroom. He's tempted to curl up in a chair and wait until morning, until he's awoken by the clack of Finch's hands across the keyboard. It won't do any good, but it's better than going back to his empty shell of an apartment. He'll never get any rest there.
Reese scoffs. He's not sure he'll rest anywhere now. He turns off all the lights but he leaves the computers, just in case. He leaves a note reading simply Call taped to the largest monitor. Finch won't but it's just in case.
He locks up on his way out and the library slumbers empty through the night.