It didn't usually occur to John to consider what the world might have been like if Finch had been ... different. It'd long been his habit to consider the worst possible outcomes of a given situation, true, but with Finch ... There was something so fundamentally decent about Finch, about his compassion and his anger and his strained, desperate morality, that those thoughts just didn't emerge as often as they should.
What the world would have been like, if the man who made the Machine wasn't as kind as Finch was. What the world would have been like if Finch had been that bit more ... pragmatic.
"I'm not very fond of violence," Finch was explaining, almost gently, to the remains of the 'negotiating team' panting on the concrete floor in front of him. His mouth twisted in mild distaste, his cane reaching out to gingerly flick a gun away from one moaning man's hand. "It's an unfortunate necessity of our line of work, but I do prefer to avoid it where possible."
Two of them were dead, John thought, tallying them up absently, most of his attention keeping an eye out for back-up. He'd regretted the necessity, but nine-to-two odds weren't the best time to forego lethal intent. Still. Finch did have another seven to work with. Most of them only had minor injuries, though the heavyset one was going to need an ambulance fairly shortly.
"But to answer your question," Finch went on, leaning heavily on his cane, his weight settling heavily onto the stick, emphasizing his physical frailty even as his stillness seemed to emphasize his threat. "I have, in fact, watched someone die. Any number of people." He smiled, a crooked, pitch black expression. "Well. More usually I listen, but the point stands, I think. It's a matter of needing to be certain. And a matter of responsibility."
"What ... What the fuck ..."
John raised an eyebrow, breaking his casual sweep of the surrounding area to look down at the erstwhile spokesperson for this little tête-à-tête. The man was looking distinctly upset. And also distinctly more alarmed that he'd been a few minutes ago, when he'd been sneering down into Finch's face.
Finch smiled. Bleak and deadly, and if John hadn't known the man, if he hadn't known exactly what Finch was talking about and how much the opposite of what it sounded like it really was ... Well. Lets just say that for a software engineer, he made a far more convincing mob boss than anyone should be comfortable with.
"I have, as you intimated, never fired a gun," Finch said gently, standing over them. Not sneering, but then John rather thought they might have preferred a sneer to that sad, pained expression, the honest regret that couldn't bode well for anyone. "I've never killed anyone. I hold violence in a considerable degree of distaste, and always have. But ... there have been times when, despite my best efforts, it has emerged regardless. There have been times when people have had to die."
John shuddered internally, trying to block out the memory of Elias, and stepped up beside him. He put away his guns with calm, patient implacability, a silent threat to underscore the deep and genuine regret in his partner's voice. Finch looked over at him, only for a second, and John felt his hands clench under his coat.
"I always listen," Finch said, and it wasn't to them. Not really. "Every death. Recordings are a risk, of course. Evidence is always risky. But it's a matter of taking responsibility. It's a matter of knowing, at the end of the day, who pulled the trigger, who did nothing to stop it, who is responsible." He looked away, his eyes dark as he looked back down, as he met the pained eyes staring up at him with something closer to respect now than contempt, and closer to fear than respect. "You have no idea how many deaths I've been responsible for," he told their enemies softly. "How many lives I've seen ruined, how many empires I've seen destroyed. I have regretted it, every time. But regret changes nothing."
"Boss," John said. Very, very quietly, pained and uneasy himself, and letting it show. To them, it probably looked like he was trying to cut into Finch's tirade, trying to calm down his unstable master. To Finch, he hoped it looked like something else. Like an admonishment, like a reminder. Like forgiveness, as much as he had to offer. "We might want to wrap this up?"
Finch blinked at him, stiff and quivering, his hands white-knuckled on his cane. Finch stood there, with his rich, tasteful suit and his eyes full of death, over the blood and the bodies and the pained gasping of his enemies, and then ... Then he shook himself, startled and casual, as though shrugging off the quiet implication of untold deaths, and nodded faintly to himself.
"Of course," he agreed, light and casual. "Forgive me, John. You're right, as always."
He paused, stepping back to survey the damage as if seeing it for the first time, doing a very good impression of a man who's only just realised the slaughter he's responsible for. John followed him, as much to cover the sudden tremble in Finch's hands as anything. To hide the flare of Finch's nostrils, the faint nausea rising in his expression.
No point ruining the terror now.
"The girl?" he reminded, gruffly. Not that Finch would have forgotten. Not that Finch would ever forget the innocent lives on the line. But the man he was playing might. Harry Wright, the old-school mob boss up from the south, might forget the child he was bargaining for, in the heat of the moment and the freshness of two deaths. "We're on a timetable, boss."
Finch took a deep, almost inaudible breath. Steadying himself, reminding himself what they were here for. He flicked a tiny smile at John, silent thanks for the reminder, and carefully straightened his shoulders before stepping back around him to stand over his erstwhile opposite, and lean down to meet the man's eyes.
The kidnapper didn't return the favour, John noticed, with a certain bleak amusement. The man who ten minutes ago had been sneering at Finch for a cripple and an Ivy League daddy's boy trying to play in the real world now couldn't quite hold Finch's gaze. Not that John blamed him. A quick spurt of sudden death and a glimpse at the history in Finch's eyes would do that to a man.
"We'd like the girl returned to us," Finch said softly. "Her father is an old friend, and I'd very much hate to have to disappoint him. You understand?" He smiled, soft and crooked. "I know I don't really have to enumerate the consequences of that happening. Not after John's little demonstration just now. But just in case you might have any doubts?"
He straightened, took a step back, and held out a gloved hand towards John. Who casually handed him a flash drive, and directed his own dark smirk downwards, trawling across seven defiant stares and two permanently empty ones.
"This is a list of bank accounts and financial transactions I've been able to trace to your organisation," Finch explained, waving the drive casually. "As well as some businesses, private homes, contacts and other miscellany. Just what I've been able to scrounge up on short notice." He shrugged, vaguely embarrassed. "I'd have gotten more, but there's a limit to what I can do from out of town."
John grinned a shark's grin, shaking his head in bemusement. Much as earlier had been genuine regret, genuine pain, this now was genuine embarrassment. In twenty four hours, there was only so much digging Finch could do, even with the Machine, the NYPD and Zoe Morgan behind him. One of these days, John was going to have to talk to him about his perfectionist streak.
"You will deliver the girl to us," Finch said, and he wasn't casual anymore, he wasn't even remotely dispassionate. "You will bring her to me, in one piece, exactly as she was the last time her father saw her, within four hours. After that, for every ten minutes she's out of my sight, I start making calls, and you start losing money. Then property. Then business partners. If she is harmed, you start losing lives. And if she is killed ..."
He paused, his shoulders stooping as the silence fell thick and deadly around them, and eight pairs of eyes remained glued to his short, stiff figure. John watched them, out of the corner of his eye, and what he saw in their faces wasn't so much anger as stiff-jawed, rigid defiance. Not so much rage as fear, and the rapid realisation that they had bitten off significantly more than they could chew.
John wondered absently if they'd look the same if they knew what he knew. If they knew how much Finch was lying through his teeth, and how much he was telling the absolute, unadulterated truth. He wondered what he'd see in their expressions, if they knew that.
He wondered, too, what they saw when they looked at his expression.
"... I don't like violence," Finch said, very softly. "I will probably regret ordering your organisation wiped from the face of the earth. I will probably regret listening to your deaths. But I have never shied away from my responsibilities." He lifted his head, eyes soft and bleak, and stared directly at the leader. "I trust ... that I have made myself perfectly clear?"
No-one was particularly surprised when they nodded fervently.
And maybe some people were surprised, maybe they were downright stunned, when the daughter of a prominent Georgian businessman vacationing in New York was returned to her father's embrace within forty-eight hours of her kidnapping, alive and mostly unharmed and earnestly explaining how she had no idea who'd rescued her, but they'd put the fear of God into her captors. Maybe some people were shocked by that. But in their defense ... they hadn't seen what he'd seen.
"Have you ever thought about it?" John asked softly, as they watched the reunion from afar. Finch was tucked in close against his side, still shaking faintly with post-confrontation adrenalin, the shock of reaction still running through him. John looked down at him, thinking thoughts that should have occurred to him much more frequently than they had, wondering why they weren't as alarming as they should have been. "What things would be like if we were people like that? If the Machine had been made by those kind of hands?"
Finch was silent for a long, long moment, a shaking wall of heat against John's side. When he looked up, it was with that same sad, pained expression, that same regret. That same ... responsibility, that made something shake inside John.
"Every day, Mr Reese," he said, very quietly, his smile soft and bleak. "Except for those days when I wonder ... if it wasn't."
John closed his eyes, his smile tight and reflexive and black with pain, and reached up to wrap his arm around Finch's shoulders. "That one, I've never wondered," he offered softly, and held Finch close through the shudders of his reaction.
A pale reassurance, maybe, but true. Absolutely true. The best lies, they said, were those that contained all the elements of truth, only twisted to look like something other than what they were.
And at the end of the day Harry Wright, mob boss and murderer, had been one of the best lies John had ever seen.