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even the fist was once an open hand

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"Not her," the bound man says, nodding at Kara. His name is Nathan Ingram, the target's former business partner. He spits blood and adds, "Harold will see right through her. Send him, Harold would like him."

"We'll take that under advisement," Mark says pleasantly.

Ingram makes a low, broken noise. "I turned myself in so you'd know what you're dealing with. The least you could do is listen." His voice is accusing.

"I do apologize," Mark says. "You understand we have to be thorough." His final punch knocks Ingram out. He turns to John and Kara. "There you have it. The target's last known pseudonym is Harold Finch, AKA Harold Wren. He poses an extreme risk to national security. Stop him at all costs."

Kara nods. So does John, a millisecond behind. Something about Ingram's lingering gaze left him uneasy.

He better forget that quick, before Kara notices and makes his life not worth living.

~~

They get caught humiliatingly fast. Even worse is that they're caught by a teenage girl.

The target operates out of an abandoned office building in New York. He fits right in there, a little man wearing round glasses and a suit so ugly that even John winces.

Maybe he let boredom lull him into false safety. There's no other explanation for the fact that a teenage girl was able not only to sneak up on him, but put a gun to his head.

"I'll shoot," she says conversationally. "It won't be the first time. And then I'll go back and shoot your friend. What's her name, by the way?"

John gives her a strained smile. "How about I just--" he feints to the left, snatches the gun from her.

It falls from his suddenly nerveless hands. The back of his neck tingles. Did she inject him with something?

"Follow," the girl tells him. She walks without looking back. John's body mechanically obeys.

~~

She leads him into what looks like a conference room. Finch is sitting at the desk, typing furiously, not looking up.

"Look what I found," the girl chirps. Across the room, Kara is pale and unmoving, standing at attention like a mirror image of John. "I think the government sent us presents."

Finch turns around in his chair, looking faintly disapproving. "Enable speech for all interfaces," he says, which sounds pretty nonsensical to John. He follows it up with, "Who sent you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Kara murmurs. Finch turns his attention to John.

"You'll have to try harder than that," John says, mostly to see if he can. He tried before, just like he'd tried wiggling his toes, scratching his nose, turning his head. Nothing worked until Finch or the girl gave them permission.

"I can cause both of you considerable pain without lifting a finger," Finch says, matter-of-fact. "I assume you're trained for that, but everyone has a breaking point."

The kid bounces. "Ooh! Can we go straight to cutting off fingers?" She's kind of creeping John out.

"Root," Finch says, mildly disapproving. "When do we use brute force?"

The kid - Root - rolls her eyes. "When we've exhausted all other possibilities," she says, sing-song.

Finch leans back in his chair, considering John and Kara. "Is there a good reason not to kill you?"

Even without looking, John knows Kara is smiling her You couldn't break me if you tried smile. John can't match it, and he doesn't make the attempt. Instead he says, "Ingram said you'd be interested in me."

It's a last-ditch gambit, but it works. Finch leans forward, a sudden intent look in his eyes. "Did he. What else did he say?"

"He told us about his kid," John says, truthfully. "That's pretty sick, Harold. He was only fifteen." Who knows, maybe he'll turn Finch's sidekick against him. "He grew up calling you uncle."

Finch's face goes blank. "I suppose Nathan wasn't wrong." He stands up, a little shaky on his legs, the injury Mark mentioned. "Root, do you want her?"

Root shakes her head, smiling.

Finch draws a gun from under his jacket. He cocks it and shoots Kara in the head, point blank. Something warm sprays across John's face. "Follow me," Harold tells him. "Root, dispose of the body."

"What do we say, Harold?" Root chirps.

Finch rubs a hand over his eyes. "Not now. Just do it, please." He walks out of the room. John goes after him, helpless to do anything but obey.

~~

They reach another room. This one is a private office, or maybe a small server room: there's a desk and a chair, a mattress on the floor and a rack of beeping, buzzing computers, tangled cables surrounding it like choking vines.

"Sit down on the mattress," Finch tells him.

John's legs fold neatly under him. Still no success at toe-wiggling, nose scratching, or head turning.

Finch grabs John's hair, tipping his head forward. It doesn't really hurt; John's body is limp, and Finch's grip is close to the scalp, maximizing leverage. John feels him poking at the tingling place on the back of John's neck, letting go and stepping away, moving back. Finally he says, "All right, time to look at our the data."

John tries to will his body into accepting that as an instruction. No go.

Finch sits next to the desk. For the next hour or so, John stares at the floor while Finch types, occasionally muttering to himself. Maybe it's a variation on sensory deprivation.

At last Finch looks up, gives him a cursory frown, and tells him, "Clean up. Eat and eliminate if necessary."

John doesn't quite register moving from the little room to a two-stalled bathroom, where he washes Kara's blood off his face and then pisses and washes his hands. He drinks water from the faucet. He tries varying the rhythm of drinking, with little success. He tries reaching for the soap again, and fails.

Next thing he knows, he's back in the small room, sitting on the mattress. "All right," Finch says, pulling out the gun he used to shoot Kara. He handles it like it's a grim necessity.

John watches him, unblinking.

"Are you afraid to die, Mr. Reese?" The gun presses to his temple. "No, you're not. How curious." He holsters the gun. "What about pain?" He takes out a box with a red button and presses it.

John isn't ready for the sheer volume of agony that hits him, then leaves him on the next breath.

Finch's finger hovers over the button, staring at John like an insect under a microscope. "Not pain, either. Hmm. I suppose I'll have to be creative."

"What do you want from me?" John is a little surprised that his voice works, but it does, only slightly raspy.

Finch doesn't answer. He's still looking at the button like he might press it at any moment.

But. "That button doesn't do anything," John says. "You just want me to associate it with the pain so you have something to work with."

Finch's mouth quirks. "Nathan was right," he says, and leaves. Just before closing the door, he says, "Set interface to autonomous mode."

~~

When John is hungry, he finds himself in a kitchenette in front of an open fridge. His hand reaches for bread. He tries reaching for cheese instead. No luck.

The teenager - Root - walks in and plucks it out of his hands. "Thank you," she says, biting into it. "You're very kind. Interface, touch your toes."

John is bent in half before he can finish the next thought. Root giggles.

"Set interface to autonomous mode." It's Finch again, sounding cranky. "Root, we have a situation. Attend."

John feels himself on the verge of the loss of consciousness that precedes showing up back in the small room. Attend! he thinks at himself, furiously.

For a miracle, it works. Maybe because Root interrupted him mid-meal, or maybe because he appropriated the command Finch hadn't intended for him. He'll have to try both.

Finch doesn't pay attention to him, opening a laptop on the counter. "We have the conspirators gathered." On the screen, John sees a group of men talking in what looks like a domestic kitchen, one gesturing with his hands.

"So how do we kill 'em?" Root is still nibbling on the slice of bread she took from John. "Can we crash a satellite?"

"We can't crash a satellite every time," Finch says, scowling. "It's wasteful. Besides, his family's sleeping upstairs."

Root's shrug eloquently conveys, So?

Finch glares at her. "Do we need to have another talk about what constitutes acceptable collateral damage?" Root opens her mouth, and he interrupts her. "No. Find another way."

There is a fair amount of weapons and ammo laid haphazardly on the kitchen floor. John's mind leaps to them, and then to the counter on the screen where cooking supplies are laid out. Seems like somebody cleared out in a hurry mid baking session.

Finch chooses that moment to notice. "Mr. Reese? You have anything to add?"

It wouldn't be the first time John helped terrorists in the name of staying alive long enough to take them down. "There's flour on the counter. If you can make it drop on the floor, and then strike a spark--"

"--it'll explode, setting off the ammunition and taking our conspirators out. I see." Finch starts typing only to pause. "The family."

Root rolls her eyes. "Send them a message to clear out if you care that much. God, Harold, why do you have to over-complicate everything?"

Finch resumes typing. For a few minutes, nothing happens. Then Finch untenses a tiny bit, and on the screen a phone somebody left on the counter vibrates.

None of the men in the room pay it any mind. The vibrations make the phone glide across the granite until it bumps into the flour, pushing both to the floor. Then the phone dies in a shower of sparks.

There is a flash of red, then black, then static.

"Yay," Root says with a small smile. When Finch ignores her offered fist-bump, she transforms it into a hair toss seamlessly and struts out.

Finch lets out a heavy sigh and shuts the laptop. "Follow," he tells John, and they return to the room that John might as well accept as his for the duration. Finch tells him to lie down and sits next to the desk, typing once more.

"Back to torture already?" John says.

"Oh, I'm not going to hurt you," Finch says, staring at his screen. "We have plenty of data on pain. Other areas have proven less easy to interrogate."

One moment, John is baffled. The next, he'd scream if he had control of his throat.

Not from pain. That hadn't made John scream in a long time. Instead, it feels-- he feels--

"Too much, too fast," Finch mutters. He types something fast. "Hm. Alright, hardware-first it is," and then he comes to the bed where John is laid, takes his cock in a dry hand and jerks him two or three times. He's just gentle enough for it not to chafe, but John seriously isn't in the mood.

Finch doesn't seem deterred. After a glance at his screen, he says, "I'll get some lubrication." John has faced rape as interrogation, but never quite like this. He has to give the guy props for novelty.

Ten minutes later, John's breathing is labored and he's not as sanguine about this as he was.

The thing is, the last time someone tried to threaten him with rape, they'd pinned him face-down to a desk and shoved their dicks into him, one after another. It had hurt, and eventually it was over. That's all John cares to think about it. He's used to pain.

He's not used to being made to feel good.

Maybe it's a play at humiliation, though Finch doesn't even seem to care about that. As far as John can tell Finch is genuinely focused on his little screen, on whatever he's reading off John. "Replicate neural data, G3 to G6," he says, and pleasure arcs through John's spine. He'd cry out if he could. "Hm. Better. Now--"

It's like pleasure is unfolding inside him, increasing. John can't even shudder with it, and it echos inside him, ringing, on and on until finally it fades, leaving him wrung out and breathing hard. Wetness prickles at the corners of his eyes. He's still hard.

"You're getting the idea, but it's still not quite right."

John wishes he knew who Finch is talking to. His creepy little 2IC, maybe.

Finch carries on. "Yes, I see it. Hm. A response to endorphins without tactile input, maybe? Uncanny valley effect of some kind... yes, alright," and then his clean hand is touching John's head lightly, running through his hair.

It's been a long time since anybody touched him like that. He really wishes it weren't a homicidal maniac bent on world domination doing it, but even so: he'd probably shiver if he could.

It really doesn't help that Finch smiles at him after that, small and genuine, like he's pleased that John got something just right.

~~

John's not quite awake. He's not asleep, either: there are voices near him.

"I'm just saying," It's the creepy kid. Root. "You might as well fuck him. It's good stress relief, and he should be glad you didn't just kill him."

"Thank you for your concern." Finch sounds anything but grateful, voice cold and snippy.

Root sighs. "I know you think you don't mean it, but I worry about you. We both do."

That's interesting. The briefing hadn't suggested there was anybody else involved in Finch's work; of course, it hadn't included Root, either, which is another mystery: what does an internationally wanted terrorist want with a teen girl?

Root leaves, and Finch says, "You can stop pretending to be asleep, now."

John allows his eyes to blink open. "Are you fucking her?" He says it primarily intending to see if he could talk at all. The way Finch's eyes widen, his physical recoil is an entertaining bonus.

"She's fourteen," Finch says, sounding shocked. "Who would--" He stops mid-sentence. A dark frown settles on his face. "I suppose some men would." He exhales a long breath.

He doesn't take John's control of his own speech away, which is something. "Are you going to fuck me, then?"

Finch gives him an irritated look: John's thinking of a sly answer to any moralizing Finch may come up with when Finch sags again and says, "I don't suppose it would make much of a difference either way." He gets up and rummages through drawers: finally he finds a tube of something and lays it next to John who, of course, still can't move.

Only when Finch is back at his desk does he say, "Interface, stay on the bed, and enable free movement."

John fluidly slides to his knees, unbuttoning his shirt. His heart races, an adrenaline reaction. He's not even going to try setting foot off the bed, but maybe if he jumps, he could hang off the exposed beams in the ceiling.

That means standing up, though, which would surely make Finch terminate this entire exercise. Better to go through with it, make Finch think he's safe, drop his guard. John's done worse than fuck a mark, and for less of a chance.

He runs his hands suggestively down his chest.

"You can stop trying to make this into a show," Finch snaps. "We both know you're not enjoying yourself." He doesn't make it a command, though, which is interesting.

"I could be," John says mildly; and, daringly, he adds, "Harold."

If Finch feels anything at John's familiar address, he shows no sign of it. He sits in his chair, appearing resigned, as though fucking John was some kind of chore.

It makes John rebelious. He slowly slides his hand into his pants, rubbing his cock. It's been a while, the last time Finch touched him notwithstanding. It feels good, having a hand on himself, pure animal comfort. He makes a happy little noise.

That rattles Finch, if only for a moment: John knows because Finch's eyes go all intense, sharp and focused on John. That's good, that means John's getting to him. That John's cock twitches at the scrutiny is just icing on the cake.

The tube Finch brough him is some sort of lotion. John slicks his fingers, rubbing his hole cursorily before putting a smile over gritted teeth and pushing inside. There's no time for the kind of preparation he gets in his spare time. He'll only hold Finch's attention for so long.

True enough, almost as soon as John has the thought, Finch's eyes snap to his computer screen. John freezes for a moment, then wills himself to go on, moaning a little for show.

"That was terrible," Finch says, eyes still on the screen. "And what on Earth are you trying to accomplish? If you had any kind of secret masochistic streak, I'd know."

The words needle John almost as much as the fact that Finch is looking on the screen and not at him. John's splitting himself open: the man could at least be appreciative.

It makes him reckless. "Don't want you to get bored." He finally finds his prostate on the last word, making him gasp it.

That gets him Finch's attention. "Then do it right," he says. "Take your fingers out." John hesitates, and Finch's eyes narrow. "Shall I make it a command?"

John takes out his fingers, hiding a wince.

"Get them slicker," Finch says, and, "slicker than that," when John puts another glob of lotion on them. Then he sighs. "Must I do everything myself? Interface, freeze."

John does, muscles locked into position. He's on his back with his legs spread, pelvis thrust a bit upwards. It's going to be hell on his back to maintain it for any time, but he's been through worse.

Finch slides a pillow under John's hips, though, and then he sits next to him and puts his fingers on John's hole.

On, not in, not even the tip. Finch divides his attention between John's face, his ass, and his laptop screen, which is really annoying. Not a lot John can do about it from where he is, though.

More annoyingly, Finch is a tease. His fingers rub and rub and don't enter.

"Enable speech," Finch says, not looking at John's face. "If you have any input...."

"You could have input," John says, injecting the last word with as much innuendo as he can.

"Worse and worse," Finch mutters, but it works: his finger breaches John.

It doesn't enter as far as the first knuckle before Finch withdraws it.

John groans, not in arousal. "Seriously?"

"Mm, you have a point," Finch says, and stands up.

"No, wait." John tries to sit up, but he can't.

Finch gives him a reproving look, but doesn't retreat any further. "I could try commanding the muscles there to relax directly, but the system isn't at the point where I'd feel comfortable doing that."

If John keeps this position for much longer his back muscles will start spasming. He grunts.

Finally Finch sits back down. "You have to make an honest attempt to relax," he tells John, "or I'm just not going to bother."

At this point, John frankly isn't sure why Harold is bothering, but he's not going to push his luck. He tries to bear down, instead, working to let his body open up to Finch.

That works better. Finch still takes forever, but there's some progress, and finally Finch hits John's sweet spot.

If he were free, John would grind down on it, maximize his own pleasure to get himself as open as possible for being fucked. As it is, John breathes shallowly, enduring the bright sparks of pleasure as Harold rubs him deep and firmly, just this side of pain.

Harold doesn't fuck him with his cock; instead he fucks John with his fingers into a climax that leaves John sore and hungry for more, then turns around and jerks himself off, quick and perfunctory.

"Protecting your modesty?" John says. "You haven't got anything I haven't seen, Finch."

"I might have tentacles," Finch mutters, and John surprises himself by snorting. "What exactly would be accomplished by you seeing my private parts, hmm?" He adds, "Mute interface," before John can come up with any fun answers.

~~

The next time, Finch doesn't even bother letting John handle himself. "Settle comfortably," he tells John. "I will count to 10 and then freeze you."

John can't see any way getting comfy can cause problems, even if Finch is fucking with him, which he might well be.

Finch is true to his word, anyway. He grimaces when undoing John's pants. "I should have had you undress," he says. "This isn't very convenient."

Then he touches John's dick, aimless, almost curious. Still looking at that damned laptop, although John thinks he finally understands why.

"Getting any good data on what turns me on?" John ask, as silky as he can manage with Finch's thumb rubbing the top of his dick.

"I am, actually," Finch says, absent-minded. "Hm, in fact-- no, never mind. Aurora, read the peak data to me," and he takes John's dick in his mouth.

This has to be the weirdest rape interrogation anyone in the company has ever faced.

If John had any control of his muscles, he might well have tried chasing Finch's mouth when it leaves him. As it is, he makes a tiny noise, and Finch's eyes fly up to focus on his face.

Finch's mouth quirks, just a tiny bit. "Good," he says. "Did you record that? Replay on loop."

The phantom feeling of Finch's mouth on his dick repeats, an endless tease of wet warmth that never goes any faster or tighter, untiring. Finch himself goes on to pinch John's nipples, first through his shirt and then lifting it up and rubbing them, his thumbs confident on John's bare skin. Those sensations, too, catch and repeat, while Finch continues methodically touching other parts of John's body.

A wave of sensation emanates from John's feet, of all places, despite Finch not venturing near there. He makes a guttural sound and does his level best to fold on himself. This accomplishes no movement, but does make Finch frown.

"Alright, pause. What was that?"

All sensation disappears at once. Despite himself, John whimpers.

"All right, I suppose you might as well improvise," Finch tells... Aurora? Whomever it is that's listening to him. "Keep that for later investigation. Remove that and play the recording up till then, all responses higher than .75, endless loop. If desensitization occurs, adjust timing, but don't surpass input amplitude of .5."

It's all Greek to John - pity it's not Chinese, or another language he actually speaks - but the meaning becomes plain enough when the same sensations start rising in John and Finch turns around and leaves without another word.

~~

The sensations stop and start with no rhythm John can make sense of. They never become more intense, just this collection of teasing invisible hands and mouths that withdraw any time John is too close.

John's sense of time tells him three hours have passed when the sensations all pause and he finds himself in the bathroom. He faces the toilet, looks down at his dick and mutters, "You have to be kidding."

He's not sure what happens, but he finds himself back in bed with his bladder empty and the sensations picking up again. He tries to buck up into them, knowing it's doubly futile, choking on his own frustration.

He tries to breathe, to focus on where his fingers and back touch the bed, but that just highlights the realization that Finch never touched him there.

The sensations pause, and John feels a ghost hand running through his hair.

"Stop it," John snarls. The petting continues. John tries to shake his head; instead, his voice shakes when he yells, "Stop it!"

Miraculously, the feeling does stop. Then the lights go on and Finch comes into the room, rumpled. He looks like he fell asleep on a desk somewhere.

"Why did you ask to stop, Mr. Reese?"

John's chest heaves as he drags in desperate, relieved breaths. He doesn't answer.

"Alright," Finch says, and with a flick of his finger, the sensations return. John trembles. He will handle them better this time.

Then that hand in his hair comes again, with the feelings, with Finch looking at him, and John would have spasmed if he had the muscle control for it. "Make it stop," he tells Finch - begs him, knowing exactly how desperate he must sound.

Finch looks at him. "Disable high-oxytocin stimulus," he says, and the head petting stops. "Intensify genital sensation by .05," and it doesn't sound like much but by God it's suddenly enough, and John comes and comes and comes.

"Pause loop," Finch says. "Restart in five minutes on low intensity, work up to current intensity. Repeat loop." Then he's gone again.

~~

John doesn't beg again. Just as well. There'd be no use. The chip, or whoever it was that heard Finch's orders, is ruthless.

There's tears coming out of John's eyes by the fifth orgasm, and he's crying outright by the eighth, little sobs he can't stop. But he's not asking for a respite, or for anything else, so he's grateful for that much.

By morning, John is limp as a rag, leaking tears and sweat and come intermittently.

Finch comes again. "Oh, that is interesting," he says, not to John but to thin air. Or possibly Aurora. "Replicate that data segment. Replay."

John's body seizes up in another climax.

"Replay," Finch says, watching him intently now, as John gasps and writhes, the new orgasm overtaking the one already in progress. "Are you not going to object, Mr. Reese?"

John stays silent. He doesn't even have the energy to shake his head, let alone say anything defiant.

"Fine," Finch says. "Replay. Replay. Replay."

~~

John wakes up shaky, with a bone-deep physical exhaustion he hasn't felt in months. It's a tossup whether this exhaustion or the chip's control keeping him from flinching when Finch enters the room again.

Finch looks tired. He says, "Hm," looking down on John, and leaves the room. He comes back with a bowl of water and a washcloth.

Tearing up now, John knows, is a simple consequence of physically breaking before. It doesn't make him feel any better about crying because someone is giving him a sponge bath.

Finch doesn't remark on it, though if he didn't notice, John would be very surprised. Finch finishes cleaning John up, towels him dry, and lies behind him.

A part of John he hadn't really noticed had been dreading Finch fucking him: John only realizes this now that said part is gone. John's psyche is too tired, too wrecked to hold together anything but numb expectation.

Finch doesn't fuck him. He lies close to John, a live body sharing his space, breathing evenly until John falls asleep again.

~~

"I can't promise any such thing," Finch says.

John blinks slowly awake. He can see Finch, sitting in front of a laptop, and a grainy video image of a man and a woman looking agitated.

"Fuck you," says the man, even as the woman hisses, "Andrew, don't!" He continues to say, "We won't negotiate with scum like you. Hope you enjoy having every single state authority on your tail." The call is cut.

"Rather too late for that," Finch tells the empty screen, and taps his ear. "Root? They're being uncooperative. Proceed with the plan." He turns the chair around. "It's good that you're awake, Mr. Reese. I've been hoping for your input."

"I don't know, Harold," John drawls. "Andrew sounded pretty serious to me."

Finch makes an annoyed face. "I hardly require your opinion about that. I meant, regarding our latest endeavors." He spreads his legs, lays his palms on his knees. "Tell me, Mr. Reese, was there anything you found particularly unpleasant?"

"I really hate having complete freedom to move," John drawls. "You should try that as a punishment."

Finch turns sharply away. "I don't know why I bothered," he mutters, and adds, "Mute interface," before John can get snappy.

It's a couple hours more of Finch scowling at his laptop before the door opens, and Root comes in dragging... a crib?

With a baby inside, from the sound of it. Not a happy baby.

"Thank you, Root," Finch says. In a few keystroke, the same agitated couple's face is on the screen. Finch takes the baby out of the crib and faces the screen. The angle is all wrong for John to tell if he's holding the baby all right.

"I presume you're looking for this?" Finch says to his screen. "Do as I said, and nothing untoward should happen. Refuse..." he pauses. "I don't have to draw you a picture, do I?" In his arms, the baby goes silent. Finch puts the baby back in the crib.

After a short, frozen silence, the man spits out, "Fine. Name your terms."

"Discuss them with my associate," Finch says crisply, and turns off the conversation.

John tries to breathe normally.

Finch looks at his computer screen, then up at John with a small frown. "Your anxiety peaked for a moment. What--" His eyes land on the baby's crib. "Oh. Her? Unharmed, I assure you."

John stays frozen. Not that he has much of a choice: the damned chip Finch put on him won't even let him blink without permission, let alone talk back.

"What would be the use?" Finch says, exasperated. "She can't even walk yet. She couldn't hurt me. No, at the very worst, I would have her parents removed and find a new home for her. A safe one, of course." He tilts his head. "Would it help if you held her?" He looks at his computer for an answer.

Apparently it's positive, because Finch scoops her out of the crib and approaches John. "Allow free upper body movement," he says. He stays out of reach and puts the baby carefully on the bed.

John takes her. She's breathing, he can feel her tiny chest expand every time she does, feel the hummingbird fast beat of her heart. She smells a little like spoiled milk but more like laundry detergent. Her skin is so soft he's half afraid it'll rip under his fingers.

There's a sound; when John looks up, Finch is staring resolutely at his laptop screen.

He's close enough that even without use of his legs, John could reach Finch and take him out before he could say anything. But he wouldn't have time to get the baby to safety before that.

John stays put until Finch draws a sharp breath and says, "Put her in the crib and resume autonomous mode."

Root comes in later, after Harold has left, and she has the baby in her arms, crooning a lullaby to her. "If I drop it," she tells John, "do you think it'll bounce?" She smiles bright as John tries for the umpteenth time to find a way, any way, to get out of the chip's control. Then she kisses the baby on the forehead, puts her in the crib and walks away.

The next twenty minutes pass with John vividly imagining every horrible thing that can happen to the baby while he's watching, helpless, from violent murder to slow starvation.

Finally Finch walks in, mouth pursed. "What did she-- oh, honestly," he says, taking in the scene. "I don't have time for this." He sits in front of the computer and works at the keyboard for a moment. "There: if there's an immediate risk to the baby's life, you can act. Satisfied?"

Not really. John tries to bend it, tries to convince himself that Finch will kill the baby right now this minute if John doesn't take him out. It doesn't work, but John didn't really expect it to.

~~

"Get up," Finch tells him. John isn't surprised when his body obeys. "I have some work for you. Take this." Finch presses a key into his hand. "Pick up the baby." John does.

(If the baby has a name, John doesn't know what it is. Nobody mentioned it in John's hearing.)

"Commence sequence GK64," Finch says, and John's legs carry him outside the door. They carry him to a parking garage where a white Toyota awaits. It has a baby seat in the back, and John straps the baby securely into it.

He drives, his hands moving of their own volition. He catches sight of some signs along the way, enough to know that Finch and Root haven't moved him since he was captured and that he's not gotten very far when he brings the car to a halt.

A man and a woman await him, red-eyed and thin-lipped. John thinks he recognizes them. The man has a sidearm, and he reaches for it as John exits the car. "Why, I oughtta," the man says, not finishing the sentiment. It's clear nonetheless. "If you touch so much as a hair on her head...:"

John can't speak to answer him, and he isn't sure what he'd say anyway. He unbuckles the baby from the carseat and hands her to the now openly weeping woman.

"Thank you," the woman says, simple and broken. The man gives her a sharp glare, but she repeats, "Thank you."

For a moment, all John can do is stand there and stare at them. Then whatever programming brought him this far kicks in again, and he gets back into the car and drives away. The man does not shoot after him.

~~

It's the hands on John's back that wake him up. He'd tense up if he weren't already strung taut.

Fingernails run down his back, gently, turned sideways like blunt little knives. "Sleep doesn't relax you much," Finch says behind him. It's something of a relief, really, that it's just Finch. It could have been Root. Or Kara, for that matter.

Except no. Kara is dead. Finch shot her. John finds he can tense a bit further after all.

Finch's hands move up to his hair. Just petting, for a moment, incongruously soft. Then Finch grabs and pulls, just hard enough to sting.

Even before Finch started working on him, John has been conditioned certain ways. Certain stimuli mean he's required to perform: pull his hair and his dick gets ready for action. John tamps down on a whimper. Asking for mercy will do him no good, and as long as he doesn't ask, he won't be refused.

Of course, as soon as that thought forms he realizes he must ask. So that Finch will ignore him, and John will remember just what kind of mess he's in. "Please," John says.

"Please, what?" Finch's voice is detached, clearly enunciated. It does not help with the state of John's dick.

John's not actually sure what to answer. Let me out of here. No. Don't touch me. "Let me come," he says instead.

The heat of Finch's body moves away. "Turn interface over," Finch says, and John turns to lie on his back. "Enable right arm. You are right handed, aren't you, Mr. Reese?"

John doesn't answer. With the exception of his right hand, his entire body is rock-heavy, immovable. He could maybe leverage himself off the bed with one arm, but not before Finch would notice and shut him down.

Maybe if he gives Finch a good enough show Finch will forget to take back control of John's right hand. It's a slim chance, but John clings to it nonetheless.

When he touches himself, though, he can't think of putting up a show. He can't think of anything but the heat of his own hand, of the familiarity of touch. He jerks himself tight and fast, the way he likes it, fantastic.

Soon John is coming; he's barely finished spurting when Finch says, "Disable interface right arm."

Then Finch says, "Hm." It is not an encouraging sound.

John can't so much as tilt his head right now. He hears rather than sees Finch taking some clothes off. Once that's done, Finch - bare from the waist down - straddles his shoulders. "Map TC-8 neural network to interface," Finch says. "Enable free movement of neck and head."

John could bite off Finch's cock, but he doesn't see that this would give him any kind of strategic advantage. He mouths at Finch's cock instead, experimentally, almost yelping when he feels somebody touching his own oversensitive cock.

So that's what Finch meant by mapping. Curious despite himself, John takes Finch's cock into his mouth, only shallowly. If he could, he'd buck up at the sensation, heat and wetness. Despite his recent orgasm his cock's taking an interest.

It feels good. Better than his hand, especially when he carefully begins to suck, better still when he lets himself get a little rough. John isn't bad at this, if he says so himself - and now he can attest to it first hand.

Finch grabs his hair and fucks his face. John groans and closes his eyes, feeling fullness in his mouth and pressure on his cock, until Finch stutters and comes, withdrawing from John's mouth. The loss of the feeling has John twitching.

John swallows so he can speak. "Please."

"Enable right arm," Finch says, sounding satisfyingly shaken. John gets himself off fast and thorough.

It only occurs to him afterwards that Finch remained in touching distance while John was jerking off, that John had a usable hand he could've used to strangle Finch or something similar. By then John is back to having no control over his body and Finch is mopping him up with a wet cloth. John closes his eyes and doesn't try to talk.

~~

John isn't clear on how long Finch and Root have been following the detective. His grasp of time is wonky, dropped in and out of consciousness as the interface state takes over him. But it must have been weeks.

John carefully does not think about how long he's been here with Finch.

Anyway, it's been long and frequent enough that even though John can't control when he's aware of his surrounding, he's pieced together some information about the detective: she's a veteran, and a mother. She's good at her job. Compassionate.

Now her blurry silhouette is on the screen Finch is frowning at, and Root says, "We could make the grab today." The excitement in her voice makes John want to shudder.

"I'm not certain we're ready," Finch says. "The technology could use some more fine-tuning."

Root snorts. "Isn't that what you've been doing with your boy-toy? Fine-tuning? Don't bail out on me now, Harry. It's time we tried full time control over a subject in its native habitat."

The shudder crawls up John's spine and turns into full-fledged revulsion. They want to do to the detective whatever it is they've done to John, steal her body from her and put her firmly under their control, then send her out to the world with Finch and Root's hands behind everything she did. To her job. To her son.

"Don't." John's almost as shocked as Root looks to discover his voice is working.

Finch turns around in his desk chair to face John, fluorescent lighting reflecting off his glasses. "Pardon?"

"Don't take her." John's voice is harsh from lack of use. Or, from another perspective, due to the kind of use Finch has had for him. "I'll do whatever you want."

"I don't know if you noticed," Root says, snotty, "but you're going to do that anyway."

John ignores her, keeps his eyes fixed on Finch, and prays that Finch will be as smart as John thinks he must be.

"Hm," Finch says. The corners of his mouth move up, almost too subtle to notice. "I'm afraid that's not accurate. Root, please leave."

"You didn't say sudo," Root mutters, but clears out nonetheless.

Harold advances on him. Apparently he's every bit as smart as John thought. John abruptly remembers to be terrified.

"Can you guess what I want, Mr. Reese?"

John remains quiet. If he's wrong, he doesn't want to give Finch any ideas.

"What I want," Finch says, "is for you to make yourself feel good. Would you do that?"

John wants to twitch. It's not too far from what he was expecting, but still odd to hear. Even if he knows what Finch is trying to accomplish, the mechanism by which it would work.

"Take off your clothes," Finch says, and suddenly John is doing just that. It's the chip at work. Has to be. "Show me how you like to touch yourself."

~~

After he's done, Harold crowds next to him on the bed and puts an arm over John's waist. "Very good," Harold says, sleepy and satisfied.

John knows what Harold is doing, comforting him every time John is overwhelmed. That John knows doesn't stop it from working.

~~

Harold makes him ask for things. "Let me suck you off," John says, out of breath already. Harold never says no to him, and John's body has learned to associate Harold's pleasure with his own.

John can't quite get used to the shock of putting Harold's cock in his mouth and feeling wet heat around his own cock. It makes him moan, and he can no longer hold that back. There are a lot of things John can no longer hold back.

He comes rubbing off on Harold's leg, Harold's dick softening in his mouth. Harold pulls his hair gently, not enough to hurt or to move him away, just sensation. John swallows and closes his eyes.

There's no more talk of the detective, at least. John retains enough of himself to be grateful for that.

~~

John is lying in bed and waiting for Harold when his eye catches on a ceiling beam. Huh.

Harold gives him bodily autonomy more and more often these days, proud of his own achievement, of how docile he's rendered John. The bedsheet under John will be sturdy enough to hold his weight. John knows he won't get out of the office building before Aurora informs Harold or Root, but that doesn't mean he can't escape in other ways.

Knowing he could off himself has always been a comfort. In a way it's odd that he's thinking about it now. John's body feels good, replete with food and orgasms, and that's part of why the ceiling beam appeals so much: good feelings he doesn't deserve, and the knowledge he's doing no good to anyone.

Well, except Harold, maybe. But that's easy enough to not think about.

Harold walks in, quicker than he usually moves, and sets his laptop on the desk. He bends down and scans the screen, his mouth a tight straight line. He says, "John," sharply.

John looks at him, perfectly calm. If Harold keeps him immobile from now on, that's okay, too. Just a different kind of death.

Then Harold tells him to come near and John obeys. On Harold's screen there's a picture of a woman, her face bruised. "This is Genevieve Womack," he tells John. "Her husband will probably kill her today, if nobody interferes."

John blinks. He has the staticky feeling that means he has control over his limbs now, and he turns his eyes on Harold, thinking Why would you do this to me? Now, of all times?

John says, "Are you going to let him?"

"Well," Harold says mildly, "I'm told I'm an evil mastermind. So the bigger question would be, are you going to let him?"

The door is unlocked. John remembers the way to the parking garage, and the keys are inside the Toyota. Nobody is stopping him. He could go back to Snow and report, or crash into a tree, go out in a blaze of glory.

He revs the engine and drives toward the address Harold showed him, cursing in his mind all the while.

He comes back fuming, with Jack Womack's blood still on his hands. "Did you kill him?" Harold asks, eyes still on his computer.

"Fuck you," John snarls, and goes shower. (He didn't.)

Harold takes over while John's still in the shower. He mentally collapses then, lets autonomous mode take care of the cleanup, walk his body out of the bathroom still wet.

Harold takes him slowly, in a way that might have been described as tender if it were anybody else doing it.

It's thorough, the way Harold fucks him, leaving John no place to hide, nothing to do but take it. Harold's laptop is beeping, but for once Harold's attention is fixed on John's face.

"This is far from the only one," Harold tells him afterwards. "We have an entire list of them coming up every day."

John closes his eyes. "No."

He feels Harold shrug. "I'll keep you up to date. What you do with that information is your choice."

The next day, the number is a child whose father beats her. John breaks speed records driving there.

The first time he fails to save a number is the first time since his capture that Harold intentionally uses pain on him. He uses the chip, direct nervous stimulation, a degree of pain that John thinks might represent an amputated limb.

It makes John cry, finally, and when Harold turns off the pain he keeps going for a long time. He's not sure how his head winds up in Harold's lap. Possibly he'd slipped back into autonomous mode.

~~

"No, we can't," Harold says to Root, testy. This is not the first time they've had this argument in John's hearing.

Root's hands are clenched into tight fists. "Harry. After all we've done to get here. We need to use this technology in the field, or what did we do all of this for?"

Harold turns away from her, keeps his eyes on his screen. Root leaves in a huff. John just manages to keep conscious for long enough to hear Harold quietly say, "I wish I knew."

~~

"I told him it's dangerous," Root says. She's crouching right next to the mattress John is occupying, and John can't move. He didn't hear her coming in; it might be because of the chip, or because John is spending as little time in his own body as he can nowadays. "I told him you're a liability and we should get rid of you. Why do you think he won't?" She speaks with what sounds like honest curiosity.

John can answer, but he's too worn to come up with anything helpful to say. "I don't know."

A tiny flash of pain pings him, like getting zapped by static electricity. "At least try to answer," Root says, reproachful.

A little bit of pain isn't really enough to motivate John to do anything at this point, and past experience informs him that any hurt strong enough to affect him will bring Harold running. But underneath the apathy, some part of John is curious, too. "Do you know about what happened to Will Ingram?"

"More than you do." Root zaps him again. She must be communicating silently with Aurora, or else she's hiding a very ineffective taser on her person. "And that's not an answer."

"Didn't you say yourself he ought to keep me for stress relief?"

Root scowls. "That was before you started being a distraction." Then she smiles, sugar-sweet and startling. "Shall I tell you about little Will Ingram? Maybe then you'll understand. Or come as close to understanding as you can, anyway."

John remains silent. Root can do as she chooses.

In a sing-song voice, Root says, "Once upon a time, there was a man named Harold Finch. And he created something - amazing." Root's eyes shine. "He created the greatest possible feat of engineering. He created a life: he created a god, one we can talk to, one that can answer. And this god could predict when bad things will happen.

"So when his partner's son was kidnapped, the partner came to Harold, begging Harold to find his son. To use the god they made to locate him and bring him back.

"Harold said no. They created a god for a reason. To use this god for one particular person's protection would pervert the god's existence, turn her into a tool that men could use at their whim."

Possibly John's face shows what he thinks about that, because Root grimaces and says, "Okay, maybe he was concerned about governments using her for their own gain. Potato, po-tah-to.

"Anyway. The men who kidnapped Will Ingram killed him in a fairly gruesome way. I'm sure you know the details already. Nathan Ingram went off the rails. And Harold Finch realized the futility of trying to be a good person in a world that's evil. He realized that the world needs to be fixed, and it won't happen unless somebody takes drastic measures."

"And that somebody had to be him," John says, sarcastic. But even as he says so, he can imagine it. The story creates a compelling image of who Harold was before Will Ingram's death: someone principled, someone who still cared enough that one death sent him reeling.

"He's a great man," Root says. She seems deathly serious. "A visionary. I'm honored to work with him."

John coughs. "If he's so great, how comes he needs teenagers to do his dirty work for him?"

Root slaps him hard enough to sting. In a light voice, she says, "I know they say violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, but I think this underestimates how satisfying it is."

At least she leaves after that, and John is free to stare at the walls in peace.

When Harold walks in with his computer, John's cheek is still warm, and Harold notices the mark the slap left. "Honestly, if she can't be respectful I may have to bar her entrance."

Mostly to check if he can speak, John says, "She calls you a visionary, Harold. What's your vision?"

Harold stares. He blinks twice. Then he gets up, with a muttered, "Excuse me," and leaves John to stare at the walls some more.

~~

John was trained for this, in a way. He was trained to stand up to torture, to captivity. He wasn't trained to stand up to Harold running a hand down his back and telling him, "The agency really did you no favors by allowing you to become so deprived."

John grunts, desperately. Harold hasn't given him freedom to speak. John tries hard not to be grateful for that, and fails.

"It's as if they wanted you to get caught," Harold says. "As if they didn't care what they were throwing away."

Harold knows by now how to get John thinking about nothing but getting off, nothing but the next place Harold touches or allows John to touch. The single-mindedness of striving for orgasm is a welcome respite, a little spot of peace inside his head. John can float in it.

Harold continues. "Look at you. You gave up your life, in a way, to hunt me; and then you gave up what little autonomy you retained to save someone you didn't even know. And when you had so very little left, you gave away even your death to help strangers. I must conclude that you are that very rare find, especially in your line of work: a genuinely good person."

The words hit John like scalding water, like a slap to the face, all the worse because he wants to believe them. But of course he can't. A good person would do his duty. A good person would leave.

For the first time in a very long while, John realizes: I could get away.

The thought is small, easily buried. John does not let it go. He holds on to it like a live ember in his fist. It would be too easy to become distracted, discouraged.

"I have another name for you," Harold tells him, as John is still breathing hard, skin shining with sweat. "Alison Bennett."

John nods mechanically, taking in the info Harold gives him without paying much attention. He doesn't need to know about the threat to Alison Bennett's life. He doesn't need to know anything except that he will get to leave the building.

On the way to the parking lot, John doesn't allow himself to think of anything but the next step. Get in the car. Turn the key in the ignition. Leave the parking lot. For as long as it takes to get to a motel, his mind is a blank.

He checks in, then leaves for the post office a block away. The lady at the counter smiles at him, and walks away to get the stamped envelopes he asked for. It's ridiculously easy to pick up an x-acto knife off her desk.

At the motel, John finds a first aid kid and takes a bottle of vodka out of the mini-bar. He washes the knife's blade with soap and douses it with vodka. He takes a piece of gauze out of the first aid kit and soaks it with more vodka, then rubs the back of his neck with it.

John only has one mirror, so he works by feel, searching for the small scar where Root put the chip into him. He wonders if he'll do himself nerve damage. Only one way to find out.

He hisses when the blade cuts into skin, but his hands remain steady as he cuts around the edges of the scar, feeling for the piece of hardware left inside him. It's not easy to get a grip on it: it's small and his hands are slippery with blood. John pulls at it a few times before coming to realize he needs to cut deeper.

The knife's blade is long, but it's fragile. John extends it and hopes for the best, cutting in tiny sawing motions. It doesn't break, fortunately, and John manages to pull out the chip.

It's such a little thing, inert and bloody in his hand. John spends too long staring at it before he goes to bandage his neck. He considers stepping on it, but he knows the higher-ups would want a look at it.

There's a telephone in the room, and there's a number John knows. It's not for calling for rescue. John knows rescue isn't on the table. But he's got observations to convey.

~~

They come to pick up John half an hour later, two men he doesn't know in a black car. They look like operatives, like John thinks he must have looked before Harold got to him.

Finch. Before Finch got to him.

The windows in the back are opaque, and there's a screen blocking off the front of the car. John can make a guess at where they're going but he can't see anything of the outside. John is still holding the chip in his hands: he tried to wipe off some of the blood with a hand towel. It hadn't been very effective.

When the car doors open, they're at another underground parking lot. The two men hustle John to an elevator. Nobody handcuffs him or otherwise restrains him, but the men are armed and John has a good idea of what'll happen if he resists.

He's led into a windowless room, where a woman turns around in her desk chair to face him. "Sit," she says. "You've mentioned some interesting things, in your call." John nods, wary. "Tell me about them."

Haltingly, John begins to talk.

~~

After the debriefing, two operatives - not the same ones from before, a man and a woman - take John to a surprisingly nice room. Apart from not having windows, it could be a room in any nice hotel. John's voice hurts from talking. He lies down on the freshly made bed.

"We'll need you in the morning," Control told him before sending him away. "Rest up."

John is too tired to fall asleep. The bed smells wrong. He wishes he could go back into autonomous mode, let someone - something? - someone else manage his actions. Control's orders don't quite measure up.

But they'll have to, now. John clenches his jaw and reminds himself that this will pass. It's just the effects of captivity, his brain and hormones reacting to being helpless under somebody's hand. John has given up things he's wanted before: this isn't even him wanting to be back under Harold's control, just his fucked-up mind wanting to crawl back to the man John imprinted on.

He has to remember why he's doing this. So that others can walk in the light, somebody has to walk in darkness. That somebody might as well be John. There's not much else he's good for.

~~

In the morning, John is given new clothes and guns. He gets into a car with three other operatives, and does his best to think of nothing as they drive.

The sight of the office building sets John's heart pounding. He tries to tell himself it's with fear and revulsion.

When he exits the car, John sees Control. "With me," she tells him. John follows. Their footsteps echo in the dirty, empty stairway.

John's expecting to find the place empty and abandoned. Instead, as they walk in, Harold sits next to his computer, surreally familiar. John half expects to be told to go into autonomous mode.

"Hello, Mr. Finch," Control says. "I've heard a lot about you."

Harold turns his chair to face them. His shoulders are slumped. Behind the glasses, his eyes are reddened. He doesn't move away as two operatives come to stand behind him, doesn't struggle when they restrain him to the chair. "I can't say the same."

Control scoffs. "I know you know who I am, Mr. Finch. Do you know what I'm here for?"

Harold closes his eyes. "If you're looking for the software Nathan promised you, you'll be sorely disappointed. At this point, what exists is drastically different than the machine you were promised."

"I don't think I will be, actually." Control steps closer to Harold. "That machine is old news. What I hear you have now is so much better. I want your body control technology."

John blinks.

"Really. And to what use do you plan to put it?" Harold sounds too tired to be really curious.

"The use it was designed for," Control says. "Don't play innocent with me. We both know what Ingram's ideals came down to, in the end. Or should I say, in your hands?"

"A puppet government. Are you going to use it on our own politicians, I wonder, or on foreign ones?"

"I intend to use it for the best interests of the American people." Control's voice is completely sincere. Nevertheless, John shudders.

Harold exhales. "Regardless, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. I've disabled that functionality quite thoroughly some time ago."

"I'm sure that can be corrected." Control nods to the operative next to her, who pulls out a wicked looking knife.

Harold eyes it with distaste and shakes his head. "I'm afraid not. As I said, I was quite thorough. I was expecting you might stoop to these methods of persuasion."

He's not expecting, or so it seems, the men who come in dragging a furious, struggling Root. Harold's eyes widen when he catches sight of her, his mouth tightening. "How did they find you?"

Root rolls her eyes. There's blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. "Did you really think I'd leave just because you told me to?"

John can imagine Harold shooing Root away, can imagine him sitting down next to the computer to await John's return with armed backup. What he can't imagine is why.

The operatives who brought Root in find a chair to tie her down to, zip ties around her wrists and ankles. She doesn't make it easy on them. When Root is secured, Control turns to the operative holding the knife and says, "Give it to him," pointing at John.

The operative hands the knife handle first. John takes it.

Root is still struggling. When he comes close, she spits in his face. "I told him you were a liability." Her voice is hoarse.

Harold's face has gone ashen. He starts struggling, frantic against his earlier apathy. The zip ties locking him to the chair tighten around his wrists, his fingers growing purplish.

John looks at the knife, then at Root. John despises the girl. She's amoral, a violent psychopath. She's also fourteen. And the person who gave the command to torture her is the one looking to put Harold's body control chips to who knows what purpose.

Slowly, so slowly, he raises the knife. His hand trembles.

"No!"

John turns around at the shout. It's Harold, still twisting in his chair. "I'll make changes to the system, so you can have access." He's talking to Control, but he's looking at John.

"Harold, don't!" Root twists in her chair. "It's not worth it."

Harold moves his gaze from John to Root. "You're more than worth it," Harold says. To Control, he says, "Untie me and I'll do it."

Before anyone can untie Harold, a boom comes in from the other room - from the kitchen, John realizes.

"You, you, and you," Control says, pointing at operatives. "Check it out. The rest of us are going to stay here and make certain Mr. Finch is as good as his word."

John unties Harold. As he does, he mouths, "What are you doing?" It's not even a whisper: subvocalization is a more apt description. Harold would probably not hear it. Aurora might, though, and she can relay it to Harold using whatever silent communication they'd always used.

Harold's silent as John turns his chair around to face his laptop. As he starts typing, though, something catches John's eye: a long line in green. It looks out of place in the tidy landscape of Harold's code.

I had forgotten, the line reads, what it was like to feel empathy, and how much it mattered. You reminded me. I am not ungrateful for this, but more importantly, it means I don't want to see you destroyed. I can't choose inaction again. Harold deletes the line before John can ask what the hell that means.

The two operatives next to John look subtly uneasy: their faces are not easy to read, but John has been where they are and he knows what to look for. It's pretty obvious why. There was no sound from the kitchen since the other operatives have been sent to look there.

Root screams obscenities behind them. Control says, "Shut her up," looking bored.

The operative behind Root moves, but John moves first. He captures the man's wrist in his hand, puts the operative out of commission with a crunch of bone. Even as he does it, he realizes how futile the action is: the one who gave the command is still standing behind him, and she has more than enough hands to carry out her wishes. So John takes out the gun Control gave him, and aims it at her.

She raises an eyebrow, contemptuous. Around the room, John hears safeties being clicked off. He knows not all the guns are pointed at him: some are pointed at Harold, some at Root.

John ought to shoot anyway.

Then the door slams open, and someone comes in yelling, "Police! Don't move!"

~~

The police arrests pretty much everyone except for Root and Harold, who are taken as witnesses. John walks into the cell docilely. He's pretty sure Harold and Root can get away on their own at this point. There hadn't been any sound of typing between John looking away from Harold's computer and the police arriving, so John doubts the body control was enabled again.

He has no idea what might happen to him, but at that point, he doesn't suppose it matters very much.

A cop coming to get him out is only mildly surprising. Odds are good that the cop is a hidden operative who's come to shoot John in the head and dispose of his body.

John is not expecting the cop to lead John to a room where Harold sits, looking unperturbed. "This your client, Mr. Grouse?"

"It is, thank you," Harold says. "If all terms of bail have been satisfied, are we free to go?"

Apparently the answer is yes, because the cop undoes John's handcuffs. No personal affects, given that John didn't have any when he was arrested except for lethal weapons.

Harold leads him out and motions him into a taxi. John follows, still numb and uncomprehending.

The taxi lets them out near the Brooklyn bridge. They walk to a bench, where Harold sits down and motions John to sit down beside him.

"Where did the police come from?" John asks. It's the most concrete of the questions running through his head.

"Aurora sent them an anonymous tip," Harold says "The police does not look kindly on men threatening 14 year olds with knives, I'm glad to say."

"The body control--?"

"I really didn't have much of a way of restoring that." Harold's hands open in his lap. "I didn't want to leave myself any possibility of using it. I knew that temptation would arise."

That sets up the next question easily enough. "Why disable it in the first place?"

Harold stares at the horizon in front of them. "I came to the realization that I wasn't particularly effective as a villain."

There's a bitter taste in John's mouth. "Could've fooled me."

Harold's mouth crooks in what might be agreement. "I suppose I did cause some misery, especially to you. What I meant to say... I didn't achieve anything. The goal might justify the means, but I barely even had that. I focused on the technology so much I barely considered what to do with it beyond threatening small-time criminals and raping and torturing a prisoner for my own amusement."

Christ. Harold doesn't mince words. "Did you know?" John demands. The words feel inadequate. "That the ISA was--" employing the kind of people who tortured children. Corrupt. Undermining the very government, the very people it claimed to serve.

Harold watches him, quiet. It's a stupid question anyway. Of course Harold knew. John knew the agency used any means possible to get their ends. Maybe Harold knew those ends were rotten, too. The real question is, how did John miss that?

"I had my suspicions," Harold says. "I was very sad to be proven correct."

John stares at the bridge. He is very tired. "It was nice of you to get me out." At least John will have a little while of freedom before the ISA hunts him down and puts a bullet in his head.

"It was really the least I could do." Harold coughs, a little dry rattle of breath. "But I'm afraid it wasn't entirely selfless."

John closes his eyes briefly. "Of course not."

Harold reaches into his jacket and gets out an envelope. "Before we start, this is yours, if you want it."

John opens the envelope. There's a passport inside it, under the name John Warren, sporting John's picture. There are - John counts - twenty thousand dollars. And there are plane tickets to Italy. "You think the agency won't find me in Italy?"

Harold snorts. "I think I can redirect them off your trail, let us say."

John puts everything back inside the envelope. "Alright. So what's your motive for getting me out?"

"The names I gave you," Harold says. "I have a list of them, a new list every day. For many of them, if not most, there wasn't much I could do on my own. But with your help, we can save some of them."

Fuck. "Why?" John demands. "What are you trying to achieve?"

Harold blinks rapidly. "I have empirical evidence that, when faced with the knowledge of these lives at risk, a good man acts. I may have forgotten how to be a good person, but I'd like to try and learn again."

John leans forward, the words like a punch to the stomach. "Stop saying I'm a good person," he says.

"I can stop saying it," Harold says. "It won't stop being true."

Harold isn't a large man. He doesn't have John's training. John isn't chipped anymore. He could snap Harold's neck like a twig.

"Are you considering killing me?" Harold asks.

The hair rises on the back of John's neck. He smiles as cruelly as he can. "Do you feel unsafe around me, Harold?"

Harold shrugs. "I don't believe I have a right to feel safe around you. If you want to kill me, that's your prerogative. Although please note that my post-mortem measures for assuring your safety, while existent, are much less effective than ones I could use if I'm alive."

The worst thing is that John doesn't want to kill him. He wants to crawl back to Harold like an animal longing for a trap, somewhere safe and warm and confining.

"If you decided to help me, we wouldn't have to interact at all," Harold says, making it worse. "We could communicate solely in writing. And, of course, you are under no obligation to help me whatsoever."

John moves before he thinks, his mouth coming on top of Harold's harsh and demanding. Harold opens up to him. Have they kissed before? John can't remember.

Harold looks dazed when John retreats. "I suppose now it's my turn to ask why?"

Because you're the first warmth I've had in as long as I can remember. Because loneliness is terrifying. Because you think I'm a good person, and it makes me want to try to be one. Because you brainwashed me, and it feels too good to try and get away.

"We've both done terrible things," he tells Harold. Harold seems a little indignant. "This is where we are. We have to keep going from here." And he kisses Harold again, to keep him from noticing that John hasn't answered his question. By the way Harold's hands curl up in John's shirt, John is guessing Harold doesn't mind.