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Exit Strategy

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He jogged up the stairs with a cup in each hand, feeling like he'd just gotten back from vacation. Being caught and tied up in a damp storeroom for a night hadn't done him any real harm beyond the bump on his head and a few scrapes to his wrists, and the sound of Finch's voice when he'd called to say he'd escaped (and told him where Carter could find the body) had made everything just peachy. He was safe, Harold was safe, Harold was gratifyingly relieved to the point of sounding shaky, and once home John had slept like a babe in arms. There was something satisfying in waking up, getting showered and shaved and heading off fresh and spruce to pick up coffee and Finch's tea on the way, prepared to reappear as well-groomed and nonchalant as if he'd spent all weekend sitting in the park.

When he found Finch's chair empty he'd automatically set the cups down, expecting to hear him walk out of the bathroom or some other corner of the old building. It took him a second to register the absence of a coat on the stand, and the envelope placed where Finch would normally sit.

It was addressed to Mr Reese, in an even, sloped hand. The first time John had seen Finch's handwriting he'd imagined him at school, a bright little blue-eyed boy who sat at the front of the class and turned in every piece of homework on time and immaculate. It had made him smile.

Now he was feeling a kind of chill, and a stiffness that made it hard to stretch out his arm and take the note. It was as if opening it would finalise some reality that he could still escape if he retraced his steps, left the room as he'd found it. He made himself rip it open and read it. It was so short. All this time, and apparently so little to be said. He ripped the paper in two and balled it up, throwing it at Harold's chair. Then he went to the cabinet, yanking open the drawers. The files were gone. There was a little pink cloth on the desk that Harold cleaned his glasses with. John picked it up and stared around the room, crumpling the soft scrap in his hand. He left before he gave in to the temptation to throw the desk over, smash the chair. The two cups stood where he'd left them, forgotten and cooling in the empty room.

--

He was doing ok, all told. Finch hadn't been stingy with severance pay, which meant John was currently drinking single malt on a very comfortable sofa, watching a western he couldn't name but was sure he'd seen before. It didn't matter, and he wasn't really watching anyway. When he'd stayed in real fleapit apartments there was always plenty of noise coming through the walls, but this place was respectable enough to be too silent without the tv on. He poured another drink.

He'd started off calling all of Finch's phones, getting a robotic voice message saying each line had been disconnected. He still swore and pleaded and yelled into every damn one just in case it was recording. He'd harassed Fusco and wheedled Carter. She'd shown a flicker of interest at the change in his appearance: he'd been running a lot at that point, working off frustration at the gym. His old suits were back at the loft and would be getting too loose in the waist anyway. He was becoming leaner, with his hair grown out just a little and a beard trimmed short, dressed in presentable but nondescript street clothes. He'd almost asked Carter out for dinner before realising how little he'd have to say about his life now. Somehow he didn't think she'd give him many appreciative looks if he started crying into his linguine. Fusco had seen right through him from the get go, punched his arm and called him 'big guy' like he was John's stepdad or something. Things got awkwardly quiet when they each admitted they'd heard nothing from Finch, and John left. That night he drank till he vomited.

Since then he'd settled into a kind of somnambulism, tracking every possible lead on Finch in the day and drinking at night, but not too much, not enough to stop him getting up in the morning and starting again. He'd gone almost absurdly old school, filling notebooks with every snippet of information he could remember about Finch, even the ones he'd always thought were red herrings. At the time he'd almost found them endearing, little dodges in the game they were playing together. But since Harold had picked up his pieces from the board and gone he called them what they were: lies, no matter what Finch had said in the beginning. There were reasons not to use his laptop to store information, since he was used to seeing every internet-enabled device as pretty much a hotline straight to Finch, but mostly it was just being reminded. He might tell himself he didn't want his old boss hacking him, but even worse was the feeling that he was sending his desperation out into the ether and being ignored.

--

Harold was lying on the library floor. He was getting cold.

John had seen Finch in the street, and realised he was headed for the library. In the end he decided to just walk in the way he always had. He was standing in front of the desk; he put Harold's tea down next to him, waited, demanded explanations. Nothing. Finch just carried on working at his computer, wouldn't even look at him. The final straw was when he reached out, lifted the full cup, and silently dropped it in the trash. John was moving before he realised it, and felt the snap as they went down struggling. Harold's neck lay at an odd angle, and his eyes were open, gazing frozen at the ceiling. John finally had all of Finch, full access, every inch of him. He could go through his pockets and check him for birthmarks, moles, tattoos, webbed feet or extra nipples or who knew what. If he hadn't done this so many times maybe he'd be weeping, or throwing up at least, but to him a corpse was an untidy pile of identifying features, so he just knelt there, not looking at the open eyes. Eventually he drew his gun, not looking at that either, but he felt the metal in his mouth, tasted it.

He woke up freezing cold and shaking. He was growing used to the dreams, hunting Harold through the streets or the stacks, shoving him up against a wall, listening to him beg or sneer or threaten. Sometimes he kissed him, sometimes he punched him bloody. Once dream-Harold had shoved him to his knees, grabbed him by the hair, got his cock out and rammed it into John's salivating mouth, viciously rough. The action was somehow less incongruous than Finch's tidy little voice calling him a slut and a whore while John grunted in satisfied agreement and sucked him in. He'd been about to come down John's throat when John woke up. He'd jerked off, rough with himself but joylessly now, and afterwards he didn't quite cry.