John Reese was feeling useless. His new identity - Detective John Riley - had been with NYPD Narcotics for two days when he'd been sent out to ‘discreetly’ investigate a ‘possible’ meth lab in an apartment building on the Upper East Side. The call had come as an anonymous tip and it was possible that he’d only caught the assignment because he was wearing the nicest suit in the precinct that day. It was also equally possible that his new colleagues were sending him out on a fruitless errand, as some sort of ‘new guy’ rite of passage, but John Reese didn’t mind getting out of the office and being on his own for a while. He didn’t mix much with the other cops. Time at his desk was spent stalking the NYPD Dispatch Logs and checking the hospital admissions databases, ready to head out immediately if his friends needed help, but so far there had been only silence. In the three days since Samaritan’s ascendance, when they’d been forced from the library and into hiding, he’d had no numbers to protect and, worryingly, no word at all on Harold.
Becoming a ‘real’ cop kinda sucked. He thought the culture and energies of his colleagues to track down drug dealers was laudable, but personally, Reese found it unsatisfying work. He could be relied upon in a raid or firefight, but mainly he just wanted to help people and the new job was making him feel frustrated and useless. He’d lost his primary purpose and now he was checking up on what was so obviously a nice apartment block NOT housing a meth lab, it was almost pointless getting out of the car.
With a sigh, he street parked in sight of the East River, finished his coffee and rolled out to pretend to be a cop again. There were a lot of cameras in the neighborhood, but he walked boldly past them. Samaritan had had three days’ worth of opportunities to send its hired killers after him, so it looked like Root’s Geek Squad and their blind spot software was effectively shielding him. He just hoped everyone else was being as well protected. He presumed Root and Shaw were together and could defend themselves, but Harold would be easy prey and he ached to know he was safe.
The doorman to the apartment block was young and unimpressed by John flashing his badge and charm but folded easily in the face of a twenty; instantly sharing that the owners of the suspect apartment were a) an elderly couple and b) currently in Florida anyway. John thanked him and ambled away, returning minutes later to skip easily past him and up the service stairs. With total disregard for the niceties of his official status, he angled away the security camera that watched the suspects’ door and smoothly picked their locks. The apartment was tasteful, if a little dated, and one of its owners had a thing for stuffed owls, but that was about all the evidence of a crime he could determine. The call was obviously a hoax but, out of sheer habit, he swiftly checked all the drawers and possible hiding places. He was in the process of patting down the rich curtains, when something in the apartment building opposite caught his eye, because there was a dog staring straight out of the window at him: a Belgian Malinois dog.
John quickly put everything back as he found it and walked softly across the street. Frank, the doorman there, was older and a lot more professional but did confirm that there was an ex-military dog on the sixth floor and that ‘he was a softie, hadn’t given anyone any trouble’. It was a quiet neighborhood, John learned, respectable business people and a lot of older people who liked their privacy. They talked the merits of dogs for a while before John managed to circle the conversation towards the owner of the animal that had caught his eye. That was ‘Mabel’s nephew’ apparently. Some sort of college professor, he’d only recently taken over the place. Polite, well-spoken, kept to himself, only really went out to walk the dog at night, which was probably good exercise as he had a funny looking limp. He had all the daily newspapers delivered though, which was a pain to have to take up ‘let me tell you’. Frank looked meaningfully at the bundle of newsprint and magazines on his desk and John recognized the opening and offered to save him some trouble.
There were more cameras in the building than could be adjusted without drawing attention, so John walked out of the elevator in plain sight with his badge and cover story ready. He felt a little nervous when he knocked on the apartment door, but he could hear Bear barking in excitement, and that made him smile.
The door opened to an inhospitable chain length.
“John Riley: Narcotics,” he said suavely, then presented his shield. “Can I come in?”
The door didn’t budge.
“Why?” came the cautious reply.
“We believe there are drug dealers operating across the street and I’d like to talk about possibly setting up surveillance.”
“Not sure I'm in favor of spying on my neighbors,” Finch’s voice replied smoothly.
John overlooked that staggering statement of hypocrisy and persisted, “I have your newspapers here. Frank gave me them to give to you.”
“Thank you, Detective. You can leave them there. Good day to you.”
Reese was stunned that Finch had shut the door in his face but fortunately Bear was quick to express his own unhappiness at the outcome. The dog whined and growled and then began to bark impatiently, louder and louder, until after a minute of such noise, and with reluctant mutterings of ‘alright, alright’, Finch took the chain off and opened the door fully.
John strode past him and in with a tiny gleam of victory in his eye and said, “Good boy.”
Finch scowled but seemed resigned to the inevitable as he waved a hand of introductions for anyone who might be listening.
“I’m Harold Whistler and this is Bear.”
“Hello, Bear. I’m John.”
Finch barely had time to close the apartment door before Bear tackled Reese to the ground and jumped all over him. As the two play-wrestled, Harold retrieved his newspapers and then reached into Reese’s pocket and extracted his cell phone. It was only after he stripped the battery and SIM card that he observed, “I think he’s missed you.”
“Are you talking to me or the dog?” John answered as Bear licked his face.
“How did you find me, Mr. Reese?”
It had only been three days since Harold had been shot and they’d been forced to flee the library and separate, and Finch did not look like he was doing well. His hair was flat, his face pale, his shirt looked like he’d slept in it, and he hadn’t shaved in days. Harold was usually so fussy and particular about his appearance that John thought it was probably the longest period he’d ever gone without shaving his entire adult life. Come to that, John mused, it was probably the longest he’d ever gone without actually wearing a tie.
“I really am a narcotics cop. We got a tip-off about the apartment across the street. Though as they are in their seventies and currently in Florida, I’m not real confident of making the bust.”
Harold grunted, and Reese followed him further into the apartment with Bear continuing to dance around him happily. The living area was a good size, light and bright with a solid dining table and chairs at one end, and formal chintz sofas facing a large TV at the other. The furniture throughout was of good quality, assembled over time though with probably nothing new added in the past twenty years. There was a bank of glass display cabinets along one wall, all empty of contents but with newspaper clippings taped to them, and red string linking items. There was also a single bookcase which, judging by the packing cases of academic-looking books still in front of it, wasn’t going to be enough.
John looked through the other doors; two bathrooms, a clean and workable kitchen, and three bedrooms. Bear kept to his side as he made his inspection, wagging his tail exuberantly. Finch seemed to have set up residence in the muted blue walls of the best guest room. The master bedroom was larger and had the en-suite, but also had the disadvantage of being decorated with a startling rose pink poodle wallpaper and having matching ornately floral closet doors and dressing table. Even Bear winced a bit at that. However, despite the décor, it was still a considerably more expensive apartment that Detective John Riley found himself living in.
“Can you afford this?” he asked bluntly as he and Bear returned to the main living space. Samaritan’s reach had cut them all off from previous lives and bank accounts and he was mildly intrigued to know how Harold was going to cope on a paycheck budget.
“It seems I inherited it from an elderly aunt I never knew I had.” Finch sighed. “Along with the contents. Nothing of value. Mainly…” he trailed off and waved a hand towards three boxes overflowing with a collection of China poodles. At the bottom, John could see some of them had been carefully wrapped but he sensed that that practice had ceased as frustration had set in, and later additions had obviously been shoved in haphazardly. “I keep finding more of the things,” Finch complained.
“Perhaps eccentricity runs in the family?” John suggested.
Harold ignored his breezy comment and began sorting through his new batch of newspapers on the dining table. There were scissors, tape and red string to hand and as he worked, and an unusual silence fell on the room. Reese noted the TV was on in the far corner, muted and rolling through 24-hour news, but there was no hum of electrical equipment he’d come to associate with Finch and his workspaces. In fact, John looked around him again but could see no signs of a computer at all.
“Wouldn’t that be easier on a laptop?”
Finch snapped back, “I can hardly risk going online in the circumstances.”
John thought he probably could, but let it drop. With his friend hunched over newsprint, rapidly turning the pages, he drifted back to the kitchen and inspected the cupboards and refrigerator. Juice, milk, vegetables and meat. Everything looked recently stocked and fresh. There were even three bags of Bear’s preferred kibble and, on the countertop, two packets of sencha green tea.
“Finch… did this place come with groceries?” he called out.
“No. Apparently Miss Groves now works a delivery route for Fresh Direct.”
If John felt a slight jealous pang of being less provided for by the Machine, it disappeared quickly when he considered the benefits of not having Root perkily on his doorstep waving cold cuts. And Finch probably did need a little more taking care of. After all, he reminded himself, the man had recently been shot. He checked the drawers and found an unopened box of over-the-counter painkillers and a half-used packet of antibiotics which did at least look like Finch was following the proper course in that regard.
“How’s the shoulder doing?” John shouted.
“Fine.” Came the thin reply which John immediately recognized as Finch-speak for ‘hurts like hell and I don’t want to talk about it’.
It wasn’t even worth asking him if he was taking anything for it, instead, John poured a glass of water, grabbed the painkillers and marched straight up to the table and into Finch’s personal space.
“Two of these won’t kill you.”
“I might be allergic for all you know,” Finch protested.
“I’m pretty confident Root and the Machine know you are not,” Reese said firmly. Then he stared impassively, immovably, until finally Finch realized he wasn’t going to win and reluctantly swallowed the capsules.
“Happy now, Mr. Reese?”
“Up to a point, Mr. Finch. Did Root change your dressings when she was here?”
“No, because she didn’t need to. I can manage perfectly well, thank you. I don’t need her, or anyone’s, help.”
John didn’t entirely buy that and continued to stand his ground.
He countered, “You can’t turn your neck, but you can sterilize wounds on your back?”
“There are such things as mirrors and I’ve managed far worse in the past.”
“So how come there’s blood on the back of your shirt?” John demanded.
Finch looked confused at first but then anger flashed over him and he stomped to the bathroom. John gave him a moment to confirm he hadn’t been lying about the blood stain and followed. Standing in the bathroom doorway, he watched his friend juggle an ornate enlarging mirror to catch a reflection on the mirrored cabinets and swear softly at the results.
“Take your shirt off and let me have a look,” John said firmly. “I was the one who stitched you up in the library. Remember? This is me, Harold.” He softened his tone, making a guess at the problem. “Root isn’t here, she’s not going to hurt you.”
“It’s not about Root. She was pretty restrained in her behavior.” Finch paused to reflect. “For her anyway. No, she was concerned, caring even... I probably owe her something of an apology.” Harold dropped his eyes. “I might have been a bit…boorish.”
“Come on.” John took his arm gently and led him back to the living area. Harold started to raise objections.
“Isn’t it time you were leaving? Samaritan might take notice of a detective making too long a personal call on someone he’s not supposed to know.”
“Then we’d better do this quickly and I can be on my way. Where do you keep the medical supplies?”
“John, I'm not unappreciative of your concern…”
“Good, focus on that. Now take your shirt off and tell me where you keep your dressings.”
He was pushing his friend out of his comfort zone but there was no way he was leaving the apartment until he’d checked the gunshot wounds - and even Finch grudgingly recognized that. Root, he could intimidate off, Reese, not so much.
“Third bedroom closet,” he mumbled.
When he opened the closet doors, John gave a low whistle because it was like a medical Narnia in there. Either ‘Aunt Mabel’ was a dark horse and had been an Army Field Medic in between bouts of poodle buying, or Root had seriously set aside enough provisions to triage a small war. Either way, John was grateful to have proper supplies to work with, although Bear, having inevitably followed, went noticeably quiet when he washed his hands and the dog bolted back sharply to the living area when he produced sterile equipment and bandages. Bear was remarkably sensitive when his humans were hurting.
Reese returned with what he needed and found Harold fidgeting and Bear pacing around in matching agitation. Stubbornly, Finch hadn’t removed his shirt, but he had at least unbuttoned some of it and pulled it from his pants. In the army, John was used to guys being keen to show and compare their scars, but Finch wasn’t particularly proud of his and John had long since opted to respect, and not ask about, his previous injuries. An unbuttoned shirt was the best he was going to get.
Silently, John swung around a couple of dining chairs to the window light and sat Finch down on one. With Bear panting to the left, watching attentively, John gently pulled back Harold’s shirt to expose the dressings either side of his right shoulder. With some relief he noted Finch hadn’t been lying and they were different from the ones he’d hastily applied three days ago, but he was still concerned that blood had seeped through the gauze on his back.
He opted to tackle the cleaner one first and carefully pulled away the dressing on Harold’s chest to inspect the few stitches he’d put in. Considering they hadn’t been able to get professional help, and that he’d been expecting Shaw to arrive at the library to take over Finch’s care, medically speaking, he was relieved he’d seemed to have made the right decisions. Harold had been relatively lucky with a through-and-through, and he had also been surprisingly amenable to John cutting open his clothes to take a look at it, so he’d pressed on without waiting for Shaw. Whether Harold’s cooperation was a reaction to the stressful ordeal he’d undergone, or a post-adrenaline surge mellowing into shock didn’t matter. It had made John’s decision to stitch the wounds himself easier and given they had suddenly been pitched into running from the Library with Samaritan on their heels and monitoring all hospitals, that decision had probably saved Finch’s life.
Having cleaned, dried, and applied a fresh dressing to Harold’s shoulder, Reese moved his chair to address the exit wound. This was messier, and Harold sucked his teeth as skin pulled away with the gauze and a little fresh bleeding began. He stiffened in the chair and looked straight ahead like he was about to be tortured. John held a towel across his friend’s back as he worked the saline solution and sought a topic for distraction as he carefully cleaned the area.
“What’s with all the newspapers anyway?” he asked.
“Research. So far, I've found seven deaths that are almost certainly former members of Vigilance. One of them was even shot to death in Fusco's own squad room. God knows how many more people Samaritan has had killed already.”
When John made no answer, Harold, who’d always had a hard time turning his head to the right, flicked his eyes to ask, “Why are you really here?”
"Told you. Got a tip about a drugs lab across the street. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?”
“I don't buy my street drugs so close to home,” Finch said wryly, but then exclaimed, “Ouch! Careful!” Bear pricked up his ears and gave a small whine.
“Sorry, but you have to keep still. I meant about the tip. It must have been Root then. Or the Machine.”
Finch gave a snort and said, “Those two are probably hacking nuclear detonation codes by now.”
John shifted his chair a little nearer. The bullet had made a clean exit, but the stitches were raggedly and torn and had allowed the wound to reopen and a little blood to pool. No wonder he was in pain. John hoped to God the redness of the area was caused by loose ends rubbing and not a sign of infection, but he took heart that the tissue seemed otherwise healthy and Harold’s temperature and breathing seemed normal.
“I’m going to replace some of these stitches and clean up this area again.”
Finch shifted his upper body as best he could to face him and asked, “Is that really necessary?”
“There are nicer ways to die than sepsis.”
“Guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Finch said with noticeable despondency. “About the newspapers and the research,” he resumed in stumbling explanation. “I’ve been studying them in case I saw anything about… about you or Miss Shaw…”
John understood. He’d pretty much done the same thing with the NYPD database.
“I’m here now,” he said softly. “And Shaw’s got eight more lives left - always put your money on Shaw.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
“We had a philosophy in the Army. If someone wants you dead, don't give them the satisfaction.”
“My tax dollars at work,” Finch said dryly.
“It means, don't make it easy for them. Come on Finch, where’s that subversive streak? For a billionaire, I’ve never met anyone more ‘fight the power’ than you.”
“Ex-billionaire, and which part of ‘there’s an evil ASI out to kill us’ do you not get, Mr. Reese?”, Finch snapped.
“The part where we hide in our china poodle apartments and feel sorry for ourselves,” John replied evenly. “Turn back around.”
Harold fell stubbornly silent but did as he was told. John knew him better than to push home his point too strongly. Ultimately, Finch was always reasonable, it just sometimes took him a while to get there.
John snipped and tweezered two of the stitches then delicately cleansed the area before taking up a sterile needle. “This next part might sting a bit,” he said gently. “Hold still.”
He placed one hand on Harold’s good shoulder to support the both of them as he worked. When Harold sucked his teeth sharply, Bear moved closer and put his head on his thigh in sympathy, angling to be of help. Harold responded automatically by rubbing the dog’s head and ears and saying, “It’s alright, Bear. It’s alright.”
John sprayed some chlorhexidine on the area then, checking Finch’s arm movements weren’t restricted, he taped the second dressing in place, gathered up his gear and put the waste in the kitchen trash. He noticed that Bear took no interest in following him this time. A glance at his watch told him he’d been there for twenty minutes and he realized he’d have to leave and resume his life as a police detective so as not to raise suspicions. He shouted as much to Harold but got no reply.
On returning to the living space, he found Finch was sitting in the same chair, his shirt still hanging off him, and looking pale and upset. Bear had slumped over his feet.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Harold said quietly.
John moved swiftly towards him with an undefined plan of offering some sort of comfort, but Harold sprang up anxiously and backed away, making John stop. Anxiously keeping the chairs between them, Finch stood with his arm across his belly, a protective stance as he retreated in on himself and John bit his lip, feeling helpless and desperately trying to think of magic words that could make a difference.
In the Army, he had been taught to compartmentalize his feelings and to not let tragedy haunt him. Finch hadn't had the benefit of that training nor the essential hardness of heart that such a philosophy might thrive upon. Dealing with the loss of his business partner, Ingram, and his own injuries, he'd hidden from the world, been forced to let his finance think him dead and he'd had to deal with all of that on his own, with no help from anyone. He wasn’t a man to accept to easily accept comfort or what he saw as pity. John knew his friend had a process, and it was one that required he figure things out for himself.
“Yes, you can. You’re Harold Finch.”
Harold looked dubious that ‘being Harold Finch’ counted for much anymore, but John was still certain that it did. Yes, Finch was a civilian and strictly a non-combatant when it came to firearms, but that just made his bravery all the more remarkable to Reese. From the first days of working with him, John had been surprised at how the little guy, who he thought was just going to play safe as tech support, had helped him in field work. Early in their association, he'd put himself in the middle of an armed raid just to warn Reese it was a trap. That had intrigued the hell out of John because somehow, he didn't see that being something Mark Snow would have done for him. No, Harold may be wallowing in the unfairness of the world right now, but if Shaw, Fusco, or even Root, were in trouble, John knew Finch would grab his hat and coat in an instant. The man’s courage was not in question. He just needed something to be doing apart from morbidly clipping newspapers.
John moved more slowly towards his friend and held out an unthreatening hand.
“Sure, Samaritan is hunting us and wants us dead,” he said calmly. “But we have a competitive advantage. Not just the blind spot Root put in its servers, but us, our experience. Think about it. Cover identities and double lives? We're damn good at this.”
He got close enough to tidy Harold’s shirt back over his shoulder, then left a soft hand on his elbow. “Come on, Harold, you can do this.” He risked a twinkle of humor in his eyes. “You've been evading people your whole life.”
“In hindsight, Mr. Reese, that was mostly people who weren't actually looking for me.”
The slight acerbity gave John some encouragement. There were times when he didn’t know if he wanted to shake the man or hug him, but snarky Finch was slightly better than the hopeless-looking kind, and John would take that.
“It’s still an applicable experience and skill set, Finch. Don't knock it.”
Finch sniffed, nodded, and self-consciously did some of his buttons with his left hand.
“You’ve been here too long,” he said, trying to sound matter-of-factly. “It might start to look suspicious to Samaritan.”
John nodded. He hated to go but it was time he headed back to his precinct.
“Bear has missed you. Do you want to take him back with you?” Finch offered.
Reese’s eyes dropped to the dog who was sitting so close to Harold’s leg as if he were offering his weight against him. He was nuzzling his chin at his hand, and Harold stroked him with the natural action of a man who had gotten used to finding the dog there and was responding with a closeness he found difficult to express otherwise. Reese felt the animal was stating a preference to stay with his current human. Pleased though he was to see John, the dog knew instinctively where he was needed the most.
“He’s your dog,” Finch argued.
“But I'm guessing he's the only reason you leave the apartment at all, so I won’t.”
The dog gave a playful woof, happy to be the center of attention, his eyes sparkled brightly, and he panted his tongue. Harold looked down at the dog’s demeanor and raised an eyebrow.
“I’m starting to think Bear called in your drugs tip,” he mused, as the dog yawned contentedly and then leaned in again to be scratched behind an ear. Automatically, Harold complied, and John suppressed a smile, but then it really was time to go and he gathered up the components of his phone by the door.
What was it he had Finch heard him say to Carter one time about being thrown in the deep end of the pool? That ‘it took him a while, but he'd figured it out in the end’? Finch just needed time to work things through. There was no point mentioning the numbers, or how they might regroup and take down Samaritan, Harold needed small steps to get him back in the game. Better to avoid any signs of pity and to focus on the practical problems that needed to be solved. Get him past the distress, grief and guilt and let him find the reserves of courage and resilience that Reese knew ran deep.
“Harold, you need to go out for reasons other than walking Bear. It’s time you put some work into your cover identity. I know it bites to only have the one now, and I know you hate to have to be visible, but you need to go outside and actually mix with people to make it work.”
Harold’s eye drifted to a pile of official looking correspondence he’d dumped by the door.
“Professor Whistler does have a meeting with the Dean the day after tomorrow. Then I have to see about my office and teaching schedule. Oh, dear God!” Harold’s eyes widened in horror as a realization dawned. “I’ve never had an actual employer before!”
“What? Not even a paper route?”
Finch stopped himself short from answering and gave John a sour look. Clearly even that was viewed as revealing too much about himself in response to some subtle interrogation technique.
“I hear some employers can be total control freaks,” John said with mock sympathy. But then he relented and added softly, “Some of them even think every bad thing that happens in the world is their fault.”
Harold acknowledged his words with a slight dip of the head.
“So, go to your meetings on campus and impress the hell out of the Dean,” John resumed. “Knock ‘em dead with your human interaction skills. Word of advice though: you might want to shave, iron a clean shirt and wear a nice tie.” He grinned. “First day at a new school. Make me proud!”
“You're in an insufferably good mood.”
“I am,” John admitted, and flashed him his most winning smile. “I've finally found out where you live.”
Harold gave him another sour look, but eventually his eyes creased in response to the playfulness, and John’s mood practically soared.
He slotted in both SIM and battery to his cell phone and powered it back on. It was time to resume his own cover identity. Harold opened the door and the both stiffened formally as if they had only just met. Riley handed over his NYPD contact card.
“My number, in case you need anything. It’s good to meet you, Professor Whistler.”
“You too, Detective. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
“I understand.” On his way out, John turned. “Maybe I’ll see you out in the park someday? Or I could swing by and take Bear for a run or something?”
“Thank you, yes. I think he’d like that.” Harold’s shy smile flashed briefly. “I think we’d both like that.”
The door to Whistler’s apartment closed and John Reese walked back to the elevator beaming to himself. Things were on the up and he had a purpose again. Harold was still going to need some time to fully come around, but he’d made a start and that gave John a lot of hope about the future. The Machine was keeping them hidden, and then they were going to find the others and work on a plan to fight back against Greer and Samaritan. But for now, the most important thing was that Harold was going to be OK and he, John Reese, had an excuse to keep seeing him. As he stepped outside into the sunshine, he realized that was all the purpose he’d ever really needed.