At first Finch thought John was bent over something small and explosive. He was right, of course, albeit not in quite the way he expected.
He’d come into the library later than usual, due to an early snowfall. Followed by the traditional chaos of people unprepared for slick roads. So it wasn’t a complete surprise that John was already there.
Big and solid, and curled into a near-ball over whatever was on the table.
John leaned back a fraction, and something flapped across his hands before being hidden from Finch’s curious eyes again.
Finch shuffled closer.
“Morning, Finch,” John said, not turning away from whatever was on the table in front of him.
“Mister Reese,” Finch replied. “What are you…”
“Do we have a new number?” John interrupted, still not turning around.
“No. No, not yet.” Finch moved closer still. Now he could see something small and white between John’s hands. Was that… paper? He yanked himself back to the conversation at hand, swallowing his curiosity for now. “The weather seems to have given the criminal element better things to do than kill each-other.”
John shrugged broad shoulders. “They’ll be getting back to it in no time.”
Finch crept closer to those shoulders, almost touching as he leaned in to peer at whatever it was John was doing with his hands.
“What is that?” The words were out of his mouth before he was even aware. Letting his guard down around John was turning into a bad habit.
In John’s big hands were cradled something that looked like a porcupine mated with a star. He was fiddling with one long paper quill, folding and squeezing and pulling it carefully, leaving it dangling where it would, and turning the porcupine-star a quarter round and repeating the process. His fingers, scarred and calloused from guns and violence, looked far too large to work something so delicate. The incongruence made Finch breathe in deeply.
“I’m fletting stars.
Finch’s eyebrows climbed at the unfamiliar word. “Flatting?”
John smiled crookedly, the porcupine-star now looking more like a starfish, paper quills spreading out from the points to lie flat across his palm. “Fletting. It’s a danish word. I think it means braiding, but it’s the one they use for making these stars.”
Finch made a concerted effort to compose himself in the face of the odd, eight pointed starfish-star. “I see. It’s a very… interesting shape.”
John grinned outright, now. Turned and picked up something else from the table. He did something swift and subtle to the star, then held out his hand, palm down and fingers curled loosely around the star, clearly expecting to hand it to Finch.
For a second, Finch hesitated. Then he held his hand, palm up, under John’s, and was rewarded when a star was deposited into his hand as gently as snow falling, John’s fingertips trailing briefly across his skin.
Now Finch could inspect the thing to his heart’s content. It had lost it’s starfish arms, and was now - while still an odd shape - distinctly star-shaped. And delicate. Eight sturdy triangular points jutted out to make a kind of a flat base, on either side of which four points curled up like gentle paper-waves.
“Oh,” was all Finch could think of, and when he looked up, John was smiling at him, eyes deep and kind enough to drown in.
“We laid low in Denmark one Christmas. Nice people. So long as you understand a little danish, they don’t care if you do nothing but grunt and nod and smile. They have these starstrips to make these stars with, and I was bored. They’re kind of addictive to make.” John’s smile grew bashful, and he opened a drawer in the old card catalogue behind him, pulling out an impressive string of stars. “And I just thought this place could use a little holiday cheer, seeing as you spend so much time in here…”
Finch was at a loss for words. He looked at the string of stars. At the one in his hand. At the desktop where the amputated starfish arms were littering next to the scissors that had done the cutting. At John’s hands, calloused and scarred and more gentle than Finch could have ever hoped. And back at John’s face, which was now falling, like a dog waiting to be punished even though it has no idea why it’s owner is upset. And Finch would do anything to take that look out of John’s face. Anything at all.
“Quite right, mister Reese,” he said briskly, and watched as John’s eyes filled with a cautious hope. “Quite right. And since the Machine has no new number for us, what better time to do a little decoration.”
Now John was fighting a smile, and it created a wonderful warmth in Finch’s chest.
“And perhaps you can show me how you make those stars. It seems strange that a few strips of paper can become so… three-dimensional.”
And John stopped hiding his smile.