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The Man He Was Meant to Be

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Three.

 

'You don’t mean that, not really.'

John swallowed, forcing the memory of Jessie, her words, his own, back into the box and watched the Phoenix-bound bus disappear in traffic.

With any luck, Joey would learn his lesson, learn to hang on to what he had with Pia and never show his face in New York again. With any luck, the person behind Latimer’s death would leave well enough alone.

He shoved his hands in his pockets, pushed away from the building and went to get his stolen car.

***

He took his time driving back. The job was done, minus a few loose ends. Namely, what the hell had been in that evidence box and who the hell was Elias, M? A suitably cryptic name for a suitably cryptic job. But, it didn't matter right now and he was in no hurry to find out. He was beat and he should just go home and crash.

Thirty minutes later he found himself in front of the library, pulling up to the curb.

He parked, then rolled down the window and sighed at the cool stream of air that crept in. The days were changing, getting shorter and colder. Years ago, he would have changed with them, eagerly accepting assignments that took him overseas or down south. But those days, it seemed were gone and New York was it. At least for a while.

There were only few people out this late at night and those that were had their heads down, hurrying to wherever they were hurrying. What would they do if they knew what they were rushing by? Storm the castle? Hold Finch hostage or kill him outright for creating something so invasive?

He sighed again and reminded himself that Finch had the goon squad for protection, that he was smart and resourceful. That he wouldn't have managed to stay off the grid if he hadn't been and there was no point in worrying.

Except…

About a hundred yards away, a man huddled in a doorway of the building next to the library, hands in his pockets, face obscured by a baseball cap. He could be anyone—a kid waiting for a friend, a dealer waiting for his supplier. But the back of John’s neck prickled, a sure sign that something was off; he got out his cell and snapped a few photos.

Keeping one eye on the figure, he did a quick review—he hadn’t gotten much, just a few grainy images of a guy in a jacket and a baseball cap, something he already knew. He tucked the cell away and watched until the man stepped out of the shadows and turned north, walking slowly.

He should follow, tail the guy to wherever he went and find out who he was. But it had been a long day and it was probably nothing—he pulled away from the curb and headed east.

He dumped the car near Carter’s precinct. Just to be nice.

___________

Four.

 

He nodded to Frick as he strolled into the library’s service entrance. He nodded to Frack as he punched the key code and pushed the door open with his shoulder. Neither said anything to him, neither of them offered to help with the cups he was carrying. They didn’t like him but that was okay—he didn't like them much, either. Still, he shouldn’t enjoy it so much, winding them up.

He made his way across the library, stepping over the books, the drifting papers, his boot heels echoing sluggishly on the marble floor.

When he got upstairs, he slowed down, not quite sneaking, but making an effort to step lightly.

As expected, he found Finch face down in front of his computer, his head cradled in his arms.

He hesitated, then set the second cup down, far enough away that Finch wouldn’t knock it over if he woke, startled.

Finch didn’t move.

He cleared his throat.

Finch took a sharp breath and sat up quickly. He’d been lying on a book; the spine had left a long crease on his cheek and temple.

“Mr. Reese,” Finch grumbled. “You have got to stop doing this. You don’t see me breaking into your apartment, do you?” He took off his glasses, rubbed his nose, them put them on again.

John sipped his coffee. It was pretty good considering it came off a cart. “Not lately.”

Finch gave him a sour look. But he picked up the coffee and drank. “This isn’t very good.”

He smiled. “You have a job for me, Mr. Finch?”

Finch sat the coffee down and went to the evidence board. “I do. It’s a curious one, involving an elderly heiress, a Mrs. Reynolds.”

“Right up your rich alley,” he murmured, hiding a smile.

With a slight pause Finch continued, pointing to three murky surveillance photos, “I’ve been monitoring her activity. Up until last week, she kept to her schedule like clockwork—beauty salon on Monday, a friend’s house on Tuesday, Wednesday she stays in, Thursday she goes to the library, and Friday she goes to the theater or symphony.”

“And this week?”

Finch tapped one of the photos. “And this week nothing. She hasn’t been seen by anyone. She’s had food delivered from the Food Emporium, but that’s it.”

“And who’s this friend? Could she be the one behind Reynolds’ disappearance?”

Finch shook his head. Then narrowed his eyes and touched the back of his neck. “Hardly. She’s eight-seven and very frail.”

“So you want me to check out Reynolds' apartment?”

“Yes, and the delivery man.”

John took another sip. “I’ll let you know what I find.” He tossed the cup in the trash. “I can help you with that, you know.”

“Help me with what?”

“Your neck. I’m good with my hands.”

Finch twisted, a look of complete surprise on his face. “You can’t be serious.”

He nodded imperturbably. “I am.”

Finch turned back to the board. “No, thank you, Mr. Reese. I’m fine.”

John hesitated. There was something there, some evasive note hiding among Finch’s stilted words. But there was no use prying—Finch would only clam up tighter.

He left, saying over his shoulder, “Sure you are.”

***

It was sad. And probably very common—an asshole who thought holding an old lady hostage until she signed over all her wealth was the way to get ahead in life.

John broke in to the apartment and found a kid in the living room, sprawled on a pale blue sofa, eating Cheetos. When he very politely asked to speak to the owner, the kid rushed him, Cheetos flying. It was a little funny and no work at all, even though he ended up getting orange powder all over his new white shirt.

He gagged and hogtied the kid, a little tighter than necessary, and went to find Mrs. Reynolds.

He found her in the bedroom, strapped to the bed. The bed covers were on the floor and she was only wearing a thin nightgown. At first he thought she was asleep, then realized she was unconscious. He cut her free, yanked the covers over up and looked around for the phone.

It was on the far dresser, old-fashioned with a rotary dial. The kid must have dragged it across the room to keep it out of reach. Next to the phone was a badly printed will, probably from the internet, signing all of Mrs. Charles Reynolds’ worldly goods over to Henry Reynolds, Esq.

If he hadn’t been angry before, he was now. He dialed 911, then left the receiver on the dresser and returned to the living room.

The kid had managed to worm his way across the carpet and was about ten feet from the door. John stared down at him. The kid was maybe twenty-five, had soft hands and scared blue eyes. He looked up at John, mumbling something about ‘…sorry…’

John bent over. “Let me guess—your grandmother?”

The kid shook his head.

“Your great aunt?”

The kid nodded, trying to smile around the gag.

It was the smile that did it. John smiled in return, then lashed out, slugging the kid across the jaw. The kid moaned and passed out.

Good.

***

As the emergency crew ran through the lobby door, he held the door for them then tapped his Bluetooth. “Finch?”

“Did you find her, Mr. Reese?”

Finch’s voice was wobbly, as if he were running or walking very fast. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Did you find her?”

“Yes. Her nephew decided he should be in her will. He had her tied up in the bedroom. What are you doing?”

“Nothing. A coerced will would never stand up in court.”

“I doubt he thought that far. He didn’t seem all that bright.”

“And Mrs. Reynolds?”

“She’s alive. The paramedics are with her.” He could hear sirens in the background. “And if I’m not mistaken, here come the police.”

Finch took a sharp breath, as if gasping in pain, then said, “You better make yourself scarce.”

Before John could reply, Finch hung up and he stood there, wondering what Finch had lied about this time.

***

He spent the afternoon watching an old kung fu movie. At seven he left and went to the library. Frick and Frack were nowhere to be seen but that didn’t mean Finch wouldn’t be up there, standing in front of the board or computer, already working on a new number.

But no, when he crept into Finch’s lair, he found the desk much as always—covered with books and papers and notes, but no Finch.

He began to search, first through the papers and then through the Post-its that were stuck here and there throughout the room. He was thinking he was wrong, that his own paranoia was showing when he found it tucked under a keyboard, one corner sticking out. It was a business card from Tribeca Wellness Spine and Sports Injuries. On the back was a handwritten note: ‘Next massage, November 21 with Stephen. Remember, do your PT!’

He smiled, then tucked the card back under the keyboard and left.

***

When he got outside, he scanned the area. No one was around, no passersby, no mystery man.

He went home.

___________

Five. And Six.

 

He put job number five out of his mind as soon as possible—Dr. Tillman’s visible agony had been like a stone in his shoe, a constant reminder of his own past and he hadn't been able to help wondering which was worse? Heartache that never died or heartache that never had a chance to live?

Luckily—or unluckily depending on the point of view—job number six came on the heels of five and he dove into it with his complete attention.

It turned out to be the worst yet, but then, he was never very happy when bad guys pointed guns at kid’s heads. It made him cranky.

But, he got there in time, got to tie up the case nicely. And, as if to make up for the rest, the next morning his efforts on what he was mentally calling, ‘The Finch Problem,’ were paid off in a small, but completely unexpected way.

'Try the Eggs Benedict, Mr. Reese. I’ve had them many times.'

When the waitress came by to take his order, he murmured, “Eggs Benedict, please.”  And then gave her such a broad smile, she blushed and backed up, almost stumbling as she went to give the cook the order. He turned to the window, chin resting on fist, and watched the people pass by.

He really liked this job.

___________

Seven.

 

Seven was straightforward with no unpleasant surprises: a bad guy who was actually a bad guy. Sure, he had mean right hook and a Walther PPK, but that was nothing John couldn’t handle.

After it was finished, he crouched and suggested the man find another line of work. The man moaned an expletive, but John was pretty sure he’d been understood.

The only unusual aspect turned out to be a victim that was actually victims—a Muslim family being blackmailed, threatened with exposure because they weren’t devout. Because their families back home were.

He knocked on their door and told them they didn’t need to worry about the blackmailer anymore, then took off, their confused questions ringing in his ears.

***

He was back in his hot-wired car, driving west and thinking about dinner when his earwig buzzed.

“Mr. Reese?”

“Yes, Finch.”

“I just wanted you to know, the Mosque on 113th just got a call from Mr. Said. They’re meeting with him tomorrow.”

“That’s good to know.”

“It would have been simpler if he’d just gone to them in the beginning.”

“To ask for help, you mean?”

“Yes.”

He was coming up on Park. If he took a right, he’d be back at the apartment in thirty minutes. If he took a left, he’d be at the library in five. “Would you have?”

There was a long pause, then Finch admitted, “No.”

“He was just protecting his family the best he knew how.”

“I suppose.”

He took a left on Park. “And our friend?”

“You mean Mr. Estherhaus? He hasn’t shown up at any emergency room and he hasn’t answered any of his employer’s calls. My guess is he took your advice to heart and is on his way out of town.”

“Hey, Finch?” The library loomed ahead; he slowed down and craned his head, looking up. He didn’t see any lights, but didn’t expect to.

“Yes, Mr. Reese?”

“Are you hungry?”

“Hungry? No, why?”

“No reason. I’m hungry and I wanted to know if you’d join me for dinner.”

There was a slight pause, odd and heavily weighted. Then Finch said, “I’ve already eaten. Besides, I need you rested for tomorrow.”

“Another number?” Already?

“Yes, a Chloe Morgan. It seems she’s about to have a very bad day.”

“Which means you’re already investigating her, right?”

“Yes, but nothing’s come up. Go home and get some sleep. I’ll call when I have more details.”

***

He woke up at five, got dressed and headed towards the library. It was cold, almost chilly—winter was definitely on the way. And winter generally meant less crime because people stayed indoors, so if that were true, did that mean the machine stopped spitting out numbers?

He stopped by the coffee cart, ordered two black no sugars, and wondered if he were happy or sad at the idea of a long break.

When he got to the library, he nodded at Frick, smirked at Frack, and took the stairs two at a time.

And yeah, he’d been right again—Finch had fallen asleep at one of the desks. There was a sheaf of papers at his elbow and his fingers were curled around a carton of fried rice, as if he’d dropped off as he was eating.

He stood there for a long moment, coffee in both hands, just watching. Long splinters of pale morning light were slanting across the table, curving over Finch’s head and back. From this angle, his neck looked incredibly vulnerable, incredibly exposed. It would be so easy to take him—a sharp chop or even a quick push and his neck would snap in two.

He tightened his lips and sat Finch's coffee on the table.

But like before, Finch didn’t stir. Even when John moved closer, even when he sat his cup down and bent over to see that Finch was frowning, eyes screwed up as if he were having a nightmare. Or as if he were in pain.

Finch never talked about it. John had done some subtle digging, but Finch was thorough—there was no evidence, digital or otherwise, that told what had happened. The only thing he did know was that Finch’s injury was another wall between them.

And he was really tired of walls.

He hesitated, then touched the back of Finch’s neck.

“Hmm?” Finch mumbled.

“Wait,” John murmured. Finch jerked, and he said it again, leaning over, “Wait…”

“Mr. Reese—”

“Mr. Finch,” he whispered as he bent closer. “Just give me a minute. I promise, it won’t hurt.” He used both hands, palms flat, fingers curving.

It was nothing, really. Just the weight and heat of his hands, warming stiff ligaments, relieving tight tendons. Finch’s skin was soft, smooth, and he reminded himself this was just business—no rubbing, no seducing. Just a safe, mild pressure.

And it was a minute, maybe not even that, when Finch drew a slow breath, when the muscles in his neck and back loosened.

He let go, just as slowly. Then he straightened and took a step back.

Finch straightened as well but he didn’t turn. His neck was flushed from John’s hands and—John leaned slightly to see—his cheeks as well.

“There,” he said placidly as he reached for his coffee, giving Finch time to recoup. “That didn’t hurt. Right?”

But Finch just reached for the fried rice. “I don’t like being touched, Mr. Reese.” He threw the box away and got up.

“That wasn’t an answer.”

Finch froze, then said, still turned away, “No. It didn’t hurt.”

Victory.

___________

Eight.

 

“Miss Morgan.”

She turned.

He smiled, barely, and pushed the door closed. “Stay out of trouble.”

She shook her head and grinned. “Not gonna happen.” She backed into the street, adding, “But you got my number.”

He watched her walk away, smile changing to a frown. Chances were, she’d land in a bad situation sooner rather than later—her line of work generally made for a lucrative, but short, career.

He tapped the phone; Finch answered immediately.

“Did you drop her off?”

“She’s safe.”

“Then please return the car.”

He raised an eyebrow. Finch had been more caustic than usual and even though he knew the reason why, it didn't mean he liked it. “What’s wrong? Afraid I’ll run off to Atlantic City with it?”

“Hardly.”

He shrugged away his irritation and said mildly, “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

***

When he dropped the car off, Frick and Frack were gone. So was Finch.

He stood in the empty library, fingertips grazing the desk. Finch had been working on something new—a photograph of a woman and a man stared at him from the evidence board.

He sighed, then sat Finch’s coffee on the desk and placed the car keys on the lid.

It was still early. He’d eat breakfast, then go get some sleep.

___________

Nine.

 

Job number nine turned out not to be a job at all and he never really counted it as such. Just some guy named Williams who'd been threatening his ex-wife with his own suicide, just so she’d sign the loan papers for his new business.

Of course, John hadn’t known that and he and Finch spent two days trying to save Williams, only to find him holed up at the Plaza with his new girlfriend.

Finch did something clever with his computer and they watched from the comfort of the library as the wife marched across the Plaza lobby, her lawyer in tow. It was sweet.

John left at ten, happy that another crook was out of the picture, not happy when a figure jumped out from the shadows of the library's scaffold and took off, not quite running but not strolling, either.

He hesitated. What with one thing and another, he’d forgotten all about the man, forgotten his suspicions. But he couldn’t take a chance, so he started off, hurrying to catch up.

He followed the man up four blocks, across another two, then through one alley. He took care not to be noticed but when they reached the 8th Street station, the man glanced around and saw him. He ran for the stairs; John followed. He lost the man on the subway and stood there, hands on hips, not quite panting, as the train disappeared into the tunnel.

Finally, because there really wasn’t anything else he could do, he went home.

___________

Nine. Again.

 

He hit the brick wall with a grunt, twisting at the last minute to land on his shoulder, using his own momentum to spring back. To lash out at the guy on the right, an opened handed slap that jerked the guy’s head sideways, then, in the same movement, taking the guy on the left out with a kick to the knee.

They both went down. The one on the right was dead, his head bent at an impossible angle; the one on the left was on the floor, moaning around the pain of a shattered femur.

“There,” John wheezed, cradling his arm to his chest. “That's what you get for not listening to a little advice.” Blood was creeping down his arm, soaking his sleeve and trousers.

“Mr. Reese?” Finch said, his voice a little higher than normal.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s done.”

***

He made it down from the catwalk okay but as he was stumbling through the abandoned warehouse, trying to avoid all the debris, his peripheral vision darkened. Damnit—he hadn't realized the cut was that deep. There was a first-aid kit in his borrowed car—the car that was clear on the other side of the pier.

He squinted when he got outside. He’d lost his sunglasses in the fight and if he weren’t so dizzy, he’d go back for them. They were new and he liked them.

But, in the end, none of that mattered—when he got to the corner of the warehouse, a sleek black limo was waiting with Frick standing by, hands clasped.

“To what do I own this honor?” John said in what he hoped was his best, 'Screw you, Frick' voice.

Frick made a face, then opened the back door and ordered, “Get in.”

He smiled and climbed in. Then, as Frick pulled away, he let everything go, fell onto the smooth leather and passed out.

***

“Mr. Reese?”

He looked up. Finch was bending in through the open limo door, staring upside down at him. For some reason, he found that ridiculously funny and he grinned. Upside down. “Yes?”

“You’re bleeding all over my car. Please get out.”

He obeyed, or tried to—when he sat up, he swayed, his vision going black again.

Finch caught him, mid-sway. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. Maybe—”

John grabbed his hand. “No hospitals.”  It was his one rule. Well, one of his one rules.

“What about Dr. Tillman? I’m sure she’d—”

He shook his head. “No.”

Finch hesitated, then gently pulled away. “All right, no hospitals, no doctors.” He looked over his shoulder. “Jim? Please help Mr. Reese inside.”

***

If he hadn’t been on the edge of passing out, he would have enjoyed it more, making Frick and Frack half carry him to the elevator. But he wasn’t feeling so good and by the time they got to first floor, he was glad of their help.

Finch led the way to a side of the library that John had ignored, a small room, almost an alcove, with a big leather sofa, a chair and a lamp. “Just put him down there,” Finch said as he pointed to the sofa. “And bring the first-aid kit.”

They lowered him gently, then left. He rolled to his back and squinted up at the ceiling. The paint in the other rooms was chipping, flaking off in big pieces. This room, however, had been painted recently—the ceiling and walls were a soothing dark green. Finch probably slept here when he remembered to sleep.

John smiled, picturing it.

“What are you smiling at?”

He turned his head. Finch was poised over him, bent at the waist as if preparing to jump him or dive into him. That was also funny and he grinned. “Just wondering where you spend most of your time—here or at your house.”

Finch pursed his lips and took off his jacket, draping it over the chair. “You don’t know where I live, so your curiosity is pointless.” He began to unbutton his vest.

“I know about the place on 24th.”

Finch paused, then said smoothly, “That was a decoy. Meant to fool Detective Carter.”

“Yes, but I did a little digging. Your company owns the house.”

Finch took off his vest and laid it over the jacket. “One of my companies.”

“That’s right,” John said, losing interest in the conversation. “One of your companies.” He covered his eyes with his hand. He was getting dizzy again.

“Mr. Reese?”

He opened his eyes. Apparently, he’d passed out again—Finch had pulled the chair closer and was sitting next to him, first-aid kit on his knees.

“I’ve never done this, Mr. Reese.” Finch held up the box as if it were a bomb. “You’ll need to show me how.”

John held out his hand. “I can do it.”

“Sew up your right shoulder with your right hand?” Finch said sharply. “I don’t think so. Just…” He looked away for a moment. “Show me what to do.”

John nodded. “All right.” He pushed upright and fumbled for his shirt buttons. “First we have to get this off.”  Easier said than done—he couldn’t seem to make his fingers work.

Finch leaned over, pushing his hands away. “Stop that. I can do it.”

Finch began to unbutton John's shirt with cold fingers. John touched them. “You sure about this?” This close, he could see the fine lines that bracketed Finch’s mouth, the way his pale blue eyes were rimmed with a dark grey.

“I’m sure. Now, shut up.”

John smiled and relaxed, tipping his head back on the sofa. “Shutting up now.”

It took some work—the blood had already dried and it was just easier, cutting the shirt off. John watched Finch bundle up the rags and set them on the floor. “It’s too bad,” he murmured.

“What’s too bad, Mr. Reese?” Finch answered absently, glancing at his hands with an almost comical look of distaste.

“I really liked that shirt.”

And there it was, that odd, almost impish look that John had inexplicably grown fond of. “I’ll buy you a new one. Now…” Finch held up his hands. “What next?”

John craned his head to look at the wound. It didn’t look so bad—a three-inch gash along the curve of his bicep. “Put gloves on, clean the wound, sew me up.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Finch muttered. But he picked the gloves up and pulled them on. “What about anesthesia? I don’t have any.”

“I took the liberty of…” he shrugged, not a brilliant move and he swallowed his gasp as he finished with, “augmenting your supplies.”

Finch opened the box.

“See?” John pointed. “On the right hand side? Just one of those syringes will make me feel good.”

That also took some work.

Because Finch's hands shook as he unwrapped a syringe, as he lined up the needle along one side of the wound.

“Finch,” John murmured, “just think of it as fixing your computer.”

"You're not a piece of hardware, Mr. Reese."

"Sure, I am. Besides, I've been through this so many times—you can't hurt me."

Finch made a face, but when he depressed the plunger, his hands were steady.

After that, it was a bit of a blur.

He could hear himself give instructions ‘…just in and out…’ and ‘pull the edges a little…’ but it was as if the words were coming through him, not from him.

“Mr. Reese?”

Finch’s voice cut through the fog. He opened his eyes. He was still on sofa, only now Finch was sitting next to him, frowning. His shirt was unbuttoned at the throat and there was a large bloody handprint on his sleeve.

“I’m fine, Finch.”

“I want you to sleep here tonight.”

He nodded but Finch didn’t move.

“Mr. Reese…”

“What is it?”

“Contrary to what I said a last month, I didn’t hire you to see you get killed. I—”

Finch shook his head, as if trying to dislodge something in his throat and John patted his hand. “It’s all right. There are plenty of men like me out there. If I’m gone, just find one of them.” He smiled to let Finch know he was serious.

Finch hesitated, then murmured, “Of course there are. Now, come on, lay back…”

Finch guided him down, then hurried away and came back just as quickly with a blanket. He spread it over, tucking it like John was a kid. He wanted to say something along the lines of, ‘Thanks,’ and ‘I’m sorry about your shirt,’ but before he could, he was out.

***

Next morning, when he woke, Finch was gone. But on the chair was a tube of antibiotic, a cup of coffee, and a bag from the bagel joint around the corner. Under all that was a new black shirt, still in its cellophane package.

He sat up and examined the wound. Finch had done a surprisingly good job. The stitches were neat, even, and—he raised his arm—relatively pain-free.

When he reached for the coffee, he was smiling.

___________

Ten.

 

Ten was…

Ten.

___________

 

He strolled down the path, stepping aside for the woman pushing a stroller. The baby stared up at him, then grinned and waved both arms, the way babies do.

John waved back.

It was a nice day, especially for November. Still, if he had any sense, he’d close his bank account, take the cash and hop on a plane heading south.

If he had any sense.

He frowned, the thought triggering another and he dug out his cell and looked at it. Finch had left another message, the fourth that day.

He tapped the phone with his thumb, then stuffed it back in his pocket, unanswered.

***

He managed to go three days. Three day without Finch’s soft voice in his ear, three days without waking up wondering what the day would bring.

He avoided the growing guilt by keeping busy—he cleaned his guns and knives, he bought two new suits and dropped off three others at the dry cleaners. He even watched a couple movies and he did it all, mind blank, steadfastly refusing to think of Finch, Carter, or the devil he’d unleashed.

Which was all a lie, of course and on the evening of the second day as he was lying on the couch, trying to watch a reality show, the remorse became too much.

He picked up his phone and turned it on. Seven messages, now.

And apparently, seven was the straw that broke this particular camel’s back because he found himself pressing cycling through the calls until he got to number seven.

“Mr. Reese, this is my seventh call, and, I promise, my last.” There was a pause. “Forget what I said in the other messages; you always have the freedom to move on, if you wish. But I’d like you to consider the people you’ve helped in the last two months. Theresa and her aunt. Judge Gates and his son, Sam. Hell,” Finch laughed, barely, “even Detective Fusco. You’re helping him be a better man. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?” There was a pause, long enough that John thought Finch had hung up and then he continued, sounding unbearably tired, “So, never mind that I need you, that you can do what I can’t—please think of all the people that are waiting for you to save them, only they just don’t know it yet. If you change your mind, you know where I’ll be. If not, thank you and good luck.”

The dial tone buzzed softly and John absently turned the cell off. He settled back, one arm under his head, the cell gripped tight in his fist.

He didn’t have to think about what he was going to do. He’d made his mind up the minute he’d heard Finch’s voice.

___________

Eleven.

 

He watched the couple get into the patrol car, clutching each other’s hand. There was a crowd standing around, witness to the final act as number eleven played out.

“Poor Alex,” The woman next to him murmured. “He just finished painting the living room. He had us all over for drinks on Thursday. To celebrate the last project of their new house. It was a surprise for Ricardo.”

John turned. The woman was tall and had pretty blond hair that blew across her face. Her cheeks were smudged with black and he remembered that she’d been one of the first to run into the burning brownstone. “Do you know them well?”

She crossed her arms over her breasts and nodded, still watching the scene. “Ricardo was so proud of that house—he even brought some of his mom’s things from Costa Rica. I guess those are gone, too.”

He touched her arm, drawing her attention. “They’re just objects. The important thing is that Alex and Ricardo are alive.”

She nodded, fiercely. “And that the bastards that did it were caught. Did you see them? Did you see what they did?”

“I saw them being handcuffed.” Which was true, sort of—he’d been the one doing the handcuffing, but she didn’t need to know that.

She turned to him. “Do you think they’ll go to jail? I mean, they didn’t kill anyone.”

He shook his head. “It’s a hate crime and that gets serious jail time these days.”

She frowned and repeated sourly, “These days.”

He nodded because, yeah, ‘These days.’

***

Finch didn’t look up from his computer when John walked in. “How did it go?”

“You were right. Carmichael was the ringleader.” He set the camera equipment on the table. He was tired and the knife wound, now almost two weeks old, was aching.

“And his gang?”

“Probably in a holding cell by now.”

Finch actually smiled. “Good.”

John sat on the desk and folded his hands. “What are you working on now? A new number?”

Finch leaned back. “Actually, no. I’m performing some hardware tests. I’m going to install a few upgrades in a week or two.”

“And?”

Finch looked up at him, sideways. “And, the system will be more powerful and it might give us more accurate results?” He turned back to the monitor. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

There’d been a lot of that lately, the turning away thing. Finch had become even more enigmatic, only looking at him as long as necessary. He wanted to ascribe it to their recent falling out, but it was more than that. “Finch?”

“Hm?”

“Are you hungry?”

The same words as before and it was a complete surprise when Finch looked up and said, “Yes.”

***

They ate at a little Italian place, a ten-minute drive uptown. It had no sign in the window or door but when they entered, the maitre d' greeted Finch enthusiastically and guided them to a booth in the back. The inside was as subdued as the outside; lit only by candles on the tables and wall sconces, the place reeked of good taste. And, judging by the clientele, popular with couples.

Finch had the chicken, John had the steak. They didn’t say much, just ate and drank the very good wine that Finch picked out. When they were done and the dessert cart was waved away, John relaxed, one arm along the back of the booth.

Finch wiped his mouth. “How was your steak?”

“Good.”

“And the wine?”

He smiled and touched the stem of his glass. “Better.”

Finch nodded. “So…” He trailed off.

“How is Mr. Lehman doing?” Finch was avoiding his eyes again, concentrating on the table, on his coffee cup.

“Fine, I suppose. Ricardo called his parents. They want him to move home. To Costa Rica.”

John picked up his glass and took a sip. “That would probably be smart.”

Finch looked up. “And be run out of their own neighborhood?”

He shrugged. “All I said it would be smart. I didn’t say I’d do it.”

“What would you do?”

“Pretty much the same as I did yesterday. A few threats and when that didn’t work, a little action.” He took another sip. “What about you?”

“You mean if I were in their situation?”

He nodded.

Finch clasped his hands together, resting them on the table. “I’d contact Carmichael’s employer and get him fired. Then I’d drain his bank account and what’s left of his 401k and the savings account he has in his wife’s name.”

“In other words, you’d ruin him.”

It wasn’t a question, but Finch nodded anyway. “Yes. I’d ruin him.”

John shrugged. “My way’s neater. And more final.”

“I suppose. But,” Finch added, his voice lowering, “it doesn’t matter. I’m not in their situation.” He clasped his fingers tighter, almost wringing them.

And here it was, that something that John had noticed a while ago, some dense secret that was behind and between their every conversation. He leaned forward, making his movements as non-confrontational as possible. “But you once were? In their situation?” Because he’d just remembered, ‘Let’s just say you’re not the only one that’s lost someone.’

Finch stilled. Then took a sharp breath and jerked a nod. “Yes, a long time ago, I was in their situation.”

He wanted to reach out, to place his hand over Finch’s. But that would be a mistake, so he just said simply, “I’m sorry.”

And like magic, that did it—Finch ceased his agitated movements and glanced up. “I’m sorry, too.”

He cocked his head. “For what?”

“For Elias.” Finch shrugged stiffly. “For not seeing the bigger picture. I let my affinity for—” He trailed off again with a gesture that was both frustrated and helpless.

John gazed at Finch for a long moment. “Thank you.”

Finch opened his mouth, then, visibly changing the subject, nodded towards John's shoulder. “How is your arm? Does it still hurt?”

He shook his head. “You did a good job. Do you want to see?”

He made as if to unbutton his shirt but Finch shot forward, hissing, “Not here, Mr. Reese.”

They stared at each other, his smile slipping away under the weight of the moment that was completely different from the other. It was as if they were feral dogs, circling each other, trying to find each other’s weakness. Or maybe just a way in.

The moment was finally broken by a clash of dishes from the other side of the room and they sat back at the same time.

And when Finch noticed him noticing, he smiled.

***

They left soon after. Finch dropped him off, a safe two blocks from his hotel. Which was good, John told himself, it was fine. Because even though the evening had been pleasant, he was in a mood, restless and jumpy and long experience told him that it would take a really good fight, or a lot of good sex, to bring him down from this particular ledge.

He thought about going out and paying for it, but that was too much work. A fight would be easier, but no, that was also too much work.

So he stayed up late into the night, unable to sleep, the evening’s conversation replaying over and over again.

___________

Twelve.

 

“Here they come,” Finch murmured, standing close enough that John could feel the warmth of his breath, his body. “Do you think—”

“No, just wait. They know their job. They’ll find her.”

“It’s so cold. Maybe—”

John shook his head and reached behind to stop Finch from stepping from their hiding place. To go to the little girl who was standing on the steps of an abandoned church, huddled in his coat. “See? Here they come.”

Fusco pulled up to the curb, sliding on the ice. Carter was out before him, gun drawn. She looked around, then holstered her weapon and hurried up the steps. She picked the girl up and called out to Fusco, “Call it in!”

And that’s all they said as they hurried back to the car, Fusco in front, Carter and the girl in back.

“See?” John repeated, this time with a sigh.

“Yes. You were right.”

He smiled wryly without turning around because in the beginning he’d been wrong and little Elise Thompson almost paid for his mistake. “She looked tired.”

“Who? Elise?”

“No, Carter.”

“Well, wouldn’t you be? She’s been following our breadcrumbs for thirty-eight hours.”

“Hmm.”

“Come on.” Finch touched his elbow. “Let’s get in the car. You must be freezing.”

___________

Thirteen.

 

Thirteen. The unluckiest number of all. That turned out to be the polar opposite. Not because of the case or the victims, but because of what happened after.

***

“Mr. Reese? Are you there?”

“I’m here. I’m just—” He pressed the duct tape over the cop’s mouth, nodding sympathetically when she growled at him. “I’m just tidying up.”

“We’re under the bridge. Waiting for you.”

“That’s thoughtful. Thank you.” He checked the officer’s cuffs, then the dealer’s. They both glared at him. As if it were his fault they were caught doing bad stuff. “Now,” he murmured to the officer. “Some of your friends are going to stop by. Why don’t you try being pleasant to them. A little friendliness goes a long way. Especially when it comes to crooked cops.”

She struggled, but her bonds were too tight.

He picked up the bag of weapons. “I’ll just take these. Wouldn’t want them to fall into the wrong hands. You can keep the drugs, although I doubt they’ll do you much good.”

She stopped struggling, her glare changing to alarm.

When he got outside, a police car was speeding under the viaduct, siren blaring. He hid in the shadows of the uprights and as soon as the officers ran into the building, he went in the opposite direction.

***

He slid in beside Finch just as Frack took off.

“You cut it close,” Finch said, no reprimand in his voice. He peered down at the bag at their feet. “What have you got there?”

“Some very nasty semi-automatics.”

Finch nudged the bag with his shoe. “You do like your guns, don’t you?” But his voice was edged with sly humor and he was smiling as he turned to look out the window.

Frack glanced in the rearview. John caught his eye and winked. Frack grunted and turned his eyes back to the road.

***

When they got to his part of town, he waited for Frack to slow down, but he kept going.

“The machine gave me a new number,” Finch said, still looking out the window. “Would you like to get a head start on it? We can order in.”

John crossed his legs. “Sure.”

***

‘Ordering in,’ John learned, was Finch telling Frack to go out and get what they wanted while they settled in at the desks.

And that’s what they did as they waited for dinner—reviewed the data on the name the machine had given them, someone named Rita Collins.

“She hasn’t touched her bank account in five weeks,” Finch murmured, head bent over the report. “Odd.”

John taped a copy of the woman’s driver’s license on the board and said over his shoulder, “She doesn’t have direct deposit. She could be living off cash. A lot of people are doing that these days.” She was middle age, sort of frumpy in a good way. She looked like someone’s favorite aunt or sister.

“Yes, but she’d have to cash her checks someplace. I haven’t found any record of that.”

He went to one of the filing cabinets and leaned on it. “So, her company is paying her under the table?”

Finch turned to look at him, his head held at an awkward angle. “Which implies something illegal.”

“Yes, it does.”

Finch took a breath to answer when the alarm buzzed. He sighed. “Here comes dinner. Do you want to continue?”

No. He wanted to eat and talk with Finch and not think about work. “What did the machine say?”

“That whatever is going to happen, is going to happen in the next few days.”

Which meant not an emergency, but… He sighed and reached for his overcoat. “I better get over to her place and make sure she’s okay.”

“Do you want to eat first?”

“No. She’s twenty minutes away. I’ll be back in forty.”

“Take my car.”

“Thanks.” He nodded to Frick as they passed each other in the hall, inexplicably cross.

***

Rita Collins was fine. So were her daughter and son. They were in the living room of what looked like a huge apartment, watching TV. “Finch?”

“Where are you? You said twenty minutes.”

He smiled at the anxiety in Finch’s voice. “I didn’t account for the snow or ConEd.”

“Where are you?” Finch repeated.

“On the roof of the opposite building.”

“Is she all right?”

“She’s fine. Her place is like Fort Knox; security at the main doors, keypads on both apartment doors. I think the only thing she’s in danger of is spoiling her kids. It’s almost nine—they should be in bed.”

“Then come home, Mr. Reese.”

“Will do.”

It wasn’t until he back on the street, heading south that he realized what Finch said and he repeated it softly, “Home,” unsure if the word and its inherent wealth of meaning made him happy or uneasy.

***

When he got upstairs, he found Finch still at the desk, jacket off, dinner untouched. He picked up one of the containers and opened it. It was a hamburger. And it was still warm. “I thought you ordered Chinese?”

“I did. But Chinese doesn’t keep well so I asked Jim to pick up a hamburger for you.”

He didn’t know what to say—he wasn’t used to that kind of concern and he stood there, at a loss. Finally, Finch patted the chair next to him, eyes on his computer screen, “Sit, Mr. Reese. And eat.”

***

They finished at midnight, going over the last of Collins’ records, formulating a plan.

“So, barring any unforeseen circumstances—”

“Like her ex flying in from Tampa and breaking the restraining order?”

Finch didn't bat an eye at the interruption, “Tomorrow, I’ll hack into their system and try to find the manifests and you go to Dobbs Ferry and see what’s up there that’s so interesting to her employers.”

John nodded. And then laid his hands on the desk, palm down. He should get up and leave. It had been a long day and he was tired.

He should get up and leave, but he didn’t.

Because somewhere between finishing dinner and starting in on the records, that odd feeling returned, that sense that he and Finch were in the middle of some charade. It was there when Finch pushed a copy of Collins’ retirement account his way and their fingers touched. When he got up to tape the sheet to the board, not accidentally brushing Finch’s shoulder as he passed by.

He knew this, knew what he wanted to do and if it were any other person, an asset or a mark, he’d have long since made a move. But this was Finch, his billionaire employer who didn’t like to be touched, who kept him at—

“Mr. Reese?” Finch asked, mostly to the papers before him.

“Yes?”

“I was thinking… We’ve been sitting here so long and my neck is very stiff…”

Finch didn’t look up, but it wasn’t necessary because John knew this, too. 

A ploy, but strangely naive, entirely welcome. He got up, his pulse beating in his throat slow and thick, and circled the table. Kind of like he was stalking a bad guy, all his senses focused on the objective and God help Finch if he was playing some game—

He stepped close but didn’t touch. “Finch?”

“It’s okay, John. It’s—” Finch swallowed the words and tipped his head carefully to the side. “It’s okay.”

John hummed under his breath and leaned over, sliding his palms around the back of Finch’s neck. Like before only not, because he let himself stroke this time, rubbing his thumbs down Finch's spine and back up to the base of his skull, feeling more than seeing him take a shallow, stuttered breath, then another.

He leaned over and spoke into Finch’s ear, “Tell me you want this.”

“I do.”

“Tell me you want me.”

Finch’s hands clenched into fists. “I do. I just can’t— Not here, but—”

“Yes,” he said, straightening up, tugging the chair back, giving Finch room to stand, gesturing mutely when Finch shot him a strained glance.

He kept his hands to himself as he followed where Finch led, past the big tables, around the square-shaped floor, to the alcove.

When they got to the room, Finch stopped suddenly, hand on the doorjamb. “Mr. Reese?”

‘You just called me John,’ “Yes?”

“You realize I can’t do— Because of the—” He gestured to his body, a sharp wave that was somehow angry and ashamed and John crossed the distance, his boot scraping the back of Finch’s shoe.

“I know. It doesn’t matter.” He slid his arms carefully around Finch’s chest and said into the back of his neck, “We’ll figure it out.”

***

They did. An awkward push and pull that was humorous yet sexy. Because Finch was sort of a tyrant in bed even though their bed was really a sofa. Insisting first on darkness when John wanted light. Giving impatient orders to, Take that off now,’ and ‘Wait, let me do that.’ It was funny.

Until they were mostly naked. Until Finch was on his back and John was crouching between his legs, trying to find his balance on the smooth leather. Then it got very quiet and not funny at all.

Finch wasn’t completely out of shape—his muscles were soft from disuse, his skin pale from too much time indoors and John wondered for the first time how it would be, unable to rely on anything but the mind because the body was so damaged.

But not completely because Finch ran strong hands up his chest and whispered, “Come down here.”

“Can you take my weight?”

“I don’t know,” Finch replied with a shrug. “Let’s find out.”

They did that, too. They found out.

John lowering gently, his arms on either side of Finch's chest, readying himself to push up if it got too much. But Finch sighed and moaned and he let go with his full weight.

“This is the first time for you, isn’t it?” he murmured absently. “I mean, since the—” He didn’t know what to call it. An accident? Attempted murder?

Finch shook his head. “Yes. But I don’t want to talk about that now.”

He brushed his lips against Finch’s collarbone, smiling. “No talking. Got it.”

Finch snorted, softly, and shifted. Probably just to get more comfortable, but he hit a sweet spot and John groaned and thrust without meaning to.

“Do you like that?” Finch whispered, an inquisitive gleam in his eye. “Here—” He reached, slipping his hand between their bodies, down John’s chest and belly, fingertips skating over his briefs, lightly at first, then again, harder. “What about that?”

He closed his eyes and nodded, heart in his throat, reminding himself to take it easy, that he needed to go slow but if Finch didn’t stop touching him there he couldn't be res—

Finch stopped touching him there.

He opened his eyes. Finch was staring up at him, face flushed, eyes bright with anger. “What is it? What’s wrong.” He leaned down to kiss Finch’s throat, but Finch shoved him back, forcing him up on his hands and knees.

“What the—”

“Is this some sort of ruse?” Finch snapped. “Some way to get those answers you so very much want? I told you, I’m a very—” He shoved again, trying to slide free.

“I know.” He grabbed Finch and held him down, forgetting all gentleness, only working at calming his own swift anger. “I know—’you’re a very private person.’ But if you think this is some plan to get you to—”

He stopped. Then took a deep, deep breath, forcing his hands and voice to relax. “Harold. I get that you’ve been on your own for a while. I get that you've got your reasons for being so reclusive, but I would never—”

He tensed, picturing the next fifteen seconds: jumping to his feet, pulling on his pants and shirt, stuffing his feet into his shoes and taking off, leaving the rest behind. He’d done it so many times before—one more time wouldn’t kill him.

“John,” Finch murmured. He laid a careful palm on John’s chest. “I’m sorry. Truly. It’s as you said—a really long time for me, and I don’t—”

He shrugged, as if that said it all and John supposed it did.

Trust.

It always came back to trust and Finch wasn’t alone in that.

Because who was the one that hadn’t trusted Jessica? Hadn’t trusted her with his heart and soul and when push came to shove…

‘You don’t mean that, not really.’

“Okay,” he said, settling back down with an exasperated sigh. “I’ll let you off the hook. For now.” A warning and promise that they weren’t done with the topic of lies and mistrust. He took Finch’s arm and leaned over to kiss the inside of his wrist, then elbow. “Where were we?”

Finch smiled and slipped warm fingers under his briefs. “Here. We were here.”

***

Trust issues or no, disability or no, when Finch got going, he really went.

With strong hands and a surprisingly creative mouth, driving John crazy, making him forget all about machines and failures, past and present.

***

“Mr. Reese?”

He made some questioning noise, trying to connect his brain to his body.

“Mr. Reese?”

Back to that already? He nuzzled whatever part of Finch was under him, not finding much of a reason to move.

“You’re lying on my bad leg.”

That was reason enough. He pushed up, only then realizing that the light was on. And that a blanket was draped over them. He shrugged it off and sat up, Finch's leg over his thighs. He ran his hands over his face and hair. “What time is it?”

“Almost four.”

“I should go.”

“Yes.”

He looked down. Finch was lying under the blanket as if wearing a three-piece suit—enclosed again, withdrawn, like the last three hours hadn’t happened. But his hair was sticking up and there was a bit mark on the base of his neck.

John wanted to reach out and soothe the mark away but he just stood and—Finch watching intently—began to dress, first his pants, then shirt and socks.

He was sitting on the chair, pulling on his boots when Finch said evenly, “You know this changes nothing, right?”

He smiled and got up. Then draped his jacket over his arm and headed for the door, murmuring just as evenly, “Oh, no, Harold. This changes everything.”

***

Frick and Frack were at their posts. They stared up at him as he sauntered down the stairs and he wondered if they knew what he and Finch had been doing.

Probably. But he couldn't bring himself to care and as he passed by, he winked at them both.

It was cold outside, still snowing; soft lazy flakes that swirled about him as he pulled his collar up and turned north. He was wondering if he should walk or find a cab when a figure up ahead darted from the doorway and took off.

This time he didn’t pause, didn’t think. He leaped forward and raced after, his boots slipping on the slick sidewalk.

The man almost got away but John was not only angry, he was motivated. He caught up with the man near a closed bodega, grabbing him by the shoulders and slamming him against a brick wall. The man elbowed him in the gut and almost broke free, but John popped him behind the knee. The man staggered and John had him, hauling him into the alley only to shove him up against another brick wall.

The man was mostly a kid—maybe late twenties with a thin face and equally thin lips. He smelled like he’d been living on the streets all his life, which was a good thing, in a way. “Who are you?”

The kid shook his head.

John released him, then slammed him back, harder this time. “Who are you?”

“None of your business, asshole,” the kid growled.

“What were you doing at the library?”

“Nothing!”

John grabbed his throat and squeezed. “Try again.”

“All right,” the kid gurgled, struggling weakly, hands scrabbling at John’s arms. “Let me—”

John eased up.

The kid rubbed his throat. “I was waiting for someone. A friend.”

“Does this friend have a name?”

The kid shrugged and looked away.

“Okay.” John moved back, enough to give the kid a few inches, enough that they could look each other in the eye. “I’m going to let you go. But I need you to know something.” He loved this part. “The library and everything within a four block radius is mine. If I catch you hanging around there again, even if it’s just to wait for ‘a friend,’ I’ll kill you." He cocked his head. "Do you understand?”

The kid’s eyes narrowed in an attempt to be a tough guy, but he couldn’t hide his fear, the way his breath caught in his throat. Finally, he nodded reluctantly.

John released him and jerked his head. The kid took off, disappearing in the snowfall.

He took a deep, happy breath. The run had felt good, had been just what he needed to top off the night, and solving his little problem by doing what he was so good at? Icing on the cake.

So, forget the cab and who cared if it was cold? Morning was just around the corner, which meant a new assignment, a little excitement and a whole lot of Finch.

He smiled, shoved his hands in his pockets and turned east.

 

 

fin.