His voice had always commanded attention, even as it whined and grated in Reese's ear in their early days together. At first he didn't like the sound much; it made his skin itch. But he was accustomed to obeying orders, even when they came out of a civilian do-gooder who might have borrowed mouthparts from Mr. Brooke of tenth grade history class, and he'd signed up to be useful. So he did his job, with the voice scratching and jabbing at him through the cell phone and then through a series of earpieces, and it could have been improved engineering that did the trick, but he kind of came to like hearing it. To look forward to it being there.
He ceased to be annoyed at Finch cawing "Mr. Reese!" while he was in the middle of a fight; he enjoyed the desiccated tones going even dryer while delivering character assessments of new numbers. He began to lengthen conversations beyond necessity, to solicit detailed instruction, to wish Finch would go off on a tangent about baseball or firewalls or the relative merits of rugelach and danish. An appreciation for nuance developed: he could distinguish modulations, changes in pitch, flattening and slope, and he wanted to know what was behind them, what Finch was reacting to in what might pass for normal dialogue if such a thing existed in their lives. He could tell Crane from Crow from Partridge from Wren, even when Finch was sitting in the Library not playing a part. He would become convinced that Finch had grown up in the Midwest, only to falter in certainty at a touch of Georgia or northern California, and he spent one entire day suspecting a suppressed Oxbridge drawl.
Once, camped out in a Starbucks doing surveillance on a number, he overheard an excited young woman at the next table discussing some television actor with her friend. "I could listen to him read the phone book!" she gushed, and he thought yes. Yes, and the heat rose in his face and he blamed it on the coffee. And then came the cold clear morning that he stood leaning on a parapet, telephoto lens awaiting the number's arrival, Finch droning on in his ear about audit readiness and cost accounting, and suddenly the voice slid down an octave on "free from material misstatements" and he felt the burn in his belly and the twitch of his cock and the advent of doom.
It wasn't that he particularly wanted to jump Finch; there was nothing about the man's physical being that turned him on. He had feelings about him, sure, ranging from detached admiration to unspeakable gratitude, but they seldom ventured into bedroom speculation. Of course, if Finch were to stand in front of him in his bespoke suit and fussy perfection of pocket square and shoes, and tell him to strip and kneel down and suck him off, he'd probably do it, but it would be for the sake of the voice. He'd close his eyes and attend to his work and soak in the words and the noises, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know what Finch sounded like, coming. All that self-control was a big part of the attraction. If it fractured, everything might change.
There were fissures in the rock; he'd heard Finch's panicked breathless determination, driving to rescue him when he'd been shot, and known that need pulled in both directions. Finding Finch in the train station, near-helpless from Root's drugs, he forgot how to breathe himself until a frayed, frazzled echo of the voice's usual taut edge told him they'd made it through safe, if not undamaged. And as they stood on a rooftop awaiting mutually assured destruction, he was sure they'd both crack right down the middle, yet Finch stayed solid, stalwart: salvation in dark-rimmed glasses and neatly-knotted tie. Reese had what he thought would be a final flicker of amused arousal, listening to him natter on about capacitors, torn between willing him away and wanting to make those words the last he ever heard. It didn't occur to him until much later that they could have handled the unlocking remotely, Finch murmuring instructions in his ear as part of their usual… process. Except he wouldn't have punched in the numbers; he would have stood there pretending to obey orders, letting the voice penetrate his brain and his body like a deadly virus, hoping to hear a goodbye. Finch knew that, of course; that's why he was on the roof in the first place.
For a while after the bomb incident, Finch's words hummed like a canticle over the phone line, kindling Reese with reverential joy. It was hard to reconcile lust and worship, and Reese didn't try, just let one or the other take him, like a current washing downstream. He retained enough self-possession to keep his reactions to himself, though he'd stopped caring if Finch noticed.
Inevitably, he finally did.
They'd just wrapped up a case involving an entomologist with a disgruntled stepson. Finch was in the Library multitasking, feeding Bear and forging a research grant while making puns about computer bugs and (Reese was pretty sure) Hamlet; Reese was in the bathroom in his loft dressing abrasions and thinking vaguely about Finch's voice as antibiotic ointment. Or possibly lubricant.
Belaboring some point about Trojan horses, Finch began quoting. "For 'tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard, and it shall go hard--"
It was a very small noise, really; Finch shouldn't have heard it. "What was that, Mr. Reese?" he said.
Wound treatment, he should have said. Deeper cut than I realized. "Nothing," he told Finch.
"Did I say something… oh. Really, Mr. Reese; we're not in middle school."
"No," Reese agreed. "Just keep talking, Harold."
He didn't bother to mask his tone, and Finch knew him too well. "Why?" he asked, a tight, flat syllable.
"Because I enjoy listening."
Silence, and then, pitch rising, "I think I had better--"
And he knew, then, that he had some power over Finch in return, because he didn't break off the call, though for a long minute he said nothing. Then: "What do you want me to--"
"It really doesn't matter." Reese chuckled. "You could read the phone book."
The silence was absolute this time; he thought Finch had stopped breathing. "You're not serious," he said finally, and then, apparently having reconsidered this, added, "Have you been… when we talk, have you…"
"I don't jerk off while you chat to me about the numbers, no. That would be rude."
An odd rattle of static on the line; it was Finch laughing. "A skewed sense of propriety; why am I not surprised? I'm also" -- the voice dropped, went gentle -- "oddly not shocked. Though modesty demands--"
"Finch, I could come in my pants without touching myself, just hearing you speak."
He sounded intrigued. Erection straining against the fly of his suit trousers, Reese wondered briefly if he could have enlisted Harold's assistance in the matter long ago by billing it as a science experiment, and then decided to stop thinking. "Absolutely," he purred. "Let me prove it."
"No proof without an independent observer," Finch said, as if he couldn't help himself.
"I could turn on a cell phone camera."
"No, I… trust you, but Mr. Reese, really, this is…"
"Well, if you're not interested in finding out…"
Another lengthy pause, then, "Where are you?"
"Standing in front of my bathroom mirror."
"Hold onto the sink with both hands. Then you'll be less tempted to… do anything."
"Already figured that out, Finch. But you can keep giving me advice if you'd like."
The voice went silky, a smooth caress against his flesh. "I can give you orders, if you'd prefer."
"I like to think of them as guidelines."
The laugh again, a little raspy; Reese imagined it brushing the tip of his cock, and breathed faster. "Yes, I've noticed," Finch said, the tone squeezed dry, like a sun-roughened palm sliding up his full length. Reese's hands clutched the sink; he gasped. "I have noticed you," Finch went on, slowly, as if realizing it for the first time; and then, a rhythmic stroking: "I've been noticing you since before you knew me. I've noticed you a long time; known you a long time. I learn more every day. This has been a particularly educational five minutes. How are we doing, Mr. Reese?"
"Say 'particularly educational' that way a few more times; that'll do it."
"Well, we wouldn't want to rush things. Let's see, now. I can say anything? Three point one four one five nine two six five... Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas… When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve… You're not moving, are you? Not… rocking back and forth?"
Reese gritted his teeth. "No."
"Because external stimuli would corrupt the results, you realize."
"Just my voice. Just me talking to you." Finch sounded like he still didn't quite believe this was happening; Reese let out a desperate groan. "O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew…" A lilt of amusement, like feathers on Reese's skin. "Speak the speech, I pray you, trippingly on the tongue," Finch enunciated, and Reese could feel it, teasing in little presses and licks, and he let out another pleading noise, and Finch was with him completely now. "Hold the mirror up to nature… are you looking in the mirror, Mr. Reese?"
A hollow-faced, tortured man stared back at him. "Yes."
Very softly, almost to himself, Finch murmured, "You're beautiful; I hope you know that."
"I wish I was watching you."
"I could still get the camera." He didn't think he could walk.
"No. There's always imagination. Apparently yours is pretty active. So imagine me where your mirror is."
"Yes," he breathed. It was like the roof, all over again: face to face, Finch pressing all the right buttons.
"I could touch you from there."
"Yes," and suddenly he wanted nothing more than exactly that. "Here. Now. Please. I can wait."
Finch was quiet for a few seconds, as if this was more than he'd bargained for. "One trial at a time," he said, the voice thin, wispy, detached. "Just… pretend I'm there. Touching you."
"Yes," he mouthed, and watched his lips part in the mirror, and felt Finch's tongue on him, Finch's clever fingers, but they wouldn't move, wouldn't bring him any further along, without the words. "Talk."
"I… I'm having trouble thinking of… you're close, aren't you?" Finch was breathing hard now, too.
"Yeah. Just… keep talking."
"You're… you're on the edge. You're ready to fall, ready to fly, and I have my hands on your back about to push, and I'm there to catch you too. You don't have to be alone. Not ever again. Not ever. But I don't know what to… what do I say to…"
Finch was losing himself now, too, the self-control dissolving into the air, like he was no longer physically anywhere. Only the voice, the voice all around Reese, caressing him, cool and loving on his cheek, stroking his hair, touching his mouth, pinning his hands to the sink, running up the inside of his thigh; his cock was hot and hard and heavy, and if he shifted his hips, even the slightest motion… he held still and breathed out, "Harold. Harold."
He came; his knees went out from under him and he sagged to the floor, his pants soaked, his body a fountain of pleasure, panting with the joy of release. And of proving a hypothesis, he supposed. He laughed out loud.
"Mr. Reese," whined the voice in his ear, "are you… are you all right?"
Now he couldn't stop laughing. "Yes, Harold, I'm fine. I'm… glorious."
"You mean… I did it?"
"Well, we did it. Always told you we made a good team."
Harold let out a bark of amusement. "Apparently I'm the mouthpiece."
"Apparently." He reached out into the invisible air, ran his thumb over an absent lower lip, resolved to do it in person next chance he got. "Did I ever tell you I like your voice?"
"You do seem to be rather fond of it." He was consciously shaping the sound now, John realized: aware of the effect. It was promising. "This isn't going to be a problem, is it, Mr. Reese?"
"Not if you don't say 'problem' like that, no." Harold snorted, clearly pleased with himself. "Don't worry," John added. "It won't interfere with day-to-day operations. Although if on the occasional night…"
"Further experiments," Harold said, thin and dry and loaded with insinuation, "may be warranted. If that's all right with you, Mr. Reese."
"Anything you say, Finch," John said, lying back flat on the floor, grinning. "Anything you say."