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His Number's Always Up

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There are numbers that they can do nothing about, that come up too late to help, that happen too fast or are too far away. They're not supermen, and the machine can't prioritise, only calculate. Humans are a chaotic element in an ordered system that can't always be predicted with a great deal of accuracy, and Harold accepts this fact in exchange for the numbers that they can do something about, now that John's with him.

But there are also some numbers – one number, in fact – that Harold won't do anything about. He has his reasons. John is currently holding that number in his hand. Harold doesn't even have to look to know.

“Harold?” John says, a hint of confusion colouring his tone as he looks from the number on the piece of paper in his hand to Harold's face. “This number. You said this was an error.”

Harold had known John had an eidetic memory; he should have known that he'd remember this number, months later, a number Harold managed to convince him was some kind of error in the system, an automatic self-purge routine that had no relationship to any case.

“That’s nothing,” he says calmly, already knowing this will be in no way the end of it. “Leave it.”

John is silent for a moment, watching him. Sometimes Harold thinks – fears – that John can read him like a book or a particularly simple loop of If Then statements.

“This number," John says again. "This isn’t the second time you’ve seen this number,” he guesses, or perhaps realises. “Harold? It’s… not even the third, is it.” He’s not suspicious, only curious, as if he can’t conceive of a reason why Harold would keep something like this from him, a number that has come up before, that keeps on coming up, the how, the why of it; and suddenly Harold doesn’t see why he's keeping it from him either. After all, they're partners now. His fears are groundless.

He goes over to his desk drawer and opens it, and then reaches in, right to the back, and presses his index finger to the faintly raised area about the size of a postage stamp that is barely there at the edge of the drawer. There’s no click to give away the mechanism that opens the compartment in the back and releases the file into his hand, and there's no way that anyone but him can ever open it, short of taking the entire desk apart and in that case it's rigged to blow up right in their face and take out half the building. He doesn't think the precautions are out of proportion. Anyone looking for this file would not be the sort of person such a response was out of proportion to.

"Here," he says and hands the file over to John. John takes it from him carefully, giving it the respect it deserves.

“That exact number has come up a total of forty seven times since I started this,” Harold says, stepping back, “and only once did I try to do anything about it. The first time. The experience was... well, illuminating, I suppose.”

John seems not to be paying attention while he stands there reading the file, although Harold knows he is. 

“Finch,” he breathes. “This is- You have got to be kidding me.”

“I suppose it would be useless to tell you to leave this alone," Harold observes, and John takes a bare second to give him a look that, while brief, speaks volumes. "Then in that case, you might as well take care of some business for me while you're there,” he continues resignedly. “Detective Fusco should be able to cover for you while you’re gone. You can take my jet. Be back in three days.”

“You have a jet?”

Harold rolls his eyes. “I have several. You can take the Towhee Industries one. I'll contact my regional manager and get him to meet you when you land. Now, if you don't mind?” He holds out his hand in an expectant fashion, and John passes the file back obediently.

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Finch,” he says, smirking, and Harold turns away, pretending that that light in John’s eyes, the sparking heat of it, doesn’t make him wish on some level that he was going too.

++++

Harold doesn’t hear from John for three days and fortunately the machine only passes him one number, which Detective Fusco handles admirably, before John comes back.

Harold looks him over critically as he takes John’s fake credentials back. No bruises or abraisions, no favouring any one side or moving in a manner that might suggest minor injury. Harold hadn't realised he was worried but the relief he feels now, seeing John whole and somewhat in the vicinity of cheerful, is a small piece of shrapnel finally working its way out from under his skin.

"I trust your curiosity is satisfied?" he asks, taking the files he'd sent John for and dropping them unceremoniously on his desk to look at later. They don't matter nearly as much as the answer to his question right now.

John grins. It's charming and boyish and just a little reckless. "That's what he said too," he quips, and his grin eases into a smirk, teasing. Harold does not even want to know how it came about that they actually conversed. “You sure have some interesting friends, Harold.”

Harold raises an eyebrow, not sure if John is saying this is a good thing or a bad thing.

“I wouldn’t call us friends,” he demurs, and John shakes his head at him and mutters something about genius millionaires before disappearing into the kitchen.

++++

The call comes, as Harold expected it might, later that evening, after John’s gone and Harold has read through the files he brought - some he requested and others he didn't. The voice on the other end of the line is cultured, smooth, pleasant, and not fooling Harold.

“So,” the caller says without preamble or bothering to identify itself. “Got yourself a partner, huh, Harry?”

Harold sighs. “I have asked you not to call me that,” he points out, without much hope.

“I know,” is all that is said on that subject. "I thought we should talk. After all, it's been a while."

“Yes it has,” Harold agrees, ignoring the mild level of discomfort that wells up at the seemingly casual observation. "How are you?"

"Oh, still kicking," comes the breezy reply. "Been some wild parties up this way lately, but of course, you already knew that."

"Yes," Harold agrees. "I have wanted to call on a number of occasions, but since you made it so abundantly clear the first time I tried… Well, I continue to abide by your wishes."

"That's not entirely true, now is it, Harry?"

The accusation, as mild as it sounds, makes Harold's heart jump for a second. He has to apply himself to keep the waver out of his voice when he says, a little stubbornly, "Fine. No, it's not. But if you want me to apologise for infringing on your privacy, I'm afraid I can't."

The voice on the other end laughs, as if genuinely charmed. "Well, it's not like I've managed to find a way to stop you yet. And I'll be honest; I'm enjoying the challenge, when I'm not busy."

Harold makes a mental note to double his security protocals and perhaps burn the three hacks he's so far managed to establish, just in case.

“Well," he begins a little sharply. "If you’d just let me-“

“Harold,” comes the patient reprimand and the frivolous, chummy voice is suddenly gone. There's still civility there, respect, but there's an edge now too, one that Harold has gotten far too close to in the past, one that, come to think of it, he sometimes sees in John from time to time - something lethal and unforgiving and immovable. “I appreciate your position and your concern. But I neither need nor want your help, and I certainly don't want another predator prowling around my city without my knowledge. It's extra trouble I can't afford.”

John might have been flattered, being considered a threat in this instance, to this man, but Harold doesn't want to give John any more encouragement in that direction.

“He would have only kept asking questions,” he says, hating that it sounds like a defence. “He’s… tenacious. Intelligent. Highly principled. A lot like you, by all accounts. It was better for all concerned to just give him what I had and let him get it out of his system.”

"Well, now that he has..."

"We won't be bothering you again," Harold promises, although he'll continue to find ways to send warnings until he runs out of avenues to communicate them through. "Thank you for the data, by the way. I was wondering how Elias was getting information into and out of the penal system, but you've just saved us at least a month's work."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Bruce Wayne says, sounding lighter again, as if the entire middle of the conversation hasn't even taken place. "Nice talking to you, Harold. Keep up the good work."

"Yes," Harold agrees, and on some level, he actually means it. "You too, Bruce."

He hangs up, and then carefully eases himself back into his chair and breathes out slowly. That could have gone worse, he muses, exceedingly grateful it didn't. Trust is a fragile commodity in this business and some numbers neither want nor need their help.