Harold Finch has lost count of how many times he's taken the ride up to the last floor of the nondescript office building over the course of the last four months. He stares at the shiny metal doors, the hum of the geriatric elevator system a familiar background noise by now. The cab jerks to a stop and the doors slide open with a soft ding, revealing an empty hallway. Harold knows that it will take him exactly 127 steps from the elevator doors down the hall, passed the former office recreation room turned nurse's station, to the last office to the right. He steps onto the worn, dark blue carpet, the elevator doors rattling close behind him.
Only a selected few posses a key to access the top floor and according to Harold's watch, the shift change happened about an hour ago. No one else, except for him, should be stepping onto the carpet on this floor tonight.
He passes the open door of the nurse's station, returning the friendly smile he receives from the two women behind their desks. Charts and the notes of the previous shift are splayed over the desktops, but Harold knows that they have been expecting him. He also knows that Jolene always keeps a novel handy within that huge thing she calls a purse and Rachel is itching to crack the next level of Angry Birds on her cell. He doesn't mind. They are among the best at their job and take what they are doing seriously. But their patient usually doesn't bother them much.
Finch doesn't know why he always involuntarily counts the steps towards the room. It's not like he's dreading what lies behind that last door to the right. Or is he?
He has limped down that hallway, passed the simple brown doors on either side, so many times now, he can practically call each faded stain on the carpet, each crack in the paint on the wall by its name.
Harold doesn't have to look up to know that he has reached his destination. The last door on the right. He has never been inside any of the other rooms.
The paranoid in him set off a vast array of alarm bells some time ago. He knows his visits to this building, to this floor and to this room have turned into a habit. Predictable and risky. But there is no way in hell - no matter how much he dreads those last 127 steps - that he will stay away.
Finch takes a deep breath, holds it for a few seconds and exhales, reaching out for the handle. Another ritual he has acquired over the months.
The room on the other side of the door is bathed in the pale pink glow of the sun rising over New York. It actually looks kind of pretty.
Closing the door behind him, Harold steps further inside, his eyes roaming over the - by now - way too familiar equipment, compulsively checking the monitors. Travelling further and downwards his eyes connect with the pale blue orbs staring at him from the raised end of the hospital bed.
Harold smiles, "Good morning, Mr. Reese."
There is no answer, but Harold didn't expect one. John's eyes slowly close and re-open, acknowledging Finch's greeting. Finch steps closer, sitting down on the chair beside the bed. John's eyes follow his movement, piercing the side of Harold's head as he watches John's chest mechanically rise and fall, the whooshing and faint clicking of the ventilator forcing air into Reese's lungs through the trachectomy cannula filling the momentary silence.
Harold looks up at Reese's impassive, slack face. John's skin looks pale, his eyes, once a brilliant pool of blue, are dull and tired. Finch notices that a mix of mostly silver-grey and black stubble has been growing unchecked on John's face for at least a couple of days and he makes a mental note to tell Jolene to give him a shave on his way out.
"How are you today?" Harold asks, like every morning. Another ritual.
John's eyelids blink slowly before his left hand's index finger - the only other part of his body except for his eyes that he is still able to move - begins to tap, writing out his usual answer to the question on the communication system Harold has set up and tweaked for him.
Harold's lips twitch into a small, pained smile. He knows the statement isn't true. He can see it in John's eyes. Those expressive eyes have always been the first to betray Reese's state of mind, his emotions. He used to hide them behind the cold, dead stare of a killer. Not anymore.
Finch does what he always does. He accepts Reese's fake assurance with a tiny nod and starts to talk. "We received a new number last night."
John's eyes roll off Harold's face, towards the ceiling. He has memorized every inch of his small part of the world. Knows the exact position of the heart monitor, the IV stands, the ventilator. He has counted the holes in the metal grids covering the fluorescent lamps and the number of ceiling tiles at least a dozen of times and has tried to solve the mystery of the coffee stain on the ceiling right above his head ever since he has woken up in this room.
He lets Harold's voice wash over him, a welcome diversion to the monotonous whoosh and beeps of the machines that have kept him alive and company for he doesn’t know how long.
John Reese doesn’t complain, though. He knows he deserves this. He never imagined it to be like this, but this … this is hell.
“Mr. Reese? Is everything alright?” Finch sounds worried and John realizes that his mind has drifted off. Finch has kept him in the loop about their little venture, asking him for his advice. And at the beginning John had been grateful for the feeling of still being able to contribute. But he has no doubt that Shaw very well knows how to deal with leg-work by herself. And … his heart just isn’t in it, anymore.
John regards Finch’s worried face, notices the deep lines that weren’t there a few weeks ago and a slight paleness to his skin. He looks tired. Drawn. And it’s not just because of the strain of working the numbers anymore.
Making a decision, that John knows he should have made weeks ago, he seeks the display of the communication computer with his eyes and begins tapping on the pad underneath his index finger, painstakingly writing out word by word.
ITS TIME YOU STOP COMING HERE HAROLD>
John looks back at Harold and watches the color drain from his face and his eyebrows forming a frown as he reads the words. “Mr. Reese, I don’t –“
John clenches his eyes together. Finch never finishes his sentence.
YOU COMING HERE EVERDAY IS DANGEROUS>
IT’S A PATTERN>
PATTERNS CAN BE DETECTED>
From the look on Harold’s face, John can tell that he’s been aware of this. It doesn’t surprise him. Finch is a genius after all. He’s been taking this risk deliberately.
“I will not leave you behind, John. Besides, I'm being careful.” Harold says calmly, his tone of voice stating ‘end of discussion’.
John would shake his head, if he could. Instead, he stares at Finch, trying to silently tell him not to be an idiot. Even the most careful men make mistakes, eventually. They, of all people, should know that.
IM USELESS TO YOU>
Harold is shaking his head, “No, John -”
Harold leans forward, so that Reese practically doesn’t have a choice but to look at him. “Now listen. You are not useless to me.” His voice is slightly shaking. From anger or some other kind of emotion, John isn’t sure. “You are my friend. Not just something to be discarded because it’s broken.”
John blinks a few times and Harold immediately regrets his choice of words.
Broken, that's exactly what he is, John thinks. Beyond repair. And as long as the machines around him are keeping him alive, he'll be Harold Finch's greatest Achilles' heel. If only the bullet that tore through his spine had finished its job.
Harold clears his throat, awkwardly breaking the silence, a small smile playing around his lips. "Anyway, you won't get rid of me that easily. Now", he says, with the kind of fake energy in his voice that preludes a forced change of topic, "about what we were talking before -." He stalls as he realizes he's being ignored, a new message appearing on the screen.
YOU SAID THAT I NEEDED A PURPOSE>
Harold squints his eyes, unsure what Reese is getting at. "Yes?"
WHAT PURPOSE DO I HAVE NOW>
I can't protect you anymore. That thought is what's foremost on John's mind, but he knows not to voice it. He can practically hear Finch's brusque reply. "I did not hire you to protect me, Mr. Reese."
At first, for John working the numbers really had been just about having a cause - or purpose as Finch had put it - and figuring out the mystery that was - still is - Harold Finch. But somewhere along the way, the priorities shifted for Reese. For him, keeping the man, that had pulled him away from the brink of the abyss, who had given him a job, a home and his trust, save had become more important than anything else. Finch definitely would not want to hear it, but if John couldn't do that anymore ...
Finch reads the newest message, refusing to connect the dots. "I'm not sure where you are going with this, Mr. Reese." Their eyes lock again, and Harold is surprised at the spark of determination that has returned to Reese's.
PULL THE PLUG>
Harold's eyes widen and this time, there isn't any color left to drain from his face. "What? No!" He exclaims, jumping to his feet. He turns around, rubbing his temple. Finch knows turning his back on John is not fair, but he doesn't want to read any more. He runs his hand over his mouth and faces the hospital bed again, just realizing that he's angry when he opens his mouth to speak. "No, that is not going to happen ... and don't ask me again."
John just gazes at him and for the first time, Harold can't stand to look at him, to feel John's eyes on him. "I'm sorry", he mumbles, looking at his watch without actually seeing its face, "but I have to get going."
John blinks, but doesn't attempt to type anything else that could stop Harold from leaving.
With his hand on the door handle, Finch stops. "I'll be back as soon as I can." he says, facing the wood of the door. He leaves John's room without looking back, limping down the hallway - the 127 steps - towards the shiny, metallic elevator doors at a fast pace. He feels angry. At John, but mostly at himself, because, right now, he is doing exactly what he promised John Reese he wouldn't do only moments ago ... He is leaving him behind. Running from an argument he knows he won't win.
It is getting late. The sun set a couple of hours ago, but John's room never turns completely dark. Or quiet. The monitors of the medical equipment fill the room with an eerie glow, the hum of the blood pressure cuff inflating at regular intervals and the rhythmic whooshing of the ventilator always reminding him of exactly where he is.
Harold has loaded his communication computer with tons of stuff to keep him entertained - ebooks, audiobooks, movies ('without subtitles'), you name it. John randomly clicked on a movie, muted the volume and now he stares at the ceiling, watching the shadows dance with the changing light of the movie.
In a few minutes someone of the night staff will come to check on him, jot down his vitals and leave again, just to reappear in a few hours - on precisely the same time like every night - to do exactly the same. His days aren't that much different. All this place needs is one of those wall clocks, with its incessant ticking reminding him how his life is passing him by, one freakishly slow second after another, while he's standing on the sidelines.
He hears the door open, but instead of the soft steps of the nurse he expected to hear, he's surprised by paws on linoleum and the uneven gait he would recognize even within a crowd on the busy sidewalks of New York's rush hour.
Bear's head appears on the mattress beside his hand, carefully nudging his unmoving limb with a soft whine. John wishes he could run his fingers through the animal's short, yet soft fur, but his brain's commands to lift his hand get lost somewhere along the way.
Finch is still standing in the doorway, the flickering light of the monitors reflecting on the glassy surface of his spectacles. He appears to be unsure, but begins to step closer to John as he notices the man's finger move. The movie that was playing when Harold first entered stops and is replaced by the communication window.
DIDNT EXPECT TO SEE YOU AGAIN TONIGHT HAROLD>
Harold stops beside the chair, but doesn't sit down. John's heart speeds up at the demure look on Finch's face, emphasized by the bluish tint of the room's dim lighting.
IS EVERYTHING ALRIGHT>
Finch's face has never been easy to read. At least not for an outside person. But John knows exactly what to look for. Knows the older man's tells. A slight twitch of his eyebrows, a quick blink of his eyelids and lips, drawn to a tight line, are enough to let him know that Finch is at war with his emotions. Battling to keep them locked in tight, bottled up.
In the end he manages a small, twitchy smile. "Yes, Mr. Reese. Everything is alright."
Finch falls silent, looking everywhere but at John. "I'm sorry to be bothering you so late ... I think ... we better leave."
Finch starts to turn, but waits politely for the next message Reese is tapping out for him. He's getting pretty good at this. It's a random thought that pops through Harold's mind, and nearly makes him smile. But it's the memory of John in a wheelchair that quickly sobers him up again.
WERE YOU GOING TO WATCH ME SLEEP HAROLD>
THATS PRETTY CREEPY>
This time, however, the smile is genuine and Harold's posture visibly relaxes.
Finch complies, weaving his hand into the fur of Bear's head. Opening and closing his mouth a few times, Harold finally opts for a save topic. "What were you watching? Anything good?"
John blinks in confusion, until he remembers the movie, answering truthfully.
I DONT REALLY KNOW>
He watches Harold stare at the screen, realizing that his thoughts are everywhere but on the words written there. Something is definitely up and John has a feeling it may have something to do with the discussion they had earlier today. A small spark of hope tries to set fire to the gloom of depression and helplessness - God, how he hates to feel helpless - that has had a tight hold on John's being. Aware of how fast weak flames can be put out, Reese waits, letting Finch collect his thoughts.
"I want to apologize for the way I reacted today." Finch tells his hands, only finding the courage to look John in the eyes after speaking those first words. "I believe it was rather poorly."
ITS OK HAROLD>
Harold's face clearly states that he doesn't think so, but he doesn't argue the point, accepting Reese's forgiveness with a slight nod instead. When Finch continues, again talking to his hands, there's a heaviness to his voice that John has never heard before. This is clearly not easy for Harold. Usually so eloquent, his sentences are carefully and hesitatingly formed, a slight quiver betraying his emotional state.
"I've been thinking about ... about what you said ... and I realize that I have been selfish. That all of my decisions concerning you ... my initial rejection of your request ... it's all been solely based on what I want. It never occurred to me to ask -."
Harold stops his words, tearing his eyes away from his hands, seeking out John's. The bluish monitor lights amplify the deep blue color of his friend's eyes. There's a suspicious gleam to Finch's eyes, but John isn't sure if the reflections on the other man's glasses aren't playing tricks on him.
"I don't want you to ...", Harold falters, his Adam's Apple bobbing in his throat. He just can't say it. "I don't want you to go, John. But I recognize it's not my decision to make. However, this is not about me, or whatever you think might be best for me. I need to know what you want."
John lets the words sink in, a warm, admiring feeling spreading through his being as this timid appearing man still manages to amaze him with his strength and devotion. It's the first real sensation he feels ever since he woke up, numb and unable to move.
"There has been quite some progress in the development of systems for aiding people in your condition. I've read about the placement of electrodes on the brain to allow patients to control computers or other devices by mere thought alone ..." Trailing off, Harold realizes he's babbling.
CAN YOU PICTURE ME SITTING AROUND ALL DAY DOING NOTHING BUT THINKING>
"No", Harold says with a sad smile, "no, I can't." The smile fades as Reese's eyes communicate his next message before he even begins typing it.
YOU KNOW WHAT I WANT>
Harold drops his head, staring at his clasped hands on the mattress as he nods his head. He had known the outcome to this conversation even before it started, but he needed to be sure. Still, it doesn't mean he has to like it.
He looks at John again, sees the hopeful expectation in his eyes, the indefinite trust John's bestowing upon him. After all that has happened to John Reese - betrayed, burned, and repeatedly tried to be killed and left for dead by his own 'friends' - , Harold knows that this unconditional loyalty and trust is the greatest gift John could have ever given him. A gift he, so far, has refused to completely reciprocate.
Suddenly, he feels the need to eliminate the disparity, that has kept them from truly being equals. "Harper." He says and John looks at him quizzically. "My name is Harold Harper. I was born on September, 7th, 1954 and I grew up on a farm near a small town in Iowa." Harold is surprised at how easy it feels to shed the layers of carefully crafted identities, to lay bare what has been kept secret for so many years, that Harold himself isn't sure he still remembers. But the words and memories come without much thought, and telling John ... it feels right.
It takes a few hours, but Harold shares everything with John. Every detail of his life that eventually led him to where he is now. The wrong and the right turns, successes and losses. John listens patiently, amused at and not quite able to shake the mental picture he has of Harold Finch - no Harper - working on a farm in a tailored three-piece suit. The significance of the moment is not lost on him, however.
Harold's voice, having turned hoarse a while ago, trails off after he relived the bombing of the ferry, the pain of losing his only friend Nathan and ultimately is fiancé Grace in one single instant still so very crippling that he has to pause.
He clears his throat, his mouth too dry from too much use. "Anyway, you know the rest."
THANK YOU HAROLD>
Again, John's eyes are telling Harold more than the words on the screen ever could - Gratefulness. Admiration. Trust. Sorrow. Farewell.
Harold nods, not trusting his voice to speak. He reaches over and disenables the alarms on the machine that monitors John's life signs.
He sent the night staff away and informed the day shift that their services weren't needed anymore hours ago. They are all alone.
Bear whines softly, licking John's hand. Somehow the dog knows what is about to happen, and Harold has to fight hard not to lose his composure.
TAKE GOOD CARE OF HIM>
Harold closes his eyes and evens out his breathing before he promises, "I will."
His hand hovers over the control panel of the ventilator, feeling John's eyes on him as he tries to steady the treacherous tremors. It's no use. He feels his composure slip through his tight hold, the tremors intensifying and his breath turning into shaky gasps.
"Goodbye, John." He says, clamping his eyes shut as his finger presses down on the off-switch. For the first time in weeks, there's absolute silence. Harold opens his eyes, lets them roam over John's body and is nauseated by the feeling of wrongness as he stares at the motionless chest of his friend. His eyes seek John's on their own volition. He grasps John's hand with his left, his right clasping around John's shoulder, acting on instinct alone.
He doesn't have to check the heart monitor to know when it's over. Bear whines heartbreakingly and John's eyes continue to look at him. But they are dull now, having lost all light. He stands up untangling his hand from John's and leans over the body, closing John's eyes by gently swiping his hand over the younger man's face.
Sitting back down heavily, he props his elbows on the mattress, covering his face with his hands. His entire body is shaking now. Bear presses himself to the side of Harold's leg, softly whining and continuing to lick John's still hand.
For Harold it's only a small consolation, but he knows that Bear and he being here - at that moment - meant a lot to John. That, in the end he didn't have to be alone.