The library: undisclosed location in New York City
April 16th, 2012
It hits Reese in the middle of the day.
Finch has just brushed past him when it springs up, fully formed, in Reese's mind: another excruciatingly detailed scenario. He sees it unfold, like an accelerated dream sequence.
Finch brushing past him again. Finch putting his hands on him, feigning to fix Reese's collar, feigning to find a ripped seam in his jacket. Finch telling him to remove his jacket.
Finch would be expressionless. He'd speak as though giving directions, or enumerating office supplies. He would say, "Mr Reese, your skin is unusually flushed." He would tell Reese to unbutton his shirt for inspection, and he would put his hands on Reese. He would check Reese's pulse. He would tell Reese that his heart was racing.
And then he would look Reese up and down, and he would say "Mr Reese, I believe something is distracting and bothering you."
He would look straight at Reese while he unzipped Reese's pants. His expression would be both dispassionate, and uncharacteristically provocative. He would fondle Reese, and stop when Reese would want it to go on.
He would tell Reese to turn around.
Part one: September and October
While I pondered, weak and weary
The library: undisclosed location in New York City
September 30th, 2011
He doesn’t look Reese in the eye.
He moves like he’s had spinal fusion surgery, but Reese hasn’t been able to find his real name, let alone medical records. So it’s just a theory.
And he doesn’t look Reese in the eye. Almost like he knows he’s coercing Reese, but isn’t really equipped to deal with what that says about himself. Reese guesses that Mr. Finch has never done this before.
So Reese’s new boss is a first time vigilante.
“Mr. Reese, we have a new number.” He says it without looking away from the computer, says it like he says everything else: like he is accustomed to giving orders, and accustomed to people paying attention to those orders. Which suggests that he has been wealthy for a long time. His speech pattern doesn’t put him in any very specific place or social sphere. Has he travelled all his life, or is his accent feigned?
He is expecting an answer, but Reese has been working with this Mr. Finch for six days, and there is something he’d like to know. “Hey Finch, if your Machine can only hand us Social Security Numbers, what does it do when threats are undocumented?”
Finch blinks twice at Reese, and appears to barely restrain an eyeroll. “That is an excellent question, Mr. Reese, but I don’t believe it is pertinent at the moment. I certainly don’t think it will help us rescue this…” Finch tabs over. “Francesca Simeon from whatever peril is currently awaiting her.”
“Noted.” He shuts down inquisitiveness in favour of expediency. Reese is okay with that.
Fortunately, the case is a short one. Ms. Simeon - hairdresser, 51 years old - has been showing symptoms consistent with heart disease, except that she has already been diagnosed with heart disease, and has has been taking ranolazine faithfully as prescribed.
Reese needs less than a day to find the culprit: Ms. Simeon’s brother-in-law, an out-of-work, scientologist writer who has been living with the Simeons, and secretly switching the ranolazine for vitamin pills.
Reese telephones Mr. Finch from the police station. “Ms. Simeon is pressing charges. No one spotted me.”
When Finch doesn’t answer, Reese keeps commenting. “This guy was pretty dedicated. What he did took serious work: he had to find vitamins that were the right colour, then carve them into exactly the right shape. Worst part is, he threw out the original pills. Those things aren’t cheap.”
On the other end of the line, Finch makes a thoughtful noise.
Reese doesn’t know what Finch expects, but if Finch wanted him to go home straightaway, he would have said so. He hangs up and goes back to the library.
His boss speaks the moment Reese walks in. “Don't think I haven't lost sleep over it. But that was the original project. I… followed the specs they gave me.”
Reese suddenly realizes that Finch is answering his question about Social Security Numbers.
“The NSA never said anything. Sometimes I think they've never thought of undocumenteds as anything but… litter. Goes to show how much they really know about the world.”
Reese adds these comments to the short list of things he knows about his boss.
Once upon a midnight dreary
New York City
September 30th, 2011
When night falls, hidden corners of Mr Finch’s library turn dark, and everything takes on a different meaning.
Reese exits the library, walks three blocks, doubles back, and settles into a doorway facing the library.
He’s been conducting surveillance on Finch since the beginning. He’s inventoried some of Finch’s aliases and recorded the names of restaurants Finch has frequented. But he has yet to find Finch’s home.
Reese has followed him all over the city of New York, every night for a week, but Finch always loses him. Which has been… baffling. The man is partially disabled. How hard can it be?
Tonight, Finch leaves the building around eleven. In the dark, the unevenness of his gait appears all the more dramatic. He leans heavily on his cane.
Reese feels himself relax. Intelligence-gathering is familiar, and tailing a mark is the first skill he learned with his previous employer. It is soothing to him.
Finch walks. Reese follows. He tails on foot with textbook precision. He stays as far behind as possible, looks at Finch’s reflection on windows and mirrors rather than directly at him, and he spots the cameras and avoids them as best he can.
After an hour, Finch stops and reads - rather conspicuously - a plaque on the building to his right. “NYIC: New York Immigration Coalition.” Then he walks another twenty yards down the block, turns right into alley. When Reese makes the same right turn, Finch has disappeared.
Reese looks around. There are no cameras, windows, or mirrors. The alley is a perfect blind spot.
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
East 51st Street, New York City
October 1st, 2011
Who do you want to be?
Who are you hoping to be?
What makes you feel accomplished?
Do you want to be rich? Do you want to have power? Do you want to be special?
Reese supposes that, in college, those were the things he wanted. He spares a thought for his college philosophy professor - the one who lectured about Lacan over and over. He would’ve loved to see Reese now. Reese’s life after college was the very incarnation of the words “be careful what you wish for.”
The movie of his life would probably go something like:
Former U.S. Army Green Beret and CIA field agent, now turned freelance vigilante, JOHN REESE operates under dozens of aliases and cover identities to save lives, using illegally-obtained information gathered by a clandestine mass electronic surveillance program called The Machine.
Tall, sharply handsome, his dark hair flecked with grey, JOHN REESE protects people when they need it the most.
Reese knows he has accidentally landed himself in a story about a superhero. He does not have a mask or a cape, but he is not kidding himself: he’s a superhero. He should, by all rights, be thrilled. The 17-year-old inside himself, at the very least, should be thrilled.
But he wishes things were different. He wishes he were sitting in a classroom teaching a bunch of high schoolers about 20th century English literature (now there's a fantasy he never plans to share. With anyone.) Except that he went and got himself recruited by the special forces, straight out of college. They had him pass some tests, asked him how he felt about covert operations. Covert ops sounded like the coolest thing he’d ever heard. It had been a no-brainer.
He knows next to nothing about the man who hired him. Which probably makes for an even better story:
Reclusive billionaire HAROLD FINCH is the software genius who created The Machine. Mysterious and aloof, suffering from an unknown injury, HAROLD FINCH’s intentions are unknown.
Together, HAROLD FINCH and JOHN REESE stand for JUSTICE and MERCY.
Reese, if he is really honest with himself, does not actually know what he stands for. When Finch asked him - well. Can it really be called “asking” if he wouldn’t take no for an answer? When Finch requested his services, Reese didn’t really have any other options. But he didn’t know what else to do with himself. He did not know what else he would have wanted. He's not sure he really cared.
Reese left the CIA because his partner had been ordered to kill him. As long as Finch isn’t going to do that, Reese finds it very difficult to care about anything else.
He’s been working cases (“numbers”, Finch calls them) for a month now. Today he has anonymously turned a woman, Laura Graham, into NYC's 17th precinct because she nearly murdered her neighbour. Her neighbour, Aziz Ashiq, was performing illegal surgeries on neighbourhood residents who were not insured. Mr Ashiq was a medical student and always candid with his unofficial patients about the risks. But Mrs. Graham felt that those residents were not entitled to medical attention.
“They’re not insured, so they don’t deserve it. Look, Mr Whoever You are, I’ve paid for insurance all my life and they haven’t, so they don’t get the same privileges. It’s as simple as that.”
Reese had been rather dumbstruck. His previous employer had finely honed his espionage skills, but his social justice discourse skills has been left untended.
Preventing her crime had not been difficult - she hadn’t even been planning on doing it herself. Another tenant of the same building, a Katie Bishop, was dating a member of a local organized crime syndicate, and Mrs. Graham had told him that Aziz Ashiq had an eye on her. Her plan had been to let jealousy and racism do the rest. Which would have worked, if hadn’t been for Reese.
Reese wondered what his college philosophy professor would have said about that.
While I nodded, nearly napping,
New York City
October 1st, 2011
Night falls. Like always, the absence of light is a blanket that turns everything a different shade. Reese feels transported, and even Finch appears different to him - Finch may be a “very private person,” as he once told Reese, but at night, he turns into a shadow, and everything Reese can imagine about him seems possible.
Finch wanders through Reese’s neighbourhood. He stops at a bodega down the street from Reese’s motel - talks to the manager, but the angle is wrong for Reese to see what Finch is saying - and then walks up to the motel door. He stands in front of it, with his oddly ambiguous posture, and then, as though he’d just realized a pressing engagement, walks away, making a sharp turn into the next alley.
When Reese turns the corner to follow him, Finch is nowhere to be seen. Reese looks up and down the alley, searching for any indication of where Finch might have gone, and finds that there aren’t any cameras, mirrors or windows in the entire alley. It is one huge surveillance blind spot.
Every night, it seems, Finch leads Reese to a new blind spot. “What, is he working on the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Surveillance Obstruction?” he asks an empty wall.
Later, Reese lies in bed, and thinks about cameras. About security cameras and smartphones, about webcams and nannycams. He thinks about sleep, and about the I Know What Boys Like t-shirt stashed in his pile of clothes. He suddenly feels vulnerable, almost shy.
suddenly there came a tapping,
The library: undisclosed location in New York City
October 2nd, 2011
Sometimes there aren't any numbers.
Reese, who has been trained to hurry up and wait, always goes to the library regardless, though Mr Finch has never asked him to do so. He brings extra coffee, picks up a book at random, and sits where he has a clear visual on Finch. He might have stopped showing up on those off days, except that he can tell it makes Finch nervous to have him around.
Finch looks up from the monitors, wincing slightly, as though his neck hurt. "Yes, Mr Reese?
"How do you know when we've eliminated a threat?"
Finch doesn't answer immediately, rather, he cocks his head, and his eyes flash in that way they do that always makes Reese think that maybe Finch is a supervillain. "You've noticed that, have you?"
Reese appreciates people who can skip over the pointless exposition in a conversation. “Well, The Machine lets you know when someone’s life is threatened. But there’s no signal for when the threat is gone.”
Finch’s mouth twitches. "Sometimes I think about writing a Self-Help book for reclusive billionaire programmers. Chapter One: Don't Forget to Tell Your Clandestine Mass Surveillance Program to Let You Know Whether You Eliminated The Correct Threat."
The humour catches Reese by surprise, but his rejoinder comes easily enough: “Hm, yeah. Reclusive billionaire programmers are an overlooked market."
Comfortable silence settles over them after that. Reese is surprised to find himself absorbed in his book - a short volume about John Locke, civil disobedience, and individual responsibility.
When he looks up, the sun is low and orange through the window, and Finch seems to have forgotten Reese’s presence.
The last time John Reese spent this much time in a library, his name hadn’t been John Reese, and he had barely finished puberty.
Actually, the public library where he grew up had been similar to this one: unpopular. More often than not, Reese would have entire reading rooms all to himself. He’d liked spending time there; it was one of the only places where everyone left him alone. Even the librarians had seemed to understand his wish to be ignored.
In fact, he remembers, he tended to pick up books at random back then, just like he does now in Finch’s library. He’d read all the books in the youth section rather quickly, and liked to explore the unknown parts of the library. Once, he remembers, in the arts section, he’d picked up a book thinking it had been misplaced, because it had a drawing of a doll on the cover. But it had turned out to be a grownup book about ballet
He can recall a lot of detail, as a matter of fact, because the book had marked an important event in his life. It had been about a ballet called Coppélia. He’d sat down, all alone, to look at it. It was a story about someone preferring an animated doll to a real human, which was a theme that would have captivated John completely, had he not been completely dumbfounded by all the photographs of people in tight-fitting ballet costumes.
John can still remember how he’d stared at the photos. At the time, he’d been a tall, rather adult-looking adolescent, but he had only just grown out of children’s books and interests. He had never seen figure-hugging clothes on a man. He hadn’t known such men existed. He’d known girls who wore revealing clothing - some of them had even started taking an interest in him - but he had never understood the appeal.
The book had contained page after page of ballet dancers in costumes that moulded every curve of their bodies. It had been the first time that he’d experienced an inconvenient erection.
Now, in the silence and the smell of books in Mr Finch’s library, John suddenly realizes that he has been ignoring his libido since… heaven knows since when.
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Grounds for Thought bookstore, New York City
October 3rd, 2011
John ends up spending most of the day thinking about sexual desire.
The thing is, John Reese’s job involves a lot of surveillance. Surveillance he does himself, or surveillance that comes from The Machine. It is impossible for him to forget just how closely human activity is observed. Just how closely he is observed. All the time. Whether he wants it or not.
In general, John Reese is comfortable with this. The army spent a lot of time chipping away at his sense of self, and the CIA removed any real attachment he had to his body. His body is a tool, and the things that tool can do are what make him useful to other people. Other people make decisions for him, and he lets them.
His sexuality, though. His sexuality is another matter. Reese has never liked other people to make decisions about it. He didn’t even like people to know about it. It was the bit of himself that he kept to himself. Or tried to, anyway.
The thought of his libido - the notion of his libido suddenly knocking at the door - stays with Reese all day. It stays with him until the sun goes down. Until he leaves for the day. And it is still with him when he circles back to wait for Finch to exit the library. Until he starts to follow Finch home.
Just like the other nights, Finch eventually loses Reese in a surveillance blind spot. This time, it is an alley behind a bookstore. The bookstore is called “Grounds for Thought” and appears to specialize in philosophical works. The alley is surprisingly secluded, with ivy climbing up one wall, and a partition stopping cars from parking in it. When he is certain that Finch has eluded him again, Reese leans on the partition, suddenly tired. Then he lowers his head into his hands.
Finch knows that Reese follows him. He must know. And he has been leading Reese to places that are related to the day’s activities, and then disappearing. Reese could have chalked it up to chance a few times, but not every time.
Reese slowly slides down to the ground. Something about the blind spots always makes him feel lonely. The total absence of surveillance, he supposes. It is the only time he is truly alone in the world. Though perhaps it is also due to Finch. Reese is with Finch all day, every day. So when Finch is gone - really gone - Reese has no work to do, and he cannot even pursue his project of finding Finch’s home. He does not have an objective. No one knows or cares what he is doing.
That’s when it hits Reese. He isn’t being watched. He isn’t being watched at all. All of a sudden, he lets his mind be flooded with images of ballet dancers. Ballet dancers with their genitalia tightly ensconced in tights and leotards. Danseurs thrusting their powerful thighs into poses that are somehow graceful and assertive all at once. Dancers who’d made 14-year-old Reese feel lust for the first time.
Right there, on the cold city pavement, Reese reaches into his pants and, with a few movements, brings himself off.
Part two: February
When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,
New York University campus, New York City
February 11th, 2012
Finch really has had spinal fusion surgery, though Reese still hasn’t been able to find out why.
The list of things Reese knows about Finch is short. He knows that Finch has nearly unlimited financial resources. He knows that Finch is a programmer. He knows that Finch likes sencha green tea with two sugars. And he knows that Finch worked a menial job under an assumed name, for the company he himself owned, in order to maintain one of his fictional identities.
He knows that Finch is remarkably - no, implausibly - good at evading pursuit.
As for the list of things Reese does not know about Finch… well.
All the things Reese does not know about Finch:
1) his name
2) how was he injured
3) what he did before becoming a vigilante
4) where his money comes from (is it legal? Illegal?)
5) what his motivations are
6) why he avoids so many of Reese’s questions. Paranoia? Is he simply an incredibly private person? Or does he (like the CIA) keep secrets so it will be easier to manipulate Reese? Or (unlikely) does he keep secrets in order to “protect” Reese, like he’s some kind of Spider-Man?
7) where does he live
8) does he have other field agents on his payroll
9) is he working with anyone else (I.e. Is he in league with the CIA, NSA, other?)
10) everything else. Literally everything else.
Another, more nebulous mystery about Finch: how is it that he has taken over Reese’s life, without making Reese uncomfortable? Reese spends nearly all his waking hours either physically with Finch, or otherwise in contact with him, and yet feels neither smothered nor confined. Finch is, if anything, a soothing presence.
“Mr Reese, we have a new number.” Finch calls in.
Reese is having his morning jog. “I’m on my way.”
Their new number is a grad student, and it takes no time at all to figure out that she is planning to kill her thesis advisor. She would have gotten away with it too - he is incredibly allergic to peanuts. It would only have taken a few drops of peanut oil and a defective epipen.
Her name is Julie Lachance. She has realized, only too late, that her advisor, Professor Henry Dorchester, is an incompetent piece of shit. He ignored her emails, had a cocaine problem, and tended to make pointless, self-congratulatory speeches from which she could not flee without reprimand. He would sit on drafts of her chapters for months without feedback and then submit her to rants about how she would “never have a career” because she was taking too long to write her thesis. He criticized her clothing and had once put off signing a funding request for so long that it had been disqualified.
The final straw had been when Julie’s defense had to be postponed because Dorchester just “did not have time to be there.”
“It would appear that we are only just in time for this one, Mr Reese. Miss Lachance’s online notebook suggests that she would have sprayed Dorchester’s salad with peanut oil today.”
“And she had already tampered with his epipens.” From what he has learned today, Reese is so very tempted to murder Dorchester himself.
“Yes.” Finch’s statements are succinct and efficient. Oh, the infinite value of a good handler. “Tell me, Mr Reese - are you, by any chance, thinking of killing Miss Lachance’s advisor yourself?”
List of things Reese knows about Finch: sometimes, he is eerily perceptive. “Are you?”
“Today’s lesson, Mr Reese: academic humiliation is worse than death.”
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas But not your heart away;
The library: undisclosed location in New York City
February 11th, 2012
Finch spends the rest of the day in the library, devising horrifically cruel retribution for Henry Dorchester, while Reese reads quietly nearby. The sun goes down and Reese thinks of asking Finch to join him for dinner, then discards the idea. He sees Finch glance up at him, and has the strangest feeling that Finch has just thought the same thing.
They both leave the library at the same time, Finch explaining the details of Dorchester’s impending ignominy, and stand together at the door. When Finch finishes speaking, there is an odd moment - a hesitation.
Finch touches his glasses. “Good night, Mr Reese.”
Reese stares at his shoes. “See you tomorrow, Finch.”
Doubling back to follow Finch has turned into a reflex after all these months. Reese no longer knows why he does it.
Well. That’s not quite right.
What Reese tells himself when he is tailing Finch every night:
1) just as well to be practicing tailing skills
2) Fusco can’t be doing everything
3) sure, why not look for blind spots
That’s what he tells himself. But he doesn’t know why he’s telling himself those things. He knows enough about Finch, by now, to be sure that Finch is probably sleeping in a safehouse that would be as impersonal as possible. He probably wouldn’t learn a thing by finding it. But Reese continues to try. It drives him insane that he hasn’t yet succeeded; he keeps it up out of bullheadedness. He’s called it The Raven Project, ever since Finch used the name “Harold Crow” on the job. In his mind, he sees Nighttime Finch - the Finch who always eludes him - as the Raven in the poem, perched above the chamber door, incongruously wearing Finch’s round glasses.
What Reese avoids thinking about when he is tailing Finch every night:
1) different route every time
2) the routes always lead to places that are related either to cases or to conversations
3) they always end up in a blind spot
4) Finch acts like he knows Reese is there, but never looks back; never says anything
Night after night, Finch leads him somewhere new. And night after night, Reese catalogues the new blind spot. And sometimes - just sometimes - Reese takes advantage of the concealed space to relieve his libido. He has grown used to it by now - getting off in the cool night air, surrounded by bricks and boarded-up windows. Nowadays, he wouldn’t even think of masturbating in his loft, surrounded by security cameras.
Tonight Finch is walking through the NYU campus, looking for all the world like an unusually dapper professor on a stroll. Reese follows more than a block behind, wrapped in his overcoat. He feels undergrads looking at him, and he studiously avoids eye contact - John Reese does not fear organized crime syndicates, but he knows to be afraid of single freshmen on a Friday night.
Finch reaches Washington Square Park, and Reese watches him sit down on a bench. He expects him to take out a book, or for someone to sit down next to him. This would be a perfect place for Finch to be meeting someone. But then Finch turns. And he almost, but not quite, looks back to where Reese is standing.
Reese remains where he is, long enough to determine that Finch is not meeting anyone. But then he can’t stand being there anymore. He wants to - he can’t - he takes off, and heads to one of the surveillance blind spots.
He goes there sometimes on his own, just to be quiet, to turn off his phone, think about who will rescue him when his number comes up. He sits, right there on the pavement, lets his spine curve unattractively, and breathes and breathes, as though the air is different when he is by himself. And it suddenly occurs to him that maybe, maybe Finch has been leading him to the blind spots, not only to evade, but also to show them to Reese. That maybe Finch thinks that, given the surveillance of The Machine, Reese feels as though he’s never free. Maybe Finch is showing him all these places where he can be free and truly alone, if just for a few minutes.
Later, Reese goes home, and he lies in bed, and his heart feels full.
Give pearls away and rubies But keep your fancy free.”
Reese’s motel, New York City
February 12th, 2012
People think that the hard part about being a superhero is the physical combat, and the isolation. They’re right about the isolation, but for Reese, the hardest part is something completely different.
“We have a new number, Mr Reese.” Finch’s voice comes in over the earpiece Reese has taken to wearing at all times - even while sleeping.
“Good morning to you too, Finch.”
“Okay okay, I just gotta put some clothes on. What’s the address?” Reese fishes out fresh boxers as he speaks, shivering in the cold. It’s February and he should get a space heater for his shitty motel room, but that would be like admitting that the cold bothers him.
“I’m texting you the address now.”
The number’s name is Freddie Alcott. 32. Lives alone. She’s a waitress, and her neighbour is trying to kill her. What’s surprising is that her neighbour does not appear to care whether or not she is caught; she is just coming at Freddie like a terrifying female version of Jack Nicholson’s character from The Shining, hollering and clawing at Freddie Alcott’s door.
From what Reese can gather, the neighbour’s rage is caused by Freddie’s dog. He is a big dog, a Belgian Shepherd Dog, and no matter how well-trained he is (very well-trained, in Reese’s estimation), he must make considerable noise, with his claws clicking all over the floor, day and night.
Freddie is cowering in a corner, wrapped around her dog - his name is Atlas - while Reese apprehends her attacker. Even after Reese has the neighbour subdued, Freddie keeps on hugging Atlas, like she’s afraid of what will happen if she let go. There’s always a lot of strong emotion in this line of work, but Reese doesn’t usually notice. Abruptly, he wishes he could have a dog.
To Reese, the hardest part about being a superhero, is when he accidentally understands how people feel.
Sometimes, there are two numbers in one day.
“An ex-soldier, Mr Reese. But I can’t access his file from here.”
And sometimes, Finch has to do field work.
They’re pulling on their vests and packing their spare earpieces when Finch comments on Reese’s weaponry.
“Surely there is no need for a second uzi, Mr Reese.”
Finch has expressed his discomfort with firearms many times. Reese had been bewildered by this discomfort, in the beginning, given Finch had hired him precisely for his field and weaponry skills. But something had shifted, at some point, and now Reese got it, even if he occasionally found himself teasing Finch.
“That’s funny, Finch. I was just thinking that four hard drives is a little bit excessive.”
“Your observation is noted, Mr Reese.” The snark in Finch’s voice is palpable, and Reese can’t help smiling to himself.
But I was one-and-twenty, No use to talk to me.
New York City
February 12th, 2012
So this second number of the day is a Brooklyn bookstore owner turned arms dealer. His name is Graham West and he has barricaded himself into a warehouse full of AK-47s. Heaven knows where he got them. He is volatile and delusional.
It takes the rest of the day to figure out what to do.. Finch remains nearby on surveillance and intel; Reese is on the scene and ready to move.
The story is nearly too improbable to be believed: Graham West has become an arms dealer because of Arthur Rimbaud.
Apparently, there is a high rate of Francophilia in Brooklyn - some kind of hipster fixation that mainly involves name-dropping Derrida as often as possible - and Graham West has developed a delusion involving Rimbaud’s gun running in Africa.
Finch is snarky. "Yes. Because modelling yourself on someone who destroyed Paul Verlaine's life without a second thought and then moved to Africa to become a weapons dealer is such a good idea."
"I don't know, Finch -" It comes out of Reese’s mouth before he even knows he’s going to speak.
"I beg your pardon, Mr Reese?" Finch sounds mildly disinterested, as usual.
Reese wonders how often Finch's opinions are his own, rather than just opinions he has assigned to his "Mr Finch" persona. It is nearly impossible to find out anything as simple as where he lives; let alone what he cares about. It's been months, and Reese still can’t pick out truth from fabrication.
“I knew some people in college,” continues Reese, “who would have done those things just because they were bored. But this guy is doing it because he thinks it's going to make him a great poet."
“Great art, really, Mr Reese? Do you believe it can make up for murder?” Finch sounds like he is discussing the weather. Sometimes Reese wonders what it takes to get a rise out of Finch. Actually - Reese spends a lot of time wondering about that.
“No, but I think he believes that.” And Reese means to stop babbling, he really does, but he’s been watching the warehouse for hours and sometimes stakeouts put him in a bit of a stream-of-consciousness state, where he says things the minute he thinks them. Like he needs to focus so much that he can’t let thoughts remain in his head for any length of time, in case they crowd out his instincts and reflexes. “I mean, people become criminals because they want money, or revenge, and... Well think about it, Finch. This guy is trying to model himself on a poet-turned-arms-dealer because he wants so desperately to make something beautiful that he'll do anything. At the very least, you have to say that's a refreshing change from petty murder attempts by jealous exes."
“A criminal, by any other word…” murmurs Finch
And Reese, too, is murmuring into the comm at this point. He has a weapon pointed at the warehouse and he’s busy focusing on wind direction and visibility. “Strictly speaking, you and I are criminals, Harold,” he rambles on, absently using Finch’s first name. “What can we say about our own motivations? Do we even know what they are? Are we taking justice into our own hands because we distrust authority? Or are we assisting overburdened law enforcement authorities? Are we patriots, or anarchists?”
Finch speaks up. “That reminds me - detective Carter has passed on yet another FBI alert. They would very much like to imprison you, Mr Reese. They are now telling the NYPD that you were involved in illegal CIA operations.”
Reese, his weapon still pointed at the warehouse, mumbles. “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”
Finch bursts out laughing. “Did you just… quote Dorothy Parker at me?”
Reese nearly misses his shot.
"The heart out of the bosom Was never given in vain; 'Tis paid with sighs a plenty And sold for endless rue."
One day, John Reese walks into Grace Hendricks’s home, and sees a photograph of her with Harold Finch.
The library: undisclosed location in New York City
Reese and Finch receive a series of grad school-based numbers. Henry Dorchester, it would seem, had only been the beginning of a trend in homicidal intent in academia.
“Have you ever watched Inspector Morse, Mr Reese?”
“I… no,” Reese is slightly taken aback by the sudden advent of Conversational Finch.
Finch hums. “It was a police procedural set in Oxford, England. The cases always involved professors or students in some capacity.”
“That… doesn’t happen on American television.” Reese suddenly feels compelled to make an inappropriately humorous comment “Or have I been missing out on all the action in CSI Harvard?”
On the other end of the line, Finch pauses.
“Did I just… make you laugh, Finch?”
Finch’s pause lengthens, and Reese thinks he is going to ignore the question. But then he says: “Perhaps. But to get back to Inspector Morse, I must confess, I have been feeling like you and I have been transported in the middle of an episode.”
The murder-attempt-du-jour is about a scholarship. A substantial scholarship, substantial enough for one candidate to be determined to win at all costs. His name is Tristan Fauré, and he’s planning to give his rivals coffee, laced with narcotics, before their interviews.
He’s inexperienced, however, and the substances he has (illegally) purchased are basically horse tranquilizers, which will pretty much kill anyone who does not have a history of drug abuse. And not only is Fauré inexperienced: he is unrepentant.
Reese refrains from the unnecessary violence he is sorely tempted to perform, and remains on campus until Mr. Fauré has been arrested.
When he gets back to the library, Finch has ordered lunch.
“I don’t even want to think about the kind of pressure these poor children must be under, to behave like this,” Finch says. He sounds… chatty.
Reese has been trying to get Finch to talk for months. He’s been using every information-gathering technique he knows. In fact, Finch had even commented on it. “No question is ever innocent from you,” he’d said. But here, coming out of absolutely nowhere, is Conversational Finch.
He remembers to say something. “I had a college professor who used to talk about ego all the time.”
Finch is - Reese can’t tell if Finch really is indifferent to the mention of Reese’s life before the CIA, or only feigning indifference. “Did you?”
“Yeah. He was all post-structuralism this and castration anxiety that.”
Abruptly, Finch chokes on his pad thai.
Reese blithely continues. “I wonder what he would’ve said about these kids.” He pauses to think for a moment. “For that matter, I wonder what he would’ve said about us.”
In the afternoon, there are no new numbers, and Reese uses the opportunity to visit a Ms. Grace Hendricks. Reese does not know anything about her, but his surveillance suggests she is somehow significant to Finch’s past.
She lives in Greenwich Village. He just goes ahead and knocks at her door.
She is chatty and welcoming, but he spots it almost as soon as he walks in the door: a photo of them, of Finch and Hendricks (or Harold and Grace, as he supposes they must be when they’re together), in a pose suggesting romance, rather than friendship. Finch’s face, in the photograph, is unsettling; he looks cheerful and optimistic, which is just wrong.
Ms Hendricks offers him coffee, and tell him all her deceased fiancé, Harold, and Reese thinks the universe must be laughing at him. But he smiles politely, and remembers that his heart has always been collateral damage, anyway.
And I am two-and-twenty And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.
New York City
February 14th, 2012
When night comes, Reese follows Finch, on autopilot. He has perfected Finch-following so well that Finch’s gait tells him whether or not he's about to make a sudden turn or an unexpected movement. He hardly even needs to look at him - a fact for which he is currently grateful, because can’t quite bear to look at Finch directly.
He has been tailing Finch so regularly, so systematically, that nowadays, he has difficulty sleeping if he doesn’t. He does not want to be here right now, but he is here. Likely he won’t sleep tonight anyway, but he’ll have a better chance if he’s here, than otherwise.
Finch walks for a long time, meandering through Central Park before closing time. The weather is mild, for February, and the ground is covered with wet snow that reflects the yellowish light from the streetlamps. Couples holding hands wander by, and Reese registers the fact that it’s Valentine’s day when he sees heart-shaped fairy lights hanging from a tree. Finch walks ahead. There are people taking photographs of themselves in a heart-shaped cutout, and Reese realizes, to his horror, that the scene is straight out of a sad indie movie, a depressing heart-rending post-modern commentary on senseless violence and broken dreams. The pink lights flicker on the snow. He feels like he might be sick.
Finch exits the park, and makes his way to the alley behind Grounds for Thought. Reese thinks how excited he would have been, not so long ago, for this break in Finch’s routine: he has never returned to the same place twice, before. But instead he feels increasingly nauseated, and looks forward to sitting down. Finch is going to vanish any minute - Reese can tell from his quickening pace - and for once Reese is glad of it.
Once Finch is gone, Reese leans his head on the wall. He wishes he could throw a punch at someone, or maybe several someones He wishes he had a reason. He wishes he had to defend himself, so his body would take over and his mind shut itself off. He wishes - he wishes someone would beat him up. So that he would feel something. And he thinks - he thinks about the last whiskey bottle he had in his hands.
He clutches the brick wall.
His eyes shut tight, he lets thoughts flow through his mind. Any pretence of self-control he has is gone; he neither censors nor avoids his feelings. The memory parade of everything he would ever have preferred to avoid - he lets it wash over him, like pain.
John Reese does not know Harold Finch’s real name, and he has sufficient evidence to recognize that nearly everything about him is pretense, or otherwise feigned. And his morals are, at best, dubious. John wishes he’d noticed earlier how much they have in common.
Part three: April
As if the sky were riven, as if already
Reese’s loft, New York City
April 15th 2012
Vigilantism, anarchism, and some very fundamental questions about property rights: these are just some of the things John Reese, Harold Finch, and The Machine - Finch’s data mining program - have to offer New York City.
One day bleeds into the next, and then into the next. The sad, grey winter has given way to spring. Reese’s bullheaded determination to bring The Raven Project to a conclusion has given way to resignation. There is work to do, and there are lives to save.
In nine months, Reese and Finch have developed efficient and reliable working patterns together, have formed relationships with several members of the New York City Police, and have successfully evaded the inquisitive eyes of the CIA. Reese has continued to avoid whiskey, and Finch has continued to be mysterious. They have acquired a dog, called Bear, and Reese has moved out of the motel.
Reese has, in fact, moved into a loft Finch purchased for him. When he first saw it, Reese had, rather cynically, assumed that Finch just wanted him to stash his weapons elsewhere than the library. But after moving in, he found things - such as a bookshelf full of all the books he had ever picked up in the library - that suggested other motives. Was Finch showing him just how little Reese could do without Finch knowing about it? Was Finch encouraging to read more? Was he… just being nice? Reese just couldn’t tell.
“We have another number,” Finch says.
Reese only grunts in response. Most days, those words are the first thing he hears.
“Graham Fuller, CIA, officially dead.”
Reese raises his eyebrows.
“Yes, this should be interesting, Mr Reese.”
To their surprise, it isn’t all that interesting. Mr Fuller is on the run from a particularly motivated ex-colleague, but Finch quickly makes the threat go away with a few powerful incentives (read: threats to report his history of blackmail), while Reese finds Mr Fuller a temporary home with a rather delighted Detective Carter.
The most complicated thing turns out to be logistical. Mr Fuller needs a new identity, and a livelihood.
“You know, Finch, if you wanted to branch out, maybe turn this operation into a franchise…”
Finch starts. “Surely not, Mr Reese.”
Reese looks up from where he’s cleaning his gun.
“Or would you like to have a new colleague?” Finch asks, slowly.
The tentative camaraderie between the two of them has faded since the winter. Most days, Finch and Reese hardly speak except to discuss cases. Reese doesn’t know if he should say something flippant, or serious, or…
“I was being facetious, Finch,” he says, blinking.
Reese has no idea what that means. Does Finch think that he’s lonely, or bored, or just too sarcastic for his own good? It could mean anything. He doesn’t know how to respond, so instead he says nothing.
They work in silence. Late in the afternoon, Finch hands Reese a satchel. “Bring these to Mr Fuller.”
Reese takes it. “What’s this?”
“There is no need for inquisitiveness, Mr Reese. Just bring them to Mr Fuller.”
The unexpected appearance of Peevish Finch takes Reese by surprise. “Understood,” he says, in a mock-military voice.
Reese gets up, sets down his gun, and makes for the door.
“Mr Reese, do clear away your weapons before leaving.”
Reese stops dead in his tracks.
“Do it now, Mr Reese.”
Reese no longer cares whether flippant responses are appropriate. “Sir, yes Sir,” he barks out.
Finch stops moving, halfway to the desk, and turns to look at him. Reese places his firearms into the gun cabinet. He looks at back Finch; Finch’s pupils are huge. Reese suddenly finds that he can hardly breathe.
He’s so confused. He doesn’t know what just happened. He doesn’t understand why Finch is so irritable all of a sudden, and he doesn’t understand why he even cares. Distraught, he grabs the satchel and walks out the door.
The light itself could be no longer trusted.
New York City
April 15th, 2012
Every night, Reese feels as though the city changes, and Finch along with it. Reese thought he had become accustomed to this shift, but today, he is as baffled as on the first day they met. Reese finishes the delivery, and once he’s done, he finds he cannot bear not knowing Finch’s motives for another minute.
He heads back to the library. He feels nervous, and warm. He walks quickly.
But when he gets there, Finch is gone. He is just… gone. He’s never done this before. He’s always stayed at the library until Reese came in to give his last report. Did he send Reese to make a delivery (of what turned out to be several passports, ID cards, and credit cards) in order to leave without being followed? Did he, really?
Reese suddenly feels exhausted, and keyed up, all at once. He thinks of going for a run, changes his mind, and heads to the bookstore. He plunks himself down into the alley, turns off his phone, and replays the day’s events.
Do it now, Mr Reese, Finch had said. Do it now.
And he’s exhausted, he’s so exhausted. Reese has lust and longing and yearning on his mind, and he fell for Finch ages ago but hasn’t wanted to think about it, has done everything to avoid thinking about it - it has been pointless to picture his own legs spread for Finch, think of the wool of Finch’s suit, rough against his thighs, thinks of… of the feeling of Finch’s hand, holding him down. But Finch is making it impossible, impossible.
Do it now, Mr Reese,
Reese reaches into his pants, cups himself, tugs.
He grips himself, and this is a phenomenally bad idea, but he just…
Slides his cock through his hand, and he thinks of Finch’s eyes, stricken - that can’t have been feigned, it can’t have been, Reese thought Finch was angry and hurt at the time but really, deep down, really, he knew it was lust, he knew - and his heart beats faster at the thought. He pushes his hips up; makes little thrusting movements against his palm. He wants - he wants Finch to tell him -
And it abruptly hits Reese: an image of Finch telling him to bend over. His hand never even reaches the base of his cock; the orgasm hits him like a brick.
He lays in the alley, slumped over and shaking. A deluge of images and scenarios run through his head, as though his mind had been keeping an inventory and saving it all for this moment. He sees things Finch has said, and things he could say, and he is dizzy with lust.
Later, in his bed, Reese wakes from a fevered dream in which Finch is mussed and overwhelmed and looking at him like… like… Reese drifts back to sleep before he can decide like what.
If self is a location, so is love:
The library: undisclosed location in New York City
April 17th, 2012
It has been two days. He has known that Finch is attracted to him for the past two days. And for the first time in his professional life, John Reese cannot focus.
His mind is filled with inappropriate images. They run through his head, unrelenting, day and night. And they aren’t just images of them together - they’re elaborate, detailed scenarios.
Reese notices underlit areas of the library, and suddenly finds himself imagining Finch crowding him into dark corners; Finch’s hands under his clothes, and dust from the bookshelves rubbing off on both of them. Reese can feel Finch’s mouth against his cheek, and see the titles of the books surrounding them. Finch’s breath on his skin; Finch’s body (Finch’s body) moving against his.
“We have a new number, Mr Reese.”
Reese snaps back to reality, to the library, and to the coffee growing cold in front of him. He realizes that Finch has been standing over him for several seconds. He clears his throat, hard.
“Are you unwell, John?”
John Reese has never fetishized clothing, but suddenly, he finds himself transfixed at the sight of the top button of Finch’s waistcoat, and mesmerized by Finch’s pocket square. He wants to touch him so much that it is making him dizzy. Maybe Finch wouldn’t fall for him, maybe Finch will never love Reese like he loves Grace Hendricks, but Reese doesn’t care anymore, he’ll settle, he will -
Finch hands him a piece of paper. “The number’s information is all here, Mr Reese.”
Reese grabs the paper without comment. Outside, he takes in great gulps of air, and stubbornly clears his mind. Someone’s life is in danger.
Only a few short hours later, Reese has completed his mission, and the daydreams return. He trudges back into the library, unwilling to let his professionalism slip, no matter how distracted he is.
He thinks about Finch and himself sitting on a too-small seat together (Where? Why? He doesn’t even care) - their thighs close enough to feel every muscle tensing and releasing every time Finch tries to rise. He thinks: What if he leaned slowly towards Finch? What if Finch let him? What if Finch moved his hand so that it just happened to touch Reese’s hand? What if he just left it there? What if Reese’s hand happened to move against it? What if Finch turned his head? What if Reese could smell his cologne? (Oh God, Finch’s cologne)
He thinks: What if Finch was sleepy? What if his head drooped and fell on Reese's shoulder? What if Reese had every reason to put his arm around him - to protect him, to take care of him - maybe even to carry him back to the library?
Sometimes, Reese pretends that Finch knows where his scars come from, because he has similar scars of his own. What if, Reese thinks, what if Finch was asleep on his shoulder, and Reese could whisper all the things he's ever wanted to say but couldn’t?
The thought of it makes his breath catch. He and Finch had shared so much with each other, and so little with the rest of the world. It’s just them. Just them and no one else.
If only there was a way. Sometimes, Reese thinks of intimacy stemming from nothing at all. He thinks of Finch looking at him, just looking at him, and all that would happen is that Finch wouldn't look away.
He thinks: What if Finch and he had to hide in a cupboard together, Finch’s body plastered against his, even the tiniest movement causing rubbing and frottage?
“We have a new number, Mr Reese.”
Reese blurts it out: “Yes Sir.”
When Reese looks up, Finch is flushed, beet red, all the way to the tips of his ears. Reese has never seen Finch discomfited; it is the most intoxicating sight he has ever seen. Even in his shirtsleeves and covered in blood, he normally looks so self-possessed; to see him like this feels like something private, something that only belongs to Reese.
For a long moment, they are both perfectly still.
Finch clears his throat, hard, and says, “Here is the address. Detective Carter will assist you. There is no need to report back.”
Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points,
127 Eckford Street, Brooklyn
April 17th, 2012
The number is simple but devastating.
Carter and Reese make their way to the very edges of Williamsburg, where they break into a broken-down house, and find two siblings. They’re in their late 50s, though for some reason, they’re both dressed like teenagers. The house is decaying around them, like a badly-conserved time capsule, and it smells sweet and sickly, like it’s fermenting. How The Machine knew these sisters were a danger to each other, Reese will never know.
Their names are Andrea and Florence. They’re bickering, bickering, bickering - completely unintelligible to Reese - but Carter quickly figures it out: there’s something wrong with their food. Reese ends up having to immobilize both of them, while Carter looks through the house - but in no time at all, she turns up a couple of suspect items, and the women spill everything: they have both poisoned each other’s food. Andrea has dripped pesticide into Florence’s pink gin, and Florence has somehow emptied the mercury from four batteries into Andrea’s pot roast.
It is unsettling, to say the least. Reese looks around him, at the house, at the festering, stifling air of broken dreams, and can’t help commenting: “The CIA didn’t prepare me for this.”
“Nobody prepares us for this, John.” Carter answers, as she helps Andrea and Florence into a couple of police cars.
Afterwards, Carter and Reese walk through McCarren Park.
Reese shakes his head in disbelief. “They were like… Cain and Abel. Like a horrifying biblical repetition.”
“If only! There is only one death in the Cain and Abel story.”
They chat for a while, commiserating in that grim way that seems reserved for soldiers and law enforcement personnel.
“Do you have brothers or sisters, Carter?” Reese asks, looking up at the skyline.
“Two sisters and a brother. They’re all army, actually. All three of them.”
“You’re the oldest, I bet.”
Carter laughs. It’s a nice laugh. “Yeah, you got me.”
They walk silently, for a few minutes, then Carter says: “You told me you had brothers, didn’t you, John?”
Reese doesn’t answer; just nods.
Thoughtful, Carter adds: “Harold has brothers too. You guys have that in common.”
The mention of Finch is like a punch to the chest, and with a rush, Reese remembers Finch’s pink-red ears.
It’s nearly midnight by the time Reese walks Carter home. When they’ve said their goodbyes, he keeps walking, directionless, for a long time.
Without quite knowing how he got there, Reese finds himself in the alley behind the bookstore Grounds for Thought. It is as secluded as ever. The springtime is just starting to show from the tiny leaves of the ivy snaking its way up the brick wall.
This would make it the third time Reese has been there. This is bad. Three times is a pattern, and as a rule, Reese avoids patterns.
Furthermore, it is nearly dawn. As it is, he’ll already be needing an entire day to recover from the sleep deprivation he’s accrued over the week. He feels dizzy. He should really be heading back to the loft.
He walks into the alley anyway. Takes a deep breath. Turns off his phone.
What if Finch knew what he wanted? Reese thinks. What if he just… knew? Finch always knows everything, Reese’s mind whispers.
In his mind’s eye, Reese can see Finch’s dark, troubled expression. That moment when Reese thought that maybe… What if, Reese thinks, what if he put his hand in John’s hair, and pulled, and pulled?
Reese shoves his hand in his pants, and moans.
He feels delirious. He imagines Finch pulling him down by his hair, and he can picture it so clearly: Finch standing; himself on his knees, taking it. Yielding.
On his knees, his face nearly touching the pavement, Reese jerks his cock once, twice, and comes so hard that he feels his feet tingling. He sees bright lights behind his eyes. He feels wrenched.
He crumples over, and tries catch his breath. He fastens his belt clumsily, though his hands are uncoordinated. He closes his eyes, just for a moment -
Options, obstinacies, dug heels and distance,
The library. Undisclosed location within New York City
April 18th, 2012
“Mr Reese? Mr Reese? Mr Reese.”
At 7 am, Finch assumed Reese’s earpiece to be broken, or lost. At 8 am, he called both Detective Carter and Detective Fusco, neither of whom were able to help.
Now it is 9:30, and Finch is pulling up his contingency plan.
Harold Finch's Custom Contingency Plan for Locating Unresponsive Ex-CIA Agents.
1. Review surveillance feeds from the agent’s residence.
2. Check police live audio feeds for precinct of last known location.
3. Check all police live audio feeds within 10 mile radius.
4. Check surveillance feeds of surrounding airports.
5. Send a description of the agent to area hospitals.
6. Hack into the CIA database.
7. Hack into INTERPOL.
8. Bribe local organized crime for information and assistance.
9. Bribe international organized crime for information and assistance.
10. Offer larger bribe.
Finch regularly inspects the surveillance feeds surrounding Reese’s loft, but normally he does it to look for suspicious activity, not to check whether or not Reese is there. When reviews the footage, he fully expects to see Reese entering the building around 12:30, which would be 30 minutes after the time Carter said he dropped her off. But he doesn’t. Finch is surprised to find that Reese has not been in the loft in over 24 hours, but he supposes Reese can’t be expected to - he shouldn’t presume that Reese - he never told Reese to keep him apprised of his movements at all times.
Finch wishes his contingency plan included a time frame for worrying - or perhaps only some statistics regarding likely scenarios. Statistically speaking, at which stage should handlers suppose that the Unresponsive Agent is likely to be in danger? At which step should the handler suppose that they have been abducted? At which step should the handler start to panic?
Checking the police scanners is an annoyingly time-consuming task, and Finch suddenly finds that he would give anything for a minion, or an intern of some kind. Time ticks by. Finch experimentally speaks into his earpiece every few minutes.
“Mr Reese? Mr Reese? Mr Reese.”
By the time Finch has sent a description of “John Anderson, also known as John Randall” to surrounding hospitals, Finch feels panic rising at the edges of his mind. He wishes John was here to teach him how to keep panic at bay. John taught him self-defence - he must know how to teach him to think in the middle of a crisis. Finch wishes he’d thought of it earlier. He tries to breathe. He clings to the thought that The Machine hasn’t sent him John’s number.
“Mr Reese? Mr Reese? Mr Reese.”
It’s 11:35 when the question finally crosses Finch’s mind: how can Reese have completely disappeared? How can it be that he isn’t showing up on any surveillance -
He sits up with a jolt - and a wince of pain, unfortunately - when it dawns on him. How can a person hide from surveillance cameras. He, Finch, is the one who made it possible. He is the one who has been showing Reese every single gap in New York City’s surveillance network. The formal and the informal network. Reese basically has a catalogue of every location The Machine cannot track.
Here and there and now and then, a stance.
Grounds for Thought bookstore, New York City
April 18th, 2012
Now that he knows Reese might not have been taken to a secret prison by the CIA - or worse - Finch is able to breathe. Finding Reese starts to feel like a workable task. He can split up the search between himself, Detective Carter, and Detective Fusco, it can’t take that long, it’ll just be a matter of -
Something occurs to Finch. Something… something about Valentine’s Day. He isn’t one for intuition, but perhaps he’ll just check…
April, though it is a springtime month, is not always balmy on the East Coast. It is a time for marvelling at the miracle of nature’s renewal; it is not a time for sleeping outdoors. So when Finch sees John Reese crumpled and unconscious in the alley, he panics.
He quickly crouches over Reese, however, and finds him breathing. There aren’t any bottles surrounding him; he appears to have collapsed solely from exhaustion. He will be fine. But he is burning up.
Finch squeezes the ends of Reese’s fingers, and Reese opens his eyes. They look at each other. Reese gives Finch a drowsy smile.
Finch’s heart lurches. “Hush, John. We need to get you inside.You have a fever.”
“I do?” Reese reaches up to touch Finch’s skin, just above his collar. ”Where am I?”
Finch takes a deep breath. “As a matter of fact, John, you’re in the alley behind my apartment.”
Reese blinks at him, very slowly.
Finch strokes his hair. He tells himself that he is only feeling concern for Reese’s fever. He tells himself this but he knows it’s a lie. He’s been in love before. Only love hurts like this.
“Please, John, let me take you there.”