Title: Operational Expansion

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: There was something perturbed, even a little uncertain, about Finch's stance that plucked strangely at Reese's well-honed instincts. 1200 words.

Spoilers: Sometime during Season 2 for POI; Season 5 for Leverage

Notes: For Azar, for Day 13 in Wishlist 2012, for the prompt: "The Machine doesn't only see crimes in NYC. Finch recruits the Leverage team to save someone in Portland." Set in the same universe as "There's No Such Thing as Paranoia".


Reese set the box of pastries he'd brought down on the nearest shelf, assessing his partner's expression as he faced the cracked pane of glass serving as their situation board. Finch had already taped up a photograph and a printed copy of some document Reese couldn't read at that distance, nothing that immediately stood out as different from previous cases- but there was something perturbed, even a little uncertain, about his stance that plucked strangely at Reese's well-honed instincts.

"Finch?" he prompted the man again, casually turning to scan the interior of the room to make sure that whatever the problem might be, it wasn't inside the library. When that swift glance failed to turn up any mob enforcers holding a gun on Finch to ensure his silence, or torn-up books dangling from Bear's jaws, he cleared his throat loudly and continued. "We have a new Number, I see?"

Finch finally blinked, then looked away from the photographs. "Mr. Reese?" he said, as though surprised to see him, then frowned slightly as Reese's words registered. But it was an abstracted sort of frown, not one directed at him in specific. "Yes. However, there seems to have been... a development."

He didn't offer anything more by way of explanation, and Reese raised his eyebrows. "And does this development require some type of surveillance activity or intervention on my part?" It was a rare Number that didn't involve Reese crouching in the shadows with a camera or a pair of binoculars at some point- when he didn't just engage with the victim or perpetrator directly.

Finch sighed. "Not directly; but yes, I do believe your intervention will be required," he said enigmatically, then gestured toward the board as if the situation were self-explanatory.

Reese frowned back at him, then shook his head and slowly approached. He didn't recognize the man in the photograph, nor the name on what turned out to be an airline boarding pass- but the date and place names on the pass were slightly more informative. The man in question had left New York City on a single layover flight headed for Portland, Oregon. Several hours before.

For the first year of their partnership, Reese had assumed that the Machine filtered the Irrelevant list by geographic location; there was no other simple explanation for the fact that every Number they were sent was from the local area. But after Finch had been kidnapped- and Reese forced the Machine's hand- it had broken pattern, sending him to Texas. Had he inadvertently reset some kind of limiting protocol? Would it expect them to hop around the country on a regular basis from then on? Expanding their operations beyond the city would be... problematic.

"Even if I left now, I would be several hours behind him, at best," Reese acknowledged. "Did you receive the Number before his flight left, or is there something else going on here?"

"Yes- and I'm afraid so," Finch sighed, turning back to the computer station to retrieve another sheet of printed paper and tape it to the glass. It was covered in a long list of telephone numbers and timestamps, with one line highlighted in bright orange; part of the Number's cell phone statement. "At five thirty seven this morning, one Mr. Derek Stone made a brief call to a burner cell here in New York. The Machine sent his Number to us at five thirty nine."

"And at five fifty five, his plane left New York," Reese concluded. "Then the call could have been a pre-arranged activation code for something scheduled to take place here, in the city. One significant enough that he wanted to have a solid alibi for the event."

"A plausible guess- but if that had been the case, we would probably have been sent the Number of someone physically involved in the scheme. No, whatever is going to happen- is most likely going to happen in Oregon."

"We're not in Oregon, Finch," Reese pointed out.

"Yes, thank you for reminding me," Finch replied, very dryly. Then he glanced over at Reese again, a pensive expression furrowing his brows. "However- we do know someone who is. You do recall our meeting with Mr. Spencer a year ago, in the diner?"

It was Reese's turn to blink, reassessing. The name brought back memories of a compact man with killer's eyes and aim as accurate as Reese's, as like the CIA agent he had been at the time as two bullets fired from the same gun. But it also evoked a man with laugh lines forming around his wolf's smile and a companionable handshake, accompanied by a decidedly civilian coworker more in Finch's line.

"I'm not likely to forget," he said. "But I thought his new employer worked out of Boston."

"Mmmm. I believe we were a little occupied at the time- but there was some trouble with a man named Victor Dubenich, and they chose to relocate to the opposite coast." Off Reese's raised eyebrow, he added, "I've kept track of those few among my former candidates who have gone into similar lines of work- not because I thought I might still need to request their services, but in the interests of compiling statistics on the current trends in vigilantism."

"Statistics. Sure," Reese replied, smiling faintly at the hurried tone of his partner's explanation; he'd heard the like before, usually to the tune of 'I just read it for the articles' or 'it's not a comic book, it's narrative artwork'. But he supposed it was no business of his whether Finch was a fan, or just taking notes on the competition's methods; either way, Reese was secure in his position.

The smile faded, though, as he put a few more facts together. Obviously, if Finch had mentioned him, Spencer's team must be close to Stone's destination- and the Machine must have known that when it flagged Stone's Number.

Now he understood the expression Finch had been wearing when he'd arrived. Had the Machine been factoring Finch's prior research regarding provisionary assets into the ranking of the Irrelevant List all along? He already knew it had more initiative and more complex decision making abilities than any software he'd ever heard of short of HAL or Skynet; he didn't like thinking of it as a threat, not when it and its creator had given him back his purpose, but Reese couldn't deny that it was a possibility.

...Not as long as it was still trying to fulfill its primary function, though, he decided, taking his phone from his pocket. "Well. He did say if we ever had business in his city..." he mused aloud.

Finch nodded, his posture relaxing a few degrees. "I rather thought the call would be better received coming from you," he agreed as Reese dialed.

"Spencer," a familiar voice answered curtly, seconds later.

"Eliot," Reese acknowledged. "Last time we spoke, you mentioned something about... providing leverage?"

The silence on the other end lasted only a moment. "John," Spencer replied, guardedly. "I'd say it's nice to hear from you again, but I think I'll wait 'til after you tell me what's going on."

Reese smiled, meeting gazes with his partner. "Let's talk."