Title: Walking in the Dark
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Summary: It struck me then that I'd been going about the business of learning Finch's secrets all wrong. 1000 words.
Fandom: Person of Interest 1.10 - "Number Crunch"
Notes: A speculative, over-wrought reaction fic, posted before even rewatching the episode: not meant for my tag sequence. I'll do a Carter POV later.
It struck me, as I stumbled down the stairwell with my blood slowly soaking my shirt, that I'd been going about the business of learning Finch's secrets all wrong.
A strange time for inspiration to arrive, one might think, with an assassin's bullet in my side and the sound of a speeding engine over panicked breathing in my earbud. I could feel the blood loss already; my sock was warm and wet with it on that side, sticking in my shoe as I shuffled down the parking structure stairwell. Cool sweat poured down my face; the wound was a fire in my stomach, but shock was numbing it sufficiently for the moment, keeping me moving. The world had shrunk down to the next few steps, the slide of my hand along the stair rail, and the fear and determination on my behalf in Finch's voice.
He would not be too late, I could almost hear him thinking. Not this time.
I took another step, and another, my thoughts drifting despite my best efforts to hold onto my focus. Finch normally kept himself very cool, but I'd heard him that distraught before: he'd sounded very much like that when he'd realized the baby stroller was a bomb, just yesterday, and had insisted on trying to warn Matt before it went off. Soured and dimmer, the same pain had colored his words when he'd told me about the long, lonely months of watching Numbers die without the ability to help them, back when we'd worked to save Zoe Morgan.
I didn't like it when he sounded like that. It made me think about the people I'd failed- and the ones I had 'helped', only to discover the extent of my betrayal.
And that's when it occurred to me, bursting bright and hot like a fresh wound: Finch had never been protecting himself with his secrecy.
He didn't care about his own safety; he never had. He barely cared about his privacy, either; he pretended to, but often forgot himself when he wasn't deliberately on guard, and the photo he'd left in that copy of Ghost in the Machine was not something he'd ever have brought within a mile of a former spy if he'd really feared it being found. What he cared about was that I might connect who he was now to who he had been; that was why he'd abandoned that job at the company he owned so swiftly. Because who he had been, was the man who'd built the Machine.
He'd told me himself: it had been right in front of me all along. The government had asked him to build a system that would sift credible threats of terrorism from its masses of data: acts that had caused or would cause mass casualties against citizens or other assets of the United States of America.
I had been sent to put an end to threats against the United States of America. I'd killed more people than I wanted to count, prompted by Stanton and her 'anonymous source, very reliable.'
Had it been anonymous not because it was a person whose identity needed protecting- but because it wasn't a person at all?
Stanton, Jessica; my star on the wall at Langley; and Mark up on the roof, smiling and smiling while his associate with the rifle waited for my 'no'. I could see the edges of the pattern, now. Finch had known so much about me not because he'd been searching through masses of names for a perfect mercenary, but because I'd been ground under the wheels of his Machine, and he'd assembled my file with the same self-flagellation that had led him to build his wall of Numbers.
He'd waited until I was on the verge of self-destruction. And then he'd come to me, shaping a persona all prickles and demands. Offering me the opportunity to make a difference via the very same means that had destroyed me, hoping to build success out of ashes and so prove he wasn't a monster, either.
I snorted absently, breath coming shallowly as I turned another corner and took another step, and another, and another. I had to get to the bottom, or he'd keep trying to get to me until they came for him; I'd learned that much about him, about the person under the masks and mannerisms. As much as I'd needed purpose when he'd found me, having cast my own away- he'd needed connection, there in the middle of an ethereal web that spanned an entire nation.
Had the other man from that photo known him like I did? I didn't think so, somehow; the Finch that I knew had been tempered in fire, 'like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.'
Was I right? I thought so. It felt right. Balanced: the wheel turned back on its beginnings. Had he thought I'd blame him? Turn on him, try to take down the Machine? I pictured the faces of those two girls, still clutching the money they'd stolen to save their mother's house, and Carter's smile, sitting in that diner with her son-
Ah, Carter; she was going to hate herself for the night's doings. And me. I could hear her above me, moving slowly to make sure she was still on my trail, though there couldn't have been much doubt; I must have been leaving marks even Fusco could follow. I couldn't really blame her; I was sure Mark had known exactly what to say to manipulate her. He'd been trained for that, after all.
Just as I had. If I hadn't acted on the Machine's intel, it would have been someone else's. Jessica might not have died; but so might have a lot of other innocents. Stanton would always have acted according to her nature. And- well.
If Finch had never built the Machine, I'd never have met him.
"I wanted to thank you, Harold, for giving me a second chance."