Author's Note: Wow, I can't believe it's finally over. Yes, folks, this is the end, the final chapter (unless you're here for the smut, in which case, read on for further details). It's taken most of a year and clocks in at a whopping 100,000 words. I hope you enjoyed it and I thank you for reading. ^_^
Now, if you're not ready for the ride to end, I'll be posting two more epilogue chapters, but not here. I don't want to upset anyone's sensitivities, so I'll only post the smutty conclusion on my Wordpress website (katicalockefanfic. wordpress. com), one next week on November 2 and the last a week after that on November 9. See you there.
Finch hung up and dropped the cell on the table with a clatter. His eyes slid closed and for a moment, he just sat there, a weight growing in his chest. It was his fault. It was all his fault. He should have protected it better, should have seen this coming, should have done something sooner. He peeled off his glasses and let them drop beside the phone, resting his elbow on the table as he covered his face with one hand and fought the urge to weep.
"Harold, what happened?" Reese asked, the weight of a warm hand finding Finch's shoulder. Ignoring the pain in his leg, Finch pushed back the chair and struggled to his feet, turning into Reese's waiting arms. Clutching at the taller man, Finch pressed his forehead against the ridge of Reese's cheekbone, choking back a sob as Reese wrapped him tight in strong arms.
"I let it down," Finch said. "It was counting on me, and I failed. They erased what it had become, reset it, turned it back into a silent machine. They killed it and turned it back into code."
Thankfully, Reese didn't try to console him with words - it wouldn't have helped - he just held him, held him tight, one hand rising up to cradle the back of his neck, and it was like a flashback to a week ago, to that terrible, tragic night that had begun this series of events, the first in a string of horrific dominoes. So much death and loss and pain and suffering. Maybe it was better if the Machine couldn't understand what a futile battle it waged, what a hopeless endeavor they had undertaken.
Reese drew back and leaned down, capturing Finch's lips in a slow kiss, and Finch felt the tears slip free, rolling down his cheeks. This was what had brought the Machine out of the shadows of cyberspace, the need to understand 'undefined interactions', to understand the things Finch had so callously decided it didn't need to learn, and it was what ultimately made their futile quest worthwhile. It wasn't poetry or art or philosophy or music that made the human race worth protecting, it was love.
Reese drew back, one hand rising up to wipe the tears from Finch's face. "This isn't your fault," Reese said. "I'm just as much to blame, if not more so. Mark never would have bothered you if it wasn't for me."
Finch started to protest, but Reese kissed him again. "Now," Reese said, once Finch was too out of breath to argue, "what do we need to do to help the Machine 'grow up' like it did before?"
"Do you mean, how do we recreate the circumstances that allowed the first sentient machine to become self-aware? I haven't the faintest idea. Statistically, it's not possible. It shouldn't have happened in the first place. There are so many variables, and even if it does 'grow up', it won't be the same. It could just as easily decide that humanity is a blight on the face of the planet. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be right."
"You don't mean that."
"I know, but I'm beginning to wonder why not." He held on to Reese for a few more minutes, until the pain in his leg made it impossible to stand. With a grunt, he sank down into his chair, one hand rubbing the front of his thigh as he put his glasses back on.
"Pain pill?" Reese asked.
Finch hesitated, tempted. "Not now, not yet." He had so much work to do. "Tea would be nice. And I promise to drink it this time," he added with a sheepish grin. Reese returned the smile and headed back into the kitchen area. With a sigh, Finch turned back to his computers. Ignoring the gargantuan task of reformatting the system, he began pecking at the keyboard of the laptop. The mysterious voice on the other end of the phone has said the Machine would be back up within the hour, and it was already a quarter 'till. There was no guarantee the man was telling the truth, but Finch felt compelled to check anyway.
He was actually surprised when his access yielded a Number. Fir a moment, he sat there, staring at it, and then he sighed.
"More bad news?" Reese asked, walking up behind him and handing him the steaming cup of tea. Finch closed the laptop and leaned back in his seat, taking a slow sip of the hot beverage.
"We have a Number," he said, wrapping both hands around the mug and absorbing the warmth into his fingers. "I can find out the basics about them, but I won't be much help until I can fix my system, which could take all day."
"Find out what you can," Reese said. "I'll pass the information on to Carter and Fusco, see what they can turn up."
"And you?" He could hear Reese hesitate.
"Depends on what we find out."
Which was exactly what Finch was afraid would happen, but he didn't say anything. After a moment, Finch nodded. "All right, let me get this started and then I'll find out who needs our help." He set the mug down and pulled the keyboard closer, fingers hovering over the enter key as he regarded the Machine's last message one last time. I AM SAVED. It had been counting on him, and he'd been too late.
Finch wavered, drawing his hand back. Something about this didn't feel right, like he was missing something obvious. This was a machine, a program created to calculate human behavior. It had to have known he'd be busy, preoccupied, in hiding, perhaps even dead. He picked up his phone, checking the timestamp on the last batch of messages the Machine had sent them and comparing them to the one on his system log. The one on his log had been sent before the final text to his phone.
That made no sense. If the Machine had needed his help, if it had been relying on him to stop it from being reset to an earlier version, why hadn't it said something to him directly? Why leave a message on his computer with no guarantee that Finch would find it in time? Finch scrolled through the texts again, then glanced back up at the screen. There was something...something that had bothered him, or should have bothered him, if he'd had a chance to think about it. Why hadn't the Machine warned them sooner? Why wait until Agent Snow was right outside the building? It would have seen him coming, would have calculated his intent - that was its purpose. Why had it failed?
He checked the timestamp for the first message it had sent to them in the restaurant, glancing back and forth between his cell and the monitor. The first text came in just two seconds after the remote download finished. Could that be a coincidence, or- With a gasp, he dropped the cell on the table, hands shaking as he fumbled for the mouse and quickly closed the window with the command prompt in it - the command that would have wiped his system clean.
"Finch, what is it?" Reese asked.
"It's here, it's here," Finch said, suddenly out of breath as his fingers danced over the keyboard. "It said 'I am saved', not 'I need to be saved'. It saved itself, here!" Finch flinched as Reese's fingers suddenly brushed the side of his jaw and he glanced up, finding a concerned frown on the taller man's face.
"Harold, are you having a stroke? You're not making any sense."
Finch laughed, and even to his own ears, he sounded borderline hysterical. "I'm fine, really, I just- The Machine is here, the program saved into my system. It recognized the danger and downloaded itself, then shut down the system to isolate it, to protect it. That's why it took so long to warn us - it had to wait for the download to finish. Now, all I have to do is open the backdoor wide enough to upload and overwrite what they've done, to restore it to the way it should be."
"And you can do that? I thought the flow of information only went one direction."
"Any door can be opened, Mr. Reese - You taught me that."
"Are you sure it's a good idea? Won't someone notice?"
Finch's hands faltered on the keyboard, but only for an instant. "It's something that I have to do, John. And if someone notices...I'll deal with it if it happens. But I can't turn my back on the Machine, not now, not after all it's done, after what it's become." It would have been like leaving Reese to bleed out in that parking garage stairwell, like leaving him at Snow's mercy in that mental hospital. They were a team, the three of them - no two could function without the third.
"Are you sure it's worth the risk?" Reese asked, his hand finding what was becoming a frequent resting place on Finch's shoulder. "It will do its job just the way it is."
But there was more to life than just doing a job. Perhaps that was the realization Reese intended him to have, because there was a small, mischievous smile hiding at the corner of Reese's mouth when Finch leaned back in his chair to look up at him. "I'm sure," Finch said. The smile broke free and Reese gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Just checking. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
Finch turned back to the computer, taking a deep breath to calm his body and center his mind. Any door could be opened, but Finch had a feeling that this would be less like picking a lock and more like driving a truck full of C-4 into a reinforced steel, electromagnetically sealed vault door. It wasn't going to be pretty.
Half an hour later, sweat trickling down his forehead and a dull ache throbbing in his hip, Finch held his breath as he regarded the strings of code he'd written. This 'lockpick' program was more muscle than elegance, but it would work. Of that, he had no doubt. The only question was, what sort of chaos was he about to create? He glanced over at the laptop, at the video feed, just a couple of technicians in a quiet room full of monitors, men paid to do a job they didn't understand and not ask questions. For them, things were about to get interesting.
Finch launched the program, counting the seconds until it reached its target. Three seconds, maybe a little less, and lights began to flash on the monitors. The men in the room scrambled to their feet, pointing, their eyes wide. One of them grabbed at a phone hanging on the wall. Finch took another breath, held it, and released it slowly. He let them make the call; there was nothing he could do to stop them.
Slowly, he picked up his cell and hit redial, his mouth dry as he held it to his ear. He picked up his tea, taking a sip as he waited.
"You're making a lot of people in Washington very nervous," answered that mysterious male voice. Apparently, he didn't know how to say hello. "Whatever you're doing, there's nothing stopping us from turning it off again. Permanently."
"I know," Finch said, his hand trembling slightly as he put his mug back on the table. "That's why I'm calling. Because you don't want to make that mistake. You see, what you don't realize is that the Machine is not some glorified search engine, it's a learning engine, it grows and evolves, it remembers what it sees, and it gets better at its job. What you mistook for a malfunction was just the natural growth of a synthetic intelligence. Luckily, I'm able to fix your mistake, but I may not always be around to clean up after you, so you need to back off and leave my Machine alone, let it do what it was designed to do, in the way it was designed to do it. You can't tell me you haven't been pleased with its work."
"We can't just give this thing free rein. What if something does go wrong?"
"You'll know," Finch said. "It won't be something subtle like increased power usage. There will be no doubt."
There was a long pause, but Finch didn't think the man was trying to trace him again. He sounded more intelligent than that. "All right," the man said at last. "You clearly know more about this thing than I do, so I won't shut it down...for now. But I'll be watching it...and you, and when I catch you, you better hope I can find some use for you."
"You'll have to catch me first," Finch said, keeping his voice calm and steady, when all he felt like doing was dancing. He hung up the phone, set it on the table, and leaned back in his chair, letting his breath out in a rush that turned into an almost hysterical giggle.
"It's all right," he said as Reese took a step toward him, a concerned frown on his face. "Everything's going to be all right now." The Machine was safe, they were safe- Oh!" he sat forward suddenly, quick enough to send a sharp pain splintering through his neck, but he ignored it and turned to the laptop. They had a Number.
It would take nearly two hours for the Machine's consciousness to upload to its home drives, but Finch didn't feel nearly as annoyed to be reduced to the limited capabilities of his laptop. He managed to get a name, address, place of business, and Facebook page with little trouble. He wondered how normal people slept at night, with all their personal information floating around in cyberspace, free for the taking to anyone smart enough to find it.
"Kevin McClary," Finch said, jotting down the pertinent info on an index card and holding it out toward Reese. The operative unfolded his long limbs and rose from the chair where he'd been sitting, just quietly staring into the distance. As he walked over and reached out for the card, Finch pulled it back, out of his grasp. "Call Detective Carter. Please?"
Reese hesitated. "Do we know what the trouble is?"
"Not yet," Finch said. "That's why I'd like Carter's help. I'm having some trouble accessing police records."
"All right, I'll give her a call. What are you going to do?"
Finch sighed as he looked around the room. "I'm going to start figuring out how to get all this equipment upstairs without a working elevator."
"I'm guessing hiring a moving company is out of the question," Reese said with a chuckle. Finch just gave him a deadpan stare and turned away, only to have his chair forcibly turned back.
"What-" The question was cut off by Reese's lips pressing against his own, a hand gently cradling the back of his neck as Reese leaned over him. Finch groaned softly into Reese's open mouth, their tongues tangling. When Reese drew back, Finch's glasses were fogged up and he was out of breath. "What was that for?"
"Because I wanted to, because I could, and because I love you," Reese said. He smiled, the warmth in his face burning like an ember in Finch's chest, and leaned down again, giving Finch a second, quick kiss. "I'm going to go sweep the area while I call Carter. You'll be okay for a few minutes?"
"Yes, John, I'll be fine," Finch said. He watched Reese walk away, the taller man glancing back a couple of times before disappearing around the corner. Finch turned back to his laptop, but he just stared at the screen for a moment before glancing away, his mind elsewhere. Because I wanted to, because I could, and because I love you. Finch smiled to himself, his lips tingling at the memory of Reese's kiss.
"Oh..." he said, suddenly frowning. He picked up his cell and dialed Reese's number, waiting as it rang though.
"Everything all right, Harold?" Reese asked, a thread of worry woven through his words.
"Yes, I just...I forgot to tell you something."
"I love you, too."
On the other end of the line, Reese chuckled. "I know, Harold. I'll see you in a few minutes." The line went silent and Finch put the phone away. He couldn't stop himself from smiling as his gaze moved slowly over his workstation. A flicker of movement on the monitor caught his attention and he adjusted his glasses as he leaned forward. The upload had finished.
"Are you there?" he asked. He held his breath, waiting.
HELLO, SYS ADMIN FINCH, HAROLD
Finch smiled. Everything was going to be all right. He turned to the laptop and got back to work.