Author's note: I recently read an incredible little Person of Interest story by WhiplashWhiplash's (http:/www . fanfiction . net/u/3232987/whiplashwhiplash) called "for that which grows" (http:/www . fanfiction . net/s/7754590/1/for_that_which_grows) It was entirely from Finch's point of view. I was inspired to write the same story from Reese's point of view.
I strongly advise you to go read that one first. Not only will this story be incomplete without it, but it's also just a ridiculously amazing story.
Maybe he shouldn't be surprised that Finch has a bedroom in the library, but he is. He would have expected the man to go hide away at night in some rich, secluded little hole Reese didn't know about. Instead he has turned an office into a bedroom. Of course it's a rich, secluded little office, the kind buried deep in the building, once used by some cataloguer who had no need to venture out into the public world of the stacks and the reference section.
He didn't come to the library intending to pursue Finch through its depths like the hunter he has so often been, stalking prey. He'd come to bring him lunch. He takes enjoyment in doing that sometimes, just to see the look of dismay on Finch's face at the gesture so like friendship and to see if his guesses about Finch's culinary tastes are right. They usually are, which does dismay Finch. He doesn't like to be read and seen through. He should have hired a less skillful ex-CIA operative, then.
But when he came and found Finch's office empty, he'd noticed a few things, because that is what he does. The keyboard, usually geometrically placed, was askew. A small section of books was shoved in against the wall instead of being lined precisely against the edge of the shelf, just where a short man might put out his hand for support as he stumbles. Finch's cane was gone. He rarely uses his cane. Usually it's a prop for a role, but on occasion Reese has seen him use it, and those are the days when pain makes him snippy and even more unfriendly than usual.
Reese had followed the signs of a usually precise man taking no care for how he proceeded through his usual spaces so long as he got where he was going without collapsing. More shoved-in sections of books. A book on the floor. The mark of a hand in dust (Reese is slightly relieved to see dust, because he can't quite imagine Finch going about flicking a feather duster around). And finally, a door imperfectly closed. He can see the place where there was once a nameplate on the door. Now it is nameless, anonymous. A shelter within a shelter. Reese goes in.
Simple but rich, as expected. A bed, a real Tiffany lamp, bookshelves. Of course bookshelves.
Finch is lying flat on his back on the bed, on top of the covers, fully clothed, even his shoes and glasses still on. No pillow. He's staring straight up at the ceiling. His hands are flat on either side of him. Reese can hear his breathing. He knows that breathing, the getting-through-pain breathing.
"That better not be you, Mr. Reese." It's meant to be one of his usual calm barbs, but it's hardly more than a whisper.
"You'd rather it was a home invader?" He crosses to look down at his employer. He's as white as a sheet, his pupils too large.
Finch closes his eyes like a deliberate insult. "I'd rather you left," he says through white lips. And then his hands convulsively clutch the blankets beneath him. He's like that for too long.
Reese knows about pain, causing it and surviving it. He learned how to live through torture by living through it. But torture always ends. Eventually they get what they want, or you die, or you escape or are rescued. When you're shot, you heal. The pain eventually ends, some day. But chronic pain, the kind that never has an end in sight, that has no point (torture always has a point, which is a kind of comfort)—that's different. Chronic pain attacks the innocent, and there's nothing Reese can do.
Finally the hands relax. Finch opens his eyes with a faint expression of displeasure when he sees Reese still there. No man wants another man to see him at his most helpless. Not even a man who cares, a friend. Because Finch doesn't want him to be a friend. Friendship creates vulnerability.
"Painkillers not working then?" It's a stupid question but all he can think of to say. Finch is hopped up on drugs, too many, but not enough.
And there's a sound in Finch's shallowly measured breathing that might be a laugh. "Oh, they're working… Just…not…" He seems to forget he was even talking, because the painkillers have done everything they're supposed to do, except kill the pain. His eyes close, as if keeping them open is too great an effort.
Reese hates himself for keeping intruding, but he can't help it. "Finch, is there anything I can do?" He's never been able to stop caring. That's what destroyed him as a CIA operative. Other people could stop caring. They could kill or bury their own hearts. That's what Mark Snow did, what Cara Stanton did. He never could. It destroyed him. But it brought him here, because sometimes there is life past death.
Finch doesn't answer, and when, a moment later, his fingers dig into the blankets again, Reese has to turn away. He can't just stand here watching. He turns and looks at the bookshelf closest to the bed.
It's an oddly intimate thing, looking at the books another person chooses to keep in his bedroom. What he chooses to read before sleep, what soothes and prepares him for that time of utter relaxation and vulnerability. Reese didn't exactly expect old literature. Programming books, maybe. These books are old, worn, often-read.
And then he knows what he can do. Because he's been here before. In the lifetime before the military, before the CIA, before his false identities had become his only real identity, he had a sister. His baby sister. She died the summer after his first year of college. Bone cancer. Osteosarcoma. She died at age fifteen, with both legs amputated. He had come home from college that summer to find it was much worse than his parents had told him, because they wanted him to be able to have a normal college life. He never forgave them for that. He spent all summer watching her die.
She'd become so old the year he was away. The loss of her long blond hair to chemo made her look younger, but her eyes, her patient attempts at pain management, made her look old. She was never patient before. He watched her do exactly what Finch does, close her eyes, breathe through the pain, try to let it roll over her.
Once she opened her eyes and saw him standing there helplessly, and she gave him the old exasperated look. "Jonathan, if you want to do something, read."
So he spent the whole summer reading to her. All those old books she loved that he had vowed never to read. Jane Austen. Louisa May Alcott. The Brontës. Dickens, Hugo. Dumas. Barrie. Tolstoy. Sir Walter Scott. And occasionally, for something different, mysteries by Christie, Sayers, Marsh. She always came back to Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, and he could see why. Christie was undemanding; Austen was kind and gentle, under the faintly sardonic humor; Dickens…well, Dickens was everything. There was no one for taking your mind away from yourself like Dickens.
Hannah told him that sometimes during the pain she listened to him and sometimes she didn't, but she could always hear him. Sometimes his voice was only a noise in the background, but it was a noise she could hold onto when it seemed like she would drown in the waves. It was a thread of being cared for when the pain tried to tell her she was utterly alone. So he read to her day after day, and when she died he never read those books again.
But he thinks now that Dickens would have approved of Finch, and he stretches his hand out toward the Dickens shelf. Then he stops, because he sees a slim white volume on top of the short bookshelf. A book set at odds with usual order means it was probably the last book being read. He picks it up and is surprised. Poetry. By Karin Boye, someone he's never heard of.
He pulls a chair up next to the bed and lets the book fall open to its most natural place, the page that is read most often.
Of course it hurts when buds burst, he reads slowly, the cadences coming naturally.
Otherwise why would spring hesitate?
Why would all our fervent longing
Be bound in the frozen bitter haze?
The bud was the chasing all winter.
What is this new thing that consumes and bursts?
Of course it hurts when buds burst
Pain for that which grows
And for that which envelops
Finch never opens his eyes, but he can see that the clenched hands loosen a little, and the uneven breathing becomes more controlled. He reads on, and when he finishes the slim book of poetry, he gets a glass of water from the bathroom choked with painkillers and settles into the chair again. He reaches his hand out for Dickens.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…"
Later Finch says, "Thank you" and nothing more.
Next time the book on top of the shelf is Dickens. Our Mutual Friend.