Title: Breathe In, Breathe Out: More Village

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-13/T

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

Summary: Every so often- some weeks more than others- John woke from a dream of endless golden dunes. 1200 words.

Spoilers: Set post-Prisoner (2009 version) and during early Season 1 of Person of Interest, with flashbacks through episode 1x16

Notes: Yes, really. I finally watched JC's re-envisioning of The Prisoner, and this was my reaction. The show was ... interesting, is perhaps the best word for it? And oddly proto-John Reese in several respects ...

Every so often- some weeks more than others- John Reese woke from a dream of endless golden dunes. Sand, rising and falling as far as the eye could see, broken only by the glitter of transparent towers on the horizon. There was a presence tucked under his arm, and a sense of order somewhere behind him; his cheeks were wet with tears, and a fire of unquenchable longing burned in his chest like Greek fire.

Those weren't pleasant mornings. Particularly since he'd stopped trying to drown them.

He'd never actually been to the place he dreamed of; it didn't physically exist. But the visions were at least as real as his memories of Jessica... and just as painful. Perhaps worse; because while her death had at least turned all lingering what-if's into final regrets, there was no way to be sure that the Village was no more. And he'd never been a man given to minor passions.

Time in the inner world didn't pass the same as in the outer: two years after the abrupt end of the experiment codenamed Summakor, John could still remember that much with crystal clarity. Weeks in a day; minutes in an hour. Much else of his manipulated life as Michael Connor, alias Six, was a blur; but the way time slipped and slid, the ease with which reality smeared and bled between life in New York and the collective unconscious realm labeled the Village, was impossible to forget. Waking with his cheek pressed to sun-warmed grit had felt just as real as the smile on his face when he'd spray-painted his resignation. There were days he still wondered whether or not he was actually sleeping.

When the government had first funded the observation and pattern analysis program, it had been simply another outgrowth of the NSA and the Patriot Act, striving to decipher and predict human behavior. Or, to a latter-day, more educated eye: to duplicate and understand the impenetrable black box behind the Machine. The alphabet soup of agencies had access to all the same datafeeds, but no reproducible algorithm to determine how it prioritized one Number over another- so they'd hired a bunch of sharp-eyed cogs to rework the wheel.

The Village had been a secondary project on the Summakor proposal: an ill-defined psychological experiment tacked on like an afterthought. John had supposedly been assigned to monitor its development, under a cover identity. He'd had had the skills- and his handler had seized the chance to bench him awhile, so soon after his transgression with Jessica's husband. He'd taken the job in the spirit in which it had been intended... and perhaps been less careful than he should have, when taking notes on the subjects of his surveillance.

Finch had to have known that Summakor had been trying to recreate his program, and that John had once been employed there. That had probably even factored into his decision process, though he'd never so much as referred to the company in John's hearing. But had the Machine gleaned enough to fill Finch in on the rest? Had he ever been aware of the Village's true nature? Had the sequence of events that landed John in the CEO's chair made it into any records outside of Helen Curtis' too-fertile mind?

Two had said he was called Two because there never was a One- but John had his suspicions. Summakor was meant to be the second iteration of the Machine. And whether they'd set aside that designation with Finch's knowledge or not- John was highly tempted to walk into the library some morning and address the man as One, just to see how he reacted.

The White House hadn't cared about Two's logic, though; they'd pulled Summakor's funding not long after John had been thoroughly mind-fucked into taking the reins. Lucy had been right about that much: his promotion might as well have been an execution. It had taken several more days to stop seeing out of Six's eyes every time his own closed... and to relearn how to answer to yet another familiar name that wasn't his by birth. And that hadn't been the end of the fallout.

He'd claimed amnesia after Stanton and Snow recovered him, too wary to trust while the ground under his feet still shook... and that lack of trust had bred more in turn, in an inevitable downward spiral. John would have liked to blame the CIA for the way that ended, too- but he knew himself too well, after everything he'd experienced. The Village had merely amplified his weaknesses.

And if that other world hadn't actually ended with Summakor...

Very few of the people who'd lived a second life inside had believed in the outer world, or vice versa. What if whatever gift had allowed John to retain his agency had simply been severed, dividing his awareness in half like the others? He'd checked on Sara since returning to New York, and found her still catatonic. Could her alter ego 313 still be functioning as the Dreamer?

He supposed he'd never know whether some other version of him was still in there, looking down at an imaginary boy's grave and counting the cost of 'doing the right thing'. Or dutifully pouring a triad of pills down 313's throat every morning, telling himself it was all for the best. And maybe that was the true prison, not the Village itself: his own mind, trapping him with bars of guilt and doubt. But that didn't make it any easier to forget.

When Judy had first taken him under her wing; when he'd pinned Finch to a wall by the throat; when he'd faced Andrew Benton; when Charlie Burton had become Elias. Every time he'd looked into another person and seen something else beneath the surface- he'd remembered the duality of the Village, and wondered. One may smile, and smile, and yet be...

And even if that world was gone, Summakor was only a knockoff. What had the Machine spawned, with all its advanced data crunching subroutines? Did something like 11-12 live inside its boundaries, wanting more than its 'parents' had programmed for it, absent a human soul? The memories had probably made him a little more suspicious of Will Ingram than was justified... but he didn't want to be Neo, any more than he'd ever asked to be Six.

He didn't know if he was even capable of trusting Finch, however else he felt about him. But whatever the outcome of their partnership- John would still see it through to the end. The hook by which Two had caught him still held, despite its origins.

I have no power over you. I never did have. If you truly want to go, you must find the open door.

And he hadn't, had he? They'd had to tear him away.

It has to be possible to do this the right way. I think we have to try. Whatever the cost.

He'd always been a man that needed Purpose... and Finch had given him a new set of Numbers to shepherd.

John smiled crookedly as his Bluetooth chirped, remembering holes gaping hungrily in dry earth, and lifted his hand to answer the call.