The Sweat Of An Honest Man's Brow
Katherine was in awe of the house. It was one of Harold's houses, only it could never be traced back to him, because he'd made Reese do all the work, months ago. The little man had planned long ago for the day when they would have to separate for whatever reason. Neither of them had expected it to be because one of them had a daughter.
Reese enjoyed the look on his daughter's face as they went into the safe house. Maybe there was something to be said for Finch's ridiculous standard of living, if it could make a little girl who liked books about princesses gaze about as if she'd been turned into Cinderella. He'd not yet figured out if Finch lived this way because he'd grown up in it and was used to it or because, like Katherine, his life had been just the opposite and he wanted better.
At first Reese thought to ask Katherine if she wanted him to show her around, but then he wondered if that might make her uncomfortable, having an adult hovering around her. As a child, he had liked to explore new places alone, or with a friend, and would have been miffed at an adult talking his hand and marching him around on a tour. Anyway, he realized the moment he put their bags down and stopped moving how dead tired he was. A couple of mostly sleepless nights and one little fight (With four guys with guns, his mind reminded him) should be no problem. He'd been doing this for twenty years. Was he getting old?
While Katherine wandered around the house, he took off his shoes and lay down—collapsed—on the sofa, staring at the ceiling. He felt some guilt for leaving Finch alone, unprotected. But there was Katherine. If it came down to it, having to decide whether to protect Harold or Katherine, which would he choose? The partner and friend who'd saved his life and sanity and given him something to live for? Or the little stranger who shared his flesh and blood and was all alone except for him? He knew what Finch would say. He knew Finch would probably go step in front of a bullet to prevent him from choosing him over Katherine. And that's what makes you so worth saving, Harold.
A movement near the doorway made him look over and see Katherine there, hovering, staring at him with the same concealed terror she'd had when he first came in with his cuts and bruises. She sat down quietly, on a chair across the room, and could not hide her worry.
"Come here," Reese said and made room for her beside him. "Don't be scared. I won't let anything happen to you. I promise."
Katherine gave him a faint smile.
"Go pick a room. There're tons to choose from."
"Can I— Could I have one next to yours?"
A security-minded child. Well, of course she was thinking of it the way a child felt about sleeping with a stuffed animal, but she was still right. Her room should be close to his.
"Of course. Just pick me a good one."
She smiled again, for real this time. Fro a few minutes he listened to her quiet footsteps going to and fro, and then deep blackness came over him.
He woke with a start. By the light coming in the windows, he hadn't been asleep for long. He was conscious, in the back of his mind, of having been awakened by a stealthy sound. He could sleep through loud noises, like doors slamming and sirens, but the sound of someone trying to be quiet sent his whole body into alertness. Always sound like you belong, an instructor had told him in training.
He was up the stairs in a few long strides of his stocking feet, scanning rapidly through open doors into bedrooms, his hand on the gun still at his waist. At the second-to-last room on the right, he stopped in the doorway. Katherine was standing by the large bed in the large room, his overnight bag before her, her hand on the zipper.
Oh, Harold, he thought with a flicker of amusement, why is she my kid and not yours?
"You have problems with privacy," he said quietly.
Katherine leapt around to face him, her face instantly taking more color than he'd seen in it yet.
"Here, I'll show you," Reese said. Mentally he was thanking his stars that there was nothing in the bag but clothing. No guns, no grenades, no knives. If he proved to her now that what he carried was boring, maybe she'd never know or think to snoop when what he carried wasn't quite so boring. Though maybe teaching her to handle a gun was a good idea. Any child who lived in a household with guns in it ought to learn how to use one—and how not to. For now, though—
"Sometimes curiosity kills the cat. Other times it just means finding a bunch of boring adult things that are none of your business."
Her color had faded, and the fear that had accompanied his calm unpacking seemed to be fading with it. Not completely, because when he offered lunch, she still looked like she expected him to hit her.
"I guess I'll get used to you. You're just like Harold."
Maybe for her that was a compliment, because she brightened a little and gladly looked over the food menu downstairs.
"Can I get a pizza?"
"Again?" he said and instantly regretted it when she backpedaled like she had said something awful.
"It's OK. I can think of something else."
"Doesn't matter to me. I'm having Chinese."
A look of disgust went across her face, and he laughed. Maybe she was right. He'd had Chinese food in China, where they had laughed at him for being unable to use chopsticks, and General Tso's Chicken was not it. But he liked General Tso's Chicken.
When they were nearly done eating, he set down his fork and looked at Katherine. Time for a certain amount of hypocrisy. Or maybe it wasn't actually hypocrisy to deny someone the right to do something you frequently did yourself, when you were an adult and she was a child.
"Katherine, we need to get something straight."
"My stuff is mine, and your stuff is yours. That includes conversations. I have a dangerous job. There are things you shouldn't see and hear. I need you to respect those things and not try to hear and see what isn't meant for you. Understand?"
"Yeah." She looked like she wanted to crawl under the table. He hated seeing that in her.
"There's something Joss—Detective Carter—said earlier. She said you'd want to get to know me better and I shouldn't try to stop you. She said you deserve to know your father. I think she's probably right. If you stop snooping, I promise to be available to you. Is that a fair deal?"
Katherine nodded seriously, and he couldn't help smiling at her. He didn't want to ever have this kind of conversation with her again, where she looked expectant of punishment with every word. What kind of people had she lived with, anyway?
Time for the good news. At least he thought she would think it was good news. He wouldn't have, at that age.
"We have an appointment this afternoon."
"We're going to the Library."
"Not one you've been to," he said and could tell by the flash in her eyes that she was sure he was wrong.
"I've been to all of them," she said proudly.
He smirked. "Not this one."
He woke up with a start again. He was needed to stop doing that. It jolted the neck unpleasantly.
Finch rose stiffly, sat on the edge of his bed for a moment, and finally went out into the kitchen, made a cup of tea and drank it standing up, collected his laptop, and went to the Library.
He and Reese had decided that the Library would be the one place where they could afford to meet. So far it had only been breached digitally, not physically, and the security he had placed around it, he flattered himself, was impenetrable to anyone who wasn't…a time traveler, or a superhero. Katherine would be safe there while Reese was out tracking Elias. But she had to have something to do there, especially something that didn't involve shooting zombies. Once again he thanked heaven she wasn't a sporty child who couldn't sit still, or a five-year old, or a young John Reese.
He walked slowly through his Library, trailing a hand along the bookshelves. When he came to the area he called his office, he stood and stared thoughtfully at the shelf behind his desk. Then he went and got a library cart and started unloading the books from the shelf. This was not the optimal occupation for a man with his back and neck, but he ignored the back and neck and carried on. After a while he took off his jacket and set it neatly on his chair. Each cartload of books he unloaded in precise order onto one of the few empty stacks at the back of the Library, using a small stepladder when necessary. When the shelf was empty, he took a rest, then slowly walked up and down the stacks with the cart, perusing the titles and occasionally pulling one out and setting it, in Dewey Decimal order, on the cart. He had few of what might be called "children's books," but he didn't think Katherine was the kind of child to be confined to The Babysitters' Club or whatever they read these days. He shuddered.
Presently he found himself with quite a nice collection. Gene Stratton-Porter, Agatha Christie, O. Henry, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens (it was never too early to start on Dickens), Gaston Leroux, Sir Walter Scott, C.S. Lewis, Jean Webster, Montgomery M. Atwater, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Heinlein… He arranged them on the shelves and nodded approvingly to himself before putting his jacket back on, and just in time, because he could hear the lift. They were early.