Through A Glass Obliquely

Harold looked up as Bear's thumping tail announced John's arrival at the library. It was a cold morning, and he allowed himself a small smile as his partner set a cup of hot tea next to the keyboard. Their improbable fellowship was a marvel of serendipity, and Harold never took it for granted.

"Good morning, Mr. Reese. Thank you for getting here so quickly."

"You sounded worried, Finch. Who's our new number?"

"Elsbeth Tascioni. She's a Chicago-based attorney, here to consult on a rather high profile litigation. Do you remember the health care fraud scandal? The Russian mafia conspired to steal a quarter of a billion dollars from private insurance companies. It was thought to be an open and shut case, but somehow the state is losing. That is why they called in Ms. Tascioni."

"Impressive. Do we have a picture yet?"

"Working on it, Mr. Ree-"

"Harold? What's wrong?"

Finch heard the concern in his friend's voice but was unable to respond. His eyes were frozen on the monitor, and John quickly walked around to peer over his shoulder.

Elsbeth Tascioni was the image of his lost love, Grace Hendricks. Harold remembered reading once that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world, but until now he had never believed it. The resemblance was eerie - the same red hair and translucent skin, and features so identical they would defy the most sophisticated facial recognition software.

He felt John's steadying hand on his shoulder. Harold had once tried to prevent his partner from working on a case that he felt would be too sensitive for him. It would be entirely fair now if John was thinking the same thing about him. He realized that he was still staring at the likeness of the vibrant redhead and tried to compose himself.

"You don't have to do this, Harold," John said quietly. "I can bring in our detectives to help."

"This was just…unexpected. I'll manage."

Harold hoped that was true. This seemed like a cruel cosmic joke. He would miss Grace always, but even beyond that he bore the knowledge that he had caused her to suffer greatly. He lived with that guilt every day. And now it seemed as if the universe was forcing him to confront his demons.

John was watching him closely, but Harold knew his friend would understand that he didn't wish to discuss it further. As if reading his thoughts, John returned his attention to the case.

"So if it's the Russian mob are we looking at Peter Yogorov's crew?"

"Not necessarily. According to Detective Fusco, HR has taken an interest in Yogorov's organization as a possible revenue stream. They also have an interest in the outcome of this. And with the trial scheduled to resume at 10 o'clock, the attempt on Ms. Tascioni's life is likely imminent."

"I don't like this, Finch. There are too many possible threats. I think we should just bring her in until we can contain this."

"I agree, Mr. Reese. If you can convince Ms. Tascioni, I can get her to a safe house."

"I'll call you when I have her." John shot him a sympathetic look before heading out the door.

.

"Are you there, Finch? I have Elsbeth."

John's voice was interrupted by a blast of gunfire. Harold flinched. He would never get used to that sound.

"John?"

"We're okay. Heading your way now."

Finch scanned the streets around Elsbeth's hotel. And then they came into view. John was running, and half-pulling, the petite attorney who was trying to hang on to several brightly colored bags that were flying out behind her.

John opened the car door and quickly helped her in. His eyes moved from Elsbeth to Harold and back again. Finch could tell his partner wasn't happy with the situation, but it was too late to do anything else now.

"Go Finch! I'll find you when this is over."

Harold sped away, stealing a quick look at the woman beside him. It required all his concentration to keep the car on the road and not simply gape at her. He thought he had prepared himself for this moment, but now that he was sitting next to Grace's apparent twin, he wasn't at all sure.

Elsbeth was breathless from the sprint to the car, but not speechless.

"Oh my! That was exciting. I think. Or alarming. Maybe it was alarming. I was walking to the courthouse when a man pulled me into the alley and put a gun to my head." She paused. "I don't know what kind of gun it was. Under the circumstances I would really like to know. I mean, wouldn't you?"

Harold simply had no response. This was Grace through a fun house mirror, and he felt disoriented.

"I'm Elsbeth. Elsbeth Tascioni. And that is a very nice suit you're wearing."

"Are you all right?"

"Oh yes. Your friend got me out of there before I even knew what was happening." Confusion suddenly clouded her face.

"Actually I still don't know what's happening."

"There are other forces at work on your case. Dangerous people stand to profit if the men you are prosecuting go free - people who are willing to take extreme measures. Your life was in danger, Ms. Tascioni. That's what we do - help people out of difficult situations."

Elsbeth took a closer look at him.

"Well that is so nice of you. Um, where are we going?"

She twisted around to look out the window, trying to get her bearings.

"I need to get to my trial." Alarm was rising in her voice. "There are people depending on me."

"Please don't worry. Your trial has been delayed. Actually no cases are being tried today due to an unfortunate power outage at the court house. I promise you won't miss a thing. Everything will be restored once we've assured your safety. It shouldn't take long. Mr. Reese is very capable."

For the first time, Elsbeth was quiet. She clearly understood the implication of his words. Harold suddenly felt uncomfortable with the silence.

"I'm Harold, by the way."

"Really? Because your friend calls you Finch."

"My full name is Harold Finch."

"Oh. Of course it is. Is it okay if I call you Mr. Finch? I think that has a lovely sound to it."

Harold finally met her very direct gaze. There was something unexpected and sweet about this woman - so like Grace and yet so different. He felt his trepidation turning to curiosity.

Whereas Grace was quiet and introspective, Elsbeth was an outgoing blast of energy radiating in every direction. She had questions - and often shrewd observations - about, well everything. And she rendered her litany in an excited, humorous voice that somehow gave the impression that she was in on a secret joke. She was a little overwhelming at first, but Harold was beginning to appreciate her bright, inquisitive mind.

They arrived at the safe house. He made them each a cup of tea, and Elsbeth enthusiastically filled him in on the trial, and on life in Chicago. She was lively and entertaining, and Harold found himself enjoying her company.

As they talked, he gazed at length at her too-familiar features. Without realizing it, his mind drifted to Grace, and all his mistakes, all his regrets.

The lawyer noticed the change in his demeanor.

"What's wrong, Mr. Finch? I've done something to make you unhappy and I'd really like to know what it is. Maybe I can help."

She looked worried now, and Harold was appalled. The very last thing he wanted to do was hurt her.

"Elsbeth, no. You've done nothing wrong. I think you're a lovely person and this is the most pleasant afternoon I've had in quite some time." He hadn't planned on saying that, exactly. "It's just - you remind me of someone."

"Someone you care about."

It wasn't a question, so he didn't try to answer.

"What happened? Did she die?"

The woman was certainly direct, but he could hear the compassion in her voice. Harold thought he was searching for a way to change the subject when he suddenly found himself confiding in her.

"No, she didn't die. We just can't be together."

"I don't understand."

"What you've seen of the work we do barely scratches the surface. Just being around me was putting her life in danger. I had to leave her in order to protect her." Harold paused.

"She thinks I'm dead."

He almost whispered this last. Beyond remorse, he was ashamed of what he put Grace through.

Elsbeth looked shocked at his words, but she held his gaze, and Harold could see that she was trying to make sense of it all. It was surreal to be having this painful conversation about Grace with a woman who was the very image of her.

The lawyer looked incredibly sad as she considered his predicament, but she spoke with surprising conviction.

"Well, maybe it won't always be that way. The situation could change, or you could change it. Maybe you need a different job, Mr. Finch."

"For reasons I can't fully explain to you, it's just not possible for me to go back. I closed that door a long time ago."

"I don't believe you. You say the door is closed, but I think it's still open a tiny crack. Or maybe you left a window open. Something."

Harold had not expected to be challenged on this point. The litigator suddenly had him under a microscope, and it was not a comfortable feeling.

"You don't strike me as the type of man who gives up, Mr. Finch, no matter what the circumstances. And you're obviously smart and have resources. I'm sure you'll find a solution."

He couldn't help but smile at her attempted pep talk. Elsbeth had no idea what he was involved in, but her enthusiasm and warmth were genuine.

"Does she still love you?"

"I believe she does, yes."

"Then there's still a chance, and I bet you think about that every day."

Harold sighed. Every word the perceptive woman said was true. More often then he cared to admit, he played out the different scenarios in his mind - the hurt and confusion on Grace's face if she saw him again, the words he would say to seek her forgiveness, the precautions he could take to keep her safe.

"Every situation has so many possible outcomes and you just need to start exploring them. You're not being fair to yourself or to her if you insist that being apart is the only way. Anything is possible. And I just have a feeling you'll be with her some day."

Receiving this kind of encouragement from Grace's own likeness was a siren song, and Harold suddenly felt himself sailing into treacherous waters. The direst of circumstances had compelled him to leave Grace, and he chided himself for letting his guard down for even a moment.

He was saved from any more self reflection by John's arrival at the safe house. Harold automatically scanned the other man for bullet wounds or other bodily harm. His partner appeared to have a bloody lip and a fresh cut above one eye, but no serious injuries.

He felt John's eyes on his face and realized that his friend was taking his own inventory.

"It's been…an adventure, Mr. Reese. But I assure you I'm fine."

.

The men brought Elsbeth back to her hotel. As she prepared to leave them, the lawyer's mind seemed to be on her case, but she stopped to look back at Harold one more time.

"At least consider the possibility, Mr. Finch. In my experience it's the nature of love to find a way." And then she was gone.

John turned to him with a curious expression, but didn't press his friend on the comment. Suddenly the tension of the day seemed to collapse on him and Harold found he desperately needed some space to contemplate everything that had transpired.

"Mr. Reese, would you mind taking the car? I think I'll walk from here."

The frigid air stung his face, but he decided it was exactly what he needed. Now that it was over, his conversation with Elsbeth felt like a dream, an excursion into some alternate universe. And it was time for Harold to return to his own world - a world with consequences, created by his own choices and actions.

"I just have a feeling you'll be with her some day."

It occurred to him that Elsbeth - in her empathy and compassion - was more like Grace than he ever would have guessed. But while the lawyer's optimism was beguiling, it was not the stuff of reality. Grace was out of reach for Harold now, and would stay that way. Still, Elsbeth's heartfelt words had touched him, and for a moment he had been drawn into her fairy tale ending. The memory warmed him, and he began to wonder. What harm, really, would come from lingering in Elsbeth's world a little longer?

Just for today, he would let himself hope.

.

FIN

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A/N: The phrase "through a glass darkly" means to have an imperfect perception of reality. Oblique refers to something awry or off-kilter. To perceive a reality that is off-kilter or distorted – to see "through a glass obliquely" - would accurately describe Harold's experience around Grace's doppelganger, I think. But I also freely nominate this as "the title least likely to get you to stop and read my story." So my sincere thanks go out to anyone who finds this and takes the time to read it! I hope you enjoyed it. I have a feeling that Harold still thinks about Elsbeth sometimes, even though she's back in Chicago now. So there just might end up being more to this story. Thanks again for reading, and as always, reviews and comments are truly appreciated!