It had rained…again. An event that lately seems uniquely timed to whenever he takes Bear for a walk, with clouds hoarding their drops until he steps into the park, just far enough from the safe haven of the library to ensure his getting thoroughly wet. A disturbing thought…though he reminds himself that's probably carrying paranoia a bit far.

He closes the building's main door behind him and unclips the leash from the dog's collar.

"All right, Bear. Shake…"

Bear dutifully ripples his skin then shudders briskly, showering the beads from his back onto the wall and floor. One last violent shake of his head has his ears flapping back and forth and then the dog glances back at the human, the short hair around his ears now spiked in the best rock star fashion.

But Finch's attention isn't on the dog, but rather on the adjacent wall as he grimly watches the drops roll down what had once been rather expensive wall covering. Straight grain mahogany panels, he thinks, and sighs. Hard to come by these days, and a king's ransom to buy if you do. Amazing that it's still here, but well…there's nothing he can do about that now. Still, it's a shame to see such elegant wood despoiled.

In a mood as gloomy as the clouds he tried unsuccessfully to outpace, he jiggles the umbrella, this time resolutely ignoring the resultant splattering on the wall. Bear waits with his total attention on the human now, gazing intently at the small man. Finch returns the dogs stare, briefly puzzled, then…of course! He's still having to get used to the high level of training this animal exhibits; Bear will consider himself under the force of the last command until officially discharged. And the last order to the dog was "shake".

He waves his hand and gives the animal the anxiously awaited release command.

"Well, go on. Vrij…"

Finch turns to trudge up the stairs, the dog hurriedly bypassing him only to reach the top and dance impatiently while waiting for the human to catch up. Arriving at the landing, Finch unlatches the gate and the animal bounds through the opening in search of his Alpha…a soldier ready to report to his commander!

Watching Bear race down the hallway doesn't help improve his frame of mind. No matter that he feeds the dog, bathes the dog, buys the toys, and worries like an over-protective parent about the animal, Bear still views the ex-op as the center of his universe. Hardly seems fair…

Especially now that the said "center of the universe" petting the jubilant animal, is lounging in his boss's computer chair…again…feet up on the desk…again. He thinks about mentioning the chair - and the feet - but simply can't generate the energy to do so. It will have to wait until another day when he can give the subject his full attention.

"I see it's raining, Finch."

The older man frowns. He left the umbrella to drip-dry just inside the expanding gate, his sodden coat out of sight on the rack, silently dripping a small lake on the floor. And that miserable drizzle coming straight down would not have registered with any perceptible sound on the murky windows.

"How did you…oh…" he begins, and then falters as he sees Reese holding up the wet hand he'd just raised from the dogs back.

Finch scowls. "Yes. And not five minutes into our walk!"

He snags a towel from the stack on the file cabinet and proceeds further into the main chamber. Limping to the computer station, he's gratified to see Reese automatically move to the adjacent chair without further direction…just proving that ex-agents can be trained to exhibit different behaviors if scolded often enough. He'll target the specific feet-on-the-desk issue in the future.

"Here…" he says rather crossly, tossing the towel at his employee. "You can now do your part as a responsible pet owner."

Impervious to his boss' foul temper - or more likely just attributing it to the bad weather – Reese offers his boss a lop-sided grin and snags the towel out of the air before slipping down on one knee to dry Bear. The dog is elated to have the pack Leader at canine level and responds by licking his Alpha's chin, an affectionate display not fully appreciated by the human who immediately attempts to ward off the slobbery action.

"Ahh…. enough Bear!" The ex-op uses the towel to wipe his face while holding the devoted dog at bay with one hand. But like any good military trained asset, Bear changes tactics and now targets the Alphas hand with his tongue. Any exposed skin is fair game…

Finch lowers himself gingerly into his chair. He's aching all over, more so from the change in weather than from the exercise. Stretching his throbbing leg under the desk he carefully pulls the letter from his jacket and lays it on the keyboard, barely registering the pleasurable grunting of a dog being thoroughly dried.

After staring at the oversized envelope, he rubs his face with both hands. The letter is in large part the reason for his current depression…

It's really just junk mail. No big surprise. His weekly trip to that post box always nets him a stack of unsolicited flyers, ads, and catalogs…all of which are immediately and unceremoniously pitched into the trash. He could put a stop to the hard copy spam, but frankly that would only create another trail he'd have to erase, and besides, if these organizations want to continue to support a failing postal system, that's their faulty business decision!

The trip is usually a waste of time but necessary as there is the occasional business correspondence he needs to process; he is after all, still officially employed by this particular company he owns under one of his many pseudonyms.

But this specific letter, while still classified as junk, stands out: it doesn't have his name on it. It's addressed to Mr. Nathan Ingram.

Nathan. His old college classmate, his hang-around-have-a-beer-with buddy, his confidant, and eventual business partner. The one person he always trusted, through thick and thin.

The deep rooted pain stabs again and with all the precision of a professionally wielded ginsu blade, fillets his carefully crafted defenses, laying bare those feelings of abandonment, betrayal. Guilt. Old memories drift by, like unwanted flotsam bobbing on the surface of time present …

Late nights in the local coffee shop. Endless discussions about the future steeped in the idealism of youth. Of how they were going to change the world, make a difference - a plan heartily encouraged within the encapsulated bubble of academia. And arguments. Disagreements. Heated words. Mostly over the expansive use of invasive technology, but many times simply testing the boundaries of their friendship.

He had been energized, his faith in the ever evolving digital revolution rock solid as he continued to explore the limits of his capabilities. Of course Nathan concentrated more on the practical applications of technology; he was after all an engineer…more concerned with functionality than esthetics. His interest wasn't in the "elegance" of a coding, only that it would work effectively!

It had been Nathan who aided his transition from the naiveté of university life into the real world…though his friend had failed in efforts to convince him to be more trusting, less paranoid. But despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, Nathan was influential in creating the man he has now become.

Finch blinks rapidly in succession. Nathan was also instrumental in the conception and birthing of their most ambitious project, the Machine. A project that was the pinnacle of their accomplishments and in the end caused so much sorrow - for them both. He knows that everyone, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences…but if he could do it all over again, he would pay much more attention to what would eventually be served.

And especially to Nathan, who is…who is no longer.

His friend would have been 50 years old late last year. He left behind an ex-wife, a son, and a business partner… An ex-wife who is Lord knows where, a son who has attempted - so far without success - to unravel his father's business involvements, and a partner who can never be free, forced to forever hide in the shadows.

"Bear…you're still wet! Ga liggen!"

Reese commanding the dog intrudes on his reveries and he swivels his chair to watch the ex-op apply the towel to the enthusiastically responsive canine. The fact that the dog is quite willing to expose his vulnerable underside to this human is testimony to the trust between them. In fact, Bear seems to consider the entire drying process a particularly appealing game, grabbing the end of the towel as Reese runs it over the dog's belly.

"Laat los, Bear!"

Reese drops his own hold on the towel, knowing that to get into a tugging contest with the animal will end only with each of them holding a piece of ripped cloth. But amusement taints the ex-ops order and Bear is positive his Alpha didn't really mean it. Game on!

Finch surveys the ever more rambunctious scene. His smile is a reluctant lift of the lip, drawing out of a heavy heart as memories of Nathan fade into the back yard of his mind. He has to concede that despite early misgivings, the tall man before him so actively rough-housing with Bear has managed to edge past the guard gates surrounding his solitary existence, increasingly filling the void Nathan's absence left behind.

Actually they both have - man and dog – perhaps because they are similar in so many ways: intelligent, skillful, forceful, brave, loyal. Warriors at the core but surprisingly gentle when called upon. There is more than just a bit of the wolf in them both...

So who could have predicted that one day he'd accept a military trained dog as a pet, and consider a rogue ex-CIA agent a friend…especially one with a closet full of guns, who can, and will if need be, deflect any malicious intent with one skillful move.

Finch sighs again. He finds violence abhorrent, always has - but he's grown wiser over the years and has accepted that no life is without risk. The law of the jungle inevitably finds root in urban settings, replicating its own version of predators vs. prey, survival of the strongest…

Nathan discovered that truth the hard way…the final way.

Finch swivels back to the keyboard, and looks at the letter again. How had they found Nathan? His late partner had never been as paranoid as himself about privacy, but as a very wealthy man, Nathan had protected his own personal information with greater focus than the average CEO. And yet this organization found his old partner. Too late of course…

He thinks about the futility of dwelling on the past. "Time past and time future: what might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always the present." T.S. Elliot seems to have it gotten it right…

Finch holds the letter and slowly tears it in half, carefully, deliberately, allowing the rip to separate the double "A's" printed on the face of the envelope. Nathan obviously won't be responding to this application.

He tosses the shreds into the wastepaper basket and then, to the lively staccato beat of a hard rain sluicing off the library windows, watches his new friends mangle a sodden towel in a lively tug of war…


It's a common joke that the AARP - originally an advocate for retired seniors and now one of the largest resellers of insurance in America - can often locate an individual when even the FBI fails!

On ones 50th birthday, an invitation to join that organization will shortly after find its target...followed for ever after by repeated sales offers for various insurance plans…