The case of old Mrs. Westrena and her abusive son wasn't difficult or dangerous, only lengthy. Harold Finch found himself up and alert at all hours, melded to his computers and cell connections like a true cyborg. Cups of tea slaked his thirst and made the increasingly chilly library tolerable to him. He wasn't sleepy. It reminded him of his teens, a hacker on a homemade computer, when he could go for days without rest.
Bear's anxious whines were upsetting, but the beast calmed somewhat when Harold let him snuggle at his feet. His furry weight helped against the cold. Harold researched, hacked, guarded Reese's sleep through the monitors while Reese guarded the old lady. Finch was splendidly alert and energetic, responding instantly whenever his partner's voice came through the link.
Mrs. Westrena emerged triumphant, thanks to John. Harold found himself laughing in delight at the outcome, which felt wonderful until he tried to stop. Reese's voice in his ear again, rumbling concern. "Absolutely optimal," Harold insisted, hoping he'd heard the question right. "Except for the ambient temperature. I simply must get this air conditioning under control. Excuse me." The keyboard felt lumpy under his forehead. Bear was barking loudly now. Harold tried to remember the Dutch command for silence, but
Reese standing over him, inconsiderately blurry, saying something. The stink of vomit. Bear was licking his face, which on consideration was disgusting. Maybe John Reese thought so, too. He stooped, then hard-muscled arms went around Harold. It felt like flying.
Warm enough at last, and clean, and lying down somewhere soft. Voices. "If there's no history of seizure disorder, it was almost certainly the fever," said a calm female voice. Her identity floated to the top of Harold's mind. Dr. Enright, what a dear woman. "Are these all his prescriptions?"
"All I could find," Reese said.
"You really should contact his regular doctor," she said with concern. "I haven't practiced internal medicine since I was a resident, but this is a very serious regimen of painkillers. Even staying with over the counter drugs, I'm concerned about interactions."
"I don't know who his regular doctor is," Reese gritted. "He's a very private person. Dealing with a doctor he can trust, like you, would be ... is his top priority. Are you saying you can't or won't write him a prescription?" His voice had gone low.
Harold forced his eyes open. The room was blurry, but he could triangulate by voices. "Hey, be nice to Madeline," he said in a wounded tone. "We like Madeline."
"Finch." A tall, square-shouldered figure loomed over the bed, grasped his hand. "Are you ... how are you?"
The question seemed funny, in a distant way. "How am I supposed to be?"
Another figure - Madeline Enright, yes, he could see her face now - leaned in and ran something over Harold's forehead. "You've been very ill, Mr. Finch. You were found seizing with a temperature close to 105. We were able to get that down to," she looked at the object in her hand, "101. How long have you been sick?"
"I'm not sick." Finch tried to sit up; the room tilted violently. Reese wrapped an arm around his waist and held him half-sitting. "I ... thought I was just edgy. Cold. We were busy."
"When's the last time you had a night's sleep?" Reese demanded.
Madeline brandished a stethoscope. "If you can hold him steady, John, I'll listen to his chest again." When she raised up again, "the lungs sound clear. I think we caught him short of pneumonia. And to answer your question, there's nothing much a prescription can do. This is a bad case of the flu." At Harold, "Did you take the vaccine this winter?"
It was April, he knew that much. "I think you mean last winter."
Madeline didn't dignify that with an answer. Pointedly, to Reese, "He doesn't need a cardiac surgeon. In my opinion as a doctor, what he needs is good nursing care. Rest, warmth, NSAIDs, fluids, a few decongestants as needed. Especially rest. Two days in bed, three if he'll put up with it. Don't let him go outdoors for three or four days, if you're any kind of a friend. Can you handle this?"
"Count on it," Reese said grimly. Madeline studied him and nodded, satisfied.
There was more to the conversation but Finch couldn't follow much of it. When Reese laid him back down, to walk Dr. Enright to the door, he concentrated on keeping his eyes open. He was in Reese's loft, in the big bed. Bear's head came over the edge of the bed. The dog licked Harold's hand. He let himself slide back into sleep.
Harold woke up, pervasively weak but clear-minded. He could track back now, see the signs of growing delirium in himself during the last mission. He looked around with more attention. The many windows of the loft were dark. Inside, the only light came from a lamp in a corner beside the dark leather Eames chair. Reese sat with a book on his lap. He looked up with that almost animal situational awareness when Finch's eyes rested on him. "Harold." He moved smoothly to the bed and laid the back of his hand on Finch's forehead. "The fever's broken." He sat on the side of the bed. "Also you're an idiot. You had no business working yourself half into a coma."
"I was thinking of the mission, Mr. Reese," Harold Finch said mildly. "You needed the help."
"What would I have done on the next mission?" Reese retorted. "I told the Machine I wouldn't do this without you. The fact is, I can't. You can hire brawn anywhere, if something happens to me. I can't replace your brain."
Reese's contribution to their partnership was considerably rarer and more versatile than plain brawn, but Harold let that go."I've never noticed any lack in your intelligence. You'd manage better than you think."
"Don't make me try," Reese growled. "I want your word."
Harold knew the difference between ordinary Reese-annoyance and the former agent truly at the end of his rope; he heard it now. "You're right, of course. I'll be more careful. And I'm sorry."
Reese looked away. "Better be," he said quietly. Bear, often a better mirror of his human's emotions than Reese himself, danced out of a corner and curled up beside Finch's side of the bed.
Reese excused himself and disappeared into the bathroom. Finch had been dehydrated too long to feel any need of it himself. Reese emerged after fifteen minutes or so, in a set of pajamas that had come with the loft. Finch footnoted that by the creases in the fabric, they'd never been worn before. Reese also had a spare blanket over his arm. He laid it out neatly on the floor, on the opposite side of the bed from Bear.
Something snapped in Finch. "That is ridiculous, Mr. Reese."
"I'm afraid you didn't provide a guest room, Mr. Finch," he replied patiently. A glance at the new loveseat under the windows - barely five feet long - ruled that out as an alternative.
"I'll buy you a second bed."
"It's past midnight."
"Then," Harold gritted, his real irritation covering a multitude of sins, "you can sleep here." He slapped the other side of the big bed. "I don't snore, and my body odor is reasonably under control. If you want to monitor me for further medical problems, you will most assuredly be the first to know."
Reese tilted his head, considering. Then he crossed the room to turn out the light. The mattress shifted as he got into bed. "Good night, Finch."
"Good night." Harold expected his usual insomnia. This time, physical exhaustion caught up to him within the first hundred digits of pi.
He drifted awake in a warm embrace, safe and happy. Grace ... no. He was the one being held, in larger arms. Stubble scraped his cheek. Cold dread washed through Harold's stomach, chased with guilt. He opened his eyes. Reese's shocking blue ones were an inch away, looking back. The arms retracted. Harold moved back and upright, his head spinning. He'd wormed across three-quarters of the bed to mold himself to John Reese; he'd nearly pushed the larger man over the side. "Um," Harold said with sparkling wit. "I... do apologize for the invasion of your personal space."
Reese shrugged. "Nice to be liked, I suppose." His eyes sharpened a little, and he touched Harold's forehead. "Your temperature is trying to go up again, Finch. Tylenol's in the bathroom. Madeline said every six hours. Are you hungry? Eggs?" Reese got up.
"Yes. Eggs." Harold wandered toward the bathroom.
In spite of his rash claims last night about personal hygiene, Finch stank of fever sweat. Harold's summer-weight wool trousers were creased beyond recognition, his shirt in little better condition. He dry-swallowed the Tylenol out of habit. His own prescriptions were on the sink as well. His muscles ached, but not with the deep pain of overexertion. He took less Vicodin than usual, planning a day of bed rest. The shower felt wonderful. Reese, it turned out, shaved with disposable razors. Harold made free with a fresh one.
Shaving necessarily involved looking himself in the face. Harold's mind went back to his first waking moment today. He watched his pale complexion turn pink. That was unfortunate. He rarely shared a bed with anyone; surely it had only been that. A simple tropism, like a plant turning to the light.
You know better. This has happened before. MIT, his first year, a fifteen-year-old hacker on the run from the law who'd made himself a new identity as an eighteen-year-old with a full scholarship in computer science. He'd always painfully shy; the new life of lies and deception had left him profoundly out of his depth on every level but the intellectual. He could see himself starting to fail – not at grades, but at the day-to-day process of living. Harold thought now that he'd been weeks away from a complete emotional breakdown when he met Nathan Ingram in the server room one 3 a.m.
Nathan, a genuine sophomore to his fake freshman, was everything 'Harold Wren' had no idea how to be. Confident, relaxed, full of practical plans. He'd taken the teenager under his wing. Harold's software designs were several notches above Nathan's, but Nathan could make them appealing to professors and end users. Bouncing ideas off each other benefited them both. Over time and games of chess, the talks began to encompass life as well as computing algorithms. Bit by bit, Harold trusted Nathan with his secrets, even the dangerously illegal ones. All but one. He'd fallen in love with his best friend.
Shyness, it turned out, was a good way to make love invisible. Harold didn't press for any physical intimacy. The meeting of minds all by itself was more than he'd dreamed of. Besides, he only had to look at the string of girls Nathan dated to know his affections would be unwelcome. Nathan got some of the girls to bring a friend along, for double dates. Harold learned that small talk was a better way of hiding his thoughts than tongue-tied silence. He developed, by trial and lots of error, something like social graces. A few of the girls went on second and third dates with him alone. One, particularly kind, helped him get rid of his virginity his sophomore year. It was time. Nathan had met his Olivia a few months before, and Harold could see this relationship was going to last.
He graduated MIT a year early, at the same time as Nathan, to start IFT together. He stood up as best man at Nathan's wedding, stood again as godfather to Nathan's son. He dated a few women and even fewer men, always with utmost discretion. He and Nathan made their first million before Harold was twenty. The company only grew faster after that. Harold loved Nathan and worked behind the scenes and got rich and never, ever risked revealing his true feelings. Not even when Nathan's marriage disintegrated. Time had passed, but his friend's basic taste for intelligent college girls hadn't changed.
The Towers fell, the Machine rose, a car bomb exploded and cut like a guillotine across Harold's comfortable life. He acquired a new name, a new purpose, a new partner. Once again he was the voice behind the scenes while someone better suited interacted with the world. Where he'd needed a businessman before, now he needed a warrior. And – Harold couldn't lie to himself – the warrior was pushing the same buttons in his body and soul that the businessman once had.
Shaving complete, Harold looked himself in the eye in the mirror. "Don't be an idiot."
Harold Finch emerged from the bathroom in yesterday's underwear and a heavy terry bathrobe six inches too long for him. Reese stood at the gas stove, cooking. "Thirty seconds and they'll be perfect." He dealt out two plain omelets at the glass table exactly on schedule. Harold's was perfect. Reese settled into the opposite chair. "Bear needs a walk. I was thinking, all the way to the library. What do you need?"
"The laptop," Harold said. "Clothes." He stirred in his chair. "Let me change back, I'll go with you."
"You want to get me in trouble with Madeline? She said bed, you stay in bed."
A whole twenty minutes upright was wearing him down, Finch had to admit. "Very well." He glanced at the loveseat. "Why did you replace the original couch, anyway?"
Reese shrugged. "Bloodstains."
When Finch was alone, he put all the pillows behind him against the carved wooden headboard and stayed under the covers. Reese's electronics footprint at home began and ended with a very small tube television, but Harold had his own cell phone. It was enough net access for a simple commercial transaction. The simplest solution turned out to be a new couch with a fold-out bed. Harold paid with an e-wallet and set delivery for later that day. The wide, bare loft had plenty of room for extra furniture. Work done, he searched for entertainment. Harold liked his written words comfortably bound on paper, thank you, but an e-copy of Tristram Shandy on the phone was better than nothing.
John Reese's return, with Bear, woke him. Harold fumbled blindly for his glasses. "I'm up. Anything wrong?" Then he recognized the look on Reese's face. "We have a number."
"The phone on the corner rang." The agent handed over a slip of paper. "Can you decode it without the library?"
"Please. The Dewey Decimal system and I are old friends." Harold wrote the Social Security number below the book codes. "Laptop?" Reese set it on the bed. "Thanks."
Five minutes later Reese was headed for Staten Island, looking for a trainee schoolteacher. Bear gave Harold a soulful look and rested his big head on the edge of the bed. Then one front paw snaked up and rested on the mattress, too.
"Behave," Harold said. "I hesitate to think what Mr. Reese would say. We're both guests here." Bear went to his own bed.
Harold tried to keep awake for the Staten Island number, tracking Reese by audio and GPS as usual, but his body kept fading out. Loud pounding on the door woke him again. Bear went into full guard mode, but it proved to be the sofa/bed delivery. When the delivery men left, well tipped, Finch sank into the Eames chair with his laptop. "Mr. Reese, what is your status?"
Harsh breathing through the phone. "Just a second." Scuffling sounds. These moments, listening and waiting, always made Harold sick at his stomach. This time seemed worse, not because of the sounds but because of his own weakness. Another pause, then Reese's voice came through. He sounded normal. "Sending you a picture." It appeared on the laptop screen, a man's unconscious face against a background of wooden floor. "It was the downstairs neighbor. Stalker. But she's not home to press charges, and I don't think my giving him a concussion will get him arrested. Search on," a pause, "Justin Taylor Burke, by his driver's license."
Harold set his fingers moving over the keyboard. "Working. Ah. That was careless of him. Bail jumper from Pennsylvania. On a felony domestic abuse charge, I see. Good day for an easy one." Harold's head was swimming a little. "Excuse me. Do you still have the ID for John D. Harriman, bounty hunter?"
He heard Reese going through his own pockets. "Right here. I'll take care of it. Get some more rest, Finch. You sound terrible."
"You may have a point." Harold set the laptop on the floor.
Finch went to sleep again, on the new couch this time for variety. He woke alone, in the slanting orange light of early evening. Six o'clock. He felt drained and a little shaky inside, but better than he had that morning. Finch took another round of Tylenol and light painkillers, then explored the kitchen cabinets.
He'd once let himself in Reese's previous … flop, he supposed the word was. That kitchen had been supplied in classic safe house mode, with canned goods that could be abandoned for months and then used at a moment's notice. It was one of the reasons he'd gifted Reese with this place. John, he was glad to see, had adapted to improved circumstances. Whether to maintain his cover or because he put a higher value on himself, he'd bought a better grade of food: fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh pasta, even a pound of sturgeon. Unfortunately Harold had no skill or energy to cook any of it.
Seven o'clock. When Harold found himself wondering if fresh oregano was edible by itself, he gave in and ordered a mountain of Chinese food. He waited for it to arrive, waited more until everything was cooling and he had to reheat his hot and sour soup. By seven-thirty, Bear began staring at him. He gave in and took the dog out. The shortest walk that would handle business was still almost longer than Finch could stand. His limp was noticeably worse, coming home.
Bear whined with joy as they approached the door. Harold tapped on it before he unlocked it. "Mr. Reese? It's me. I was about to call you."
Finch stopped and let the door swing to behind him. Reese was alone and on his feet. He didn't look injured. But he was wavering, pale, and glassy-eyed. Harold stepped toward him. Reese staggered in place and threw up on Harold Finch's shoes.
Younger, stronger, and less tired, Reese was less ill than Finch had been. He got himself to the shower, then into a set of sweats. Harold had the Tylenol ready for him. "Soup?"
"Better not." Reese looked around. "Nice couch. I'll take it."
"You'd better have the bed. I think I'm starting to get well.
Reese took the offer, with a pointed look. "Gee, Finch, I didn't get you anything."
Irked, "Obviously, I didn't intend to infect you. And given the incubation period, I doubt it happened today or last night. We might even have caught the flu from the same source at the same time." Harold blinked. "Oh. You're teasing me."
Reese took the bed, sighed as he stretched out. "Genius is a wonderful thing."
The evening stretched out. Finch had slept too much during the day to manage more than a doze. He heard Reese moving restlessly in the bed for a while, heard him settle. City lights flooded in from the wide windows, leaving the room in twilight at best.
Clearly he'd been inconsiderate when he chose this location. Harold wondered how Reese, with his sharp senses and acute security consciousness, could sleep here. His first impulse was to make things right by having blackout curtains installed, first thing tomorrow morning. But the former agent had ample money (though he gave away most of it) to buy curtains himself. The fact that he hadn't meant he didn't want to. Harold should mind his own business.
A sharp gasp, explosive movement; Reese's shadow in the bed sat bolt upright and rolled out to crouch on the floor. A gun had materialized in his hands. No more than half a second behind, Bear sprang out of deep sleep into a similar coiled pose, teeth gleaming in the dim light, a low threatening growl vibrating from him. Harold made himself as small as he could on the couch. "Mr. Reese...?"
Two heads turned, focused on him. Then, "naar beneden," Reese whispered. Bear relaxed into his normal happy-dog posture. Reese's gun lowered more slowly. "Finch," he said, as if reminding himself. "New York. Sorry."
Bad dreams. Reese undoubtedly had material for some hideous ones. Harold sat upright, moving as smoothly and slowly as his back would allow. "Do you need anything? Water, Tylenol?"
Reese sat back on the edge of the bed. "Light." He made the gun disappear.
There were no bedside tables or lamps. Harold went to the standing lamp beside the Eames chair, turned on one of the three bulbs. "Is this enough?"
"Thanks." Reese went to the sink, splashed water on his face. His hand hovered over a cabinet Harold knew held a fifth of scotch. Reese let it fall again. He returned to the living area, sat on the corner of the bed facing Harold. "Talk to me," he said.
Finch blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"Context. Headspace. I need to think about something else before I try to sleep again. You're here, let's talk. Anything. Doesn't have to be personal."
Harold remembered another night when he'd been the one in an altered state, drugged hilarity in his case. John Reese had been kind to him, and left his secrets alone. "We could play chess."
Reese's mouth quirked. "That's like me inviting you to arm wrestle."
Harold was at a loss. "Do you like the apartment? Those windows must be a security risk, now that I see the place at night."
"It's fine. I'm fine." Reese let his head droop forward. "Talk about the weather or sports or something."
"I read some Sterne today on my phone," Harold said at random. "The altered format … no. I'm sorry. I can't. You are far from 'fine,' Mr. Reese, and it ill behooves me to pretend ..."
John Reese's head came up, eyes blazing. "Yeah. You know exactly everything about me," Reese quoted. "You go right on believing that. Not everything makes the files. Not everything happens in front of a mike or a camera. Even now, with your friend the Machine alive and watching. There's nothing, nothing I haven't done. Or had done to me." His teeth showed. "You're such an innocent, Harold."
Finch breathed, took it in. "I would not have said so."
"I would," Reese retorted. "You promised once you'd never lie to me, and you've more or less kept that. You really are the good man you act like – the numbers, the cases. Saving people really is what you want. But you want something else too. You want me."
The naked truth sounded ugly, hanging between them. Harold found himself speechless. "What the hell," Reese continued. "I love my work." His arms came up, reached out.
Harold was on his feet, in spite of a warning twinge from his bad leg. Backing away. "Mr. Reese, you're not yourself."
A wild light in his eyes, but at least the younger man didn't pursue him. "Who the hell would that be?" Reese snarled.
"My friend." Harold bit it out with anger of his own. Even though he felt like a ferret standing up to a lion. "My partner. If I've conveyed anything of myself to you over the last year and a half, I'd thought, I'd hoped it would be that I respect your integrity. More, I rely on it. If after all we've done, you can't ..." His voice faded out, came back stronger. "Dammit. You met Grace, you saw what she was like. I had her in my life. How can you believe I'd stoop to, to pawing at someone who'd barely endure me?"
Reese's head drooped. "I wasn't offering endurance. I wouldn't mind. I owe you more than my life."
"I won't be owed." Harold's heart twisted. Partly in sympathy, partly in shame at how difficult that no had been. John Reese's physical attraction was nothing compared to his paladin soul. The idea of that strong body and generous heart at his disposal... "In any case, you asked for a distraction from the bad old days, not more like them."
"I don't believe you're like anything," Reese murmured. "Harold."
Finch cleared his throat. "Since you're so curious, I'll say that I was born in Iowa. A few years before your time. 'Harold' is my real name." He sat down on the couch again.
John sank back down to the bed. "Harold Bird?"
Harold made a face. "I suppose I deserve that. No. You can imagine my childhood. I never had much time for people. Mathematics made so much more sense. Computers were just coming in, there was a mainframe at the university in town. I think I fell in love at first sight. It listened to me, in a way people never did. The more precisely I worded my intentions, the more that machine would work with me. It was the friend I never..." He stopped.
Reese lay back, closed his eyes. "People are stupid."
Harold went over and risked laying a hand on his forehead. "You'll be better soon, I think. Rest." He limped back to the couch.
"The bed's more comfortable," Reese whispered, "Mr. Finch."
Harold smiled. "Maybe another time."