In Health

"Mr. Reese, I owe you an explanation. And an apology," Harold Finch said.

It's funny, how people keep mistaking me for a moral touchstone. Carter had done it recently, too. Even Fusco. Strangest of all from Harold, who knew well what kind of monster he was harboring. But Reese listened, thought, said the words to make his friend feel better. It was true, too. He was responsible for his own fate, and Jess's. Harold had made the best decisions he could at the time.

In some ways, this should be their hour of triumph. Decima Corporation had been foiled, government goons evaded. Root put away securely. Even the Machine freed from human control, which Reese supposed counted as good news after all it had done for them. But the numbers were gone now, and Reese's function with them. He suggested that Harold could stop giving him quite so much money – he meant any at all, but one step at a time. Harold wouldn't hear of even a reduction in salary.

The jingle of an old-fashioned telephone interrupted them. Both of them looked at the open booth on the corner. Harold grinned like a child on Christmas morning and hurried to answer it. Reese leaned down to pat Bear, hiding a smile of his own.

At the phone Finch scribbled on a note pad he carried with him, said "Thank you," and hung up.

"You never thank it," Reese commented when Finch returned.

"I'm not sure 'it' is the right term," Harold said absently. "Not any more. The Machine also said, be careful. To you, by name."

Reese looked blank. "I guess, that shows a friendly attitude. Thank it for me."

"I knew the Machine could develop a personality," Finch said. "In the past, I had precautions in place to limit that. Since the hard reset, its mind is its own." A few weeks ago in the empty computer room, Harold had talked about the escape of the Machine like a proud father. Now he seemed to wonder if he'd done the right thing.

Reese tapped the pad in Harold's hand. "First things first."

[*]

"Doctor Deborah Robinson," Harold said, taping a photograph to the glass bulletin board in the library. It showed a woman with strong features and copper-penny hair she wore scraped back in a bun. Her heavy-framed glasses didn't suit her. "Geneticist, just coming off a research fellowship at Imperial College in London. Australian. For the last six months she's been working under another grant, doing independent research at a local medical school on data from the Human Genome Project. Her green card gives her a temporary Social Security number, which is how the Machine referred us. Living with a fellow researcher Dr. Terry Forrest, male. Social media suggests he's proposed marriage at least once since they began to co-habitate, no engagement reported."

"Could her trouble be the boyfriend?" Reese knew he had a bias toward that kind of answer. But it was a cliche because it kept happening.

"No criminal record on him." Harold hung another picture. Reese noted this one down as Caucasian male about thirty, brown hair curly, brown eyes. More informally, an average guy with a nose too short for good looks and an amiable expression. "He's an MD too, postdoctoral student on track for research rather than private practice. And this is interesting, changed his name at eighteen. He was born in a commune in Oregon, father not recorded, given the name Terrestrial Spirit of the Eternal Forest. Has a sister – possibly half sister – now named Celeste Sterne for similar reasons."

"Celestial Spirit of the Timeless Stars?" Reese deduced.

"Ageless," Harold said. "In any case, she lives in Ohio and seems not to be involved in this. Forrest and Robinson live quietly in a building with a total of fifteen tenants, most of them long term residents, none with criminal records. Good neighborhood. Because she has independent funding from a private foundation, she teaches no classes at the university and has no direct supervisor. She's more a visiting scholar with lab privileges than anything else. No trouble reported there, either."

"What about her life before she came to New York?" Reese asked.

"Very little comes up on a search. I see no scholarly publications under her name, no formal academic positions apart from the visiting scholar roles here and in London, no record she ever practiced medicine. No living relatives in Australia."

That piqued Reese's instincts. "Sounds like a good cover identity to me."

Harold turned to the nearest computer and rapped several keys. "I did look at students – she's listed on the alumni pages of both her undergraduate and medical schools in Brisbane. Both entries appear to be properly dated, no sign of tampering. If this is a cover, she's been at it continuously since she was about eighteen years old."

Like you, Reese reflected. Harold Crane-Wren-Finch-etc. But that didn't matter at the moment. And it qualified the man to spot similar manipulation by other people. "That doesn't sound likely to pose an immediate threat. So I guess we start with basic legwork," Reese said. "Pair their phones, infiltrate their apartment, get a sense of their routine." Harold rarely gave him orders any more, only partner-like suggestions, but Reese had their chain of command clear in his own mind.

Harold nodded. "I'll leave it in your hands."

[*]

It wasn't the worst pain that ever happened to him; not even the worst from torture. The insurgents had been amateurs. They had some idea of a show trial, which ruled out conspicuous things like cutting off his fingers. Two days, not even a day and a half conscious, before Kara and Snow had beaten his location out of someone and freed him. But when he dreamed of torture, that was the session. The cold stone hut, the insurgents clustering around him. Grinning like wolves, and laughing.

Not the worst. But this time the stone hut was bigger, another mattress worth of space. Bodies moved out of his way and he saw why. They needed the extra room because they were doing it to Harold, too.

Awake. Light, space, clean air without the concentrated stench of unwashed … torturers. Better, he had a gun in his hand. He could stop anything that needed stopping. John Reese made himself breathe slowly, two, three. He focused his eyes. The loft. New York. Home, of a sort. Lots of open space and any number of escape routes, through the wide windows. The sun was barely up, but sleep would be unattainable now.

He knew where and when and who and what. And the gun hadn't gone off, it was a neutral temperature in his hand. What he didn't know, and had no one to ask, was whether he'd made a noise coming up out of the dream. Even Bear was with Harold tonight, or he could have told by the dog's reaction.

Hell with it. The loft was surely soundproofed, or someone would have complained by now. Reese got out of bed.

[*]

He strode into the main room of the library like someone ready to attack. Bear whined, confused. Harold, already at his computer table, stared and fumbled to rise.

Seeing him, real and whole, steadied Reese's heartbeat down to normal range. His juggernaut approach slowed, finally stalled. Bear came up to him, a little fearful, and nuzzled his hand. The innocent contact helped. Reese stroked, buried his fingers in the dog's fur.

Harold, also hesitant, came closer. Touching range, but not touching. He knew a little, and had the intelligence to guess more. That saved them the first six questions right there. "Tell me." Harold's voice was shaky.

If I wasn't going to be honest, why did I come here? Reese sat down, and said it. Short blunt words, what had really happened and how Harold had fit in the dream-replay. Harold went bone white. He looked twenty years older than Reese, not ten. "How," his voice broke, and he tried again. "How can you stand to let me near you?"

Because Finch was, among other things, attracted to men. And because he'd let slip that he was attracted to Reese. God, you are innocent. "There's no comparison. You wanted something," friendly, "consensual. I didn't happen to want to. Which stopped you in your tracks." They didn't usually touch, but Reese put a hand on the other man's arm. "No matter how crazy the dream got, I never once thought of you as an attacker. I was sick because you were hurting and I couldn't help you."

They'd both had their shares of helplessness. Harold sank into another chair close by. He put his hand over Reese's. "Just one question, if you feel comfortable answering." Reese nodded. "Are they all dead?" His voice was shaky but fierce.

"Stanton and Snow came in guns blazing." And found him three-quarters dead, but that was nothing Harold should hear. "Kara was going for leg and gut shots. When the dust settled there were two alive. She gave me her sidearm … therapy, she said." Actually, the other agent's suggested revenge had been considerably more graphic. "I could barely see straight but I did it, double taps to the head. I did feel a little better." The only therapy he'd gotten. CIA covert operations division wasn't known for pampering delicate emotions.

Harold breathed. "I never thought I could hate that woman less. Thank God she was there."

From a man who rarely ventured an 'oh, shoot' it sounded like a real prayer. Reese's eyes were stinging. "Finch," he said roughly, and drew the shorter man forward into an awkward hug. Finch sobbed once and leaned into it.

He trembled like the birds he kept naming himself after. He didn't hug back until Reese squeezed him firmly, and then his touch had something desperate in it. Oh. Not a why-not-we're-both-here extension of the partnership, like Kara. Not a friendly but non-committing fling, like Zoe. Harold, if Reese knew anything about the human heart, was in love. He must be insane – wasn't knowing 'exactly everything' about Reese enough warning? – but the emotion was genuine.

Reese could hurt him so very badly. And Harold was too smart to lie to. "I think you're the only person alive I care about." He adjusted so that Finch's head was on his shoulder. "And I still don't know if I can. Not because of bad memories. If I let that kind of thing stop me I'd never leave the damn house. Because it matters, whether I mess up our partnership." That was why Finch had turned down his half-addled offer a few months ago. He'd been offering something that had no value to him. Harold refused to agree to that valuation.

"Thank you." Harold's arm tightened on his neck. "That's all I want." His lips brushed Reese's coat.

Bear shoved his big nose in between them, demanding some attention too. They both stroked the dog, and the tension lightened. Harold's eyes were suspiciously pink-rimmed. He wiped his glasses with finicky care as if they'd suddenly gotten covered in dust. "Very well," he said at random. "We'll see how the situation develops." He looked down at the new glasses. "Incidentally. Do you need to implant a tracking device in these?"

Reese's lips curved as he realized he was being teased. "It's handled, thanks."

[*]