Author's Note: I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the awesome JinkyO who convinced me I could write Person of Interest, encouraged me all along and gave me great advice on how to make this fic better.
The phone rang and Harold hurried to pick it up. John figured it was the Machine. She must have detected Samaritan's escape from the vault of the Federal Reserve where they currently were, and she wanted to update them on the hostile AI's contingency plan.
"Samaritan means to upload its copy to a satellite," Harold answered to whatever the Machine had indicated on its enemy's strategy. "Then it can return to Earth unharmed by the virus."
"The last copy," Harold continued after a pause, worry clearly audible in his voice. "You've already fought it in the simulations and you never won. You won't survive." John couldn't hear what the Machine was saying on the other side of the line, but he gathered she wanted to do the same as Samaritan: upload to the satellite, and fight with Samaritan up there, in whatever ways ASIs fight.
"Destroy it how?" Finch asked over the phone.
John's heart missed a beat. That didn't bode well at all. No doubt Samaritan had planned something rather radical. If things became seriously dangerous for Harold, John had to make sure that, this time, his friend couldn't force him to the sidelines. Fort Meade had been a close enough call, when Harold locked the doors behind him, preventing Shaw and John to follow him. This time, John was going to make sure it wouldn't happen again.
Without hesitation, he opened Harold's suitcase, took out the boards containing the Machine's code and placed them in his own suitcase, the one that originally contained the gas masks. The best way to prevent Harold from sidelining him was to be the one carrying the Machine's precious copy.
Harold hung up the phone just as John turned back to him. Harold walked to the table, purposely avoiding any eye contact with John. He clearly didn't want to share what his conversation with the Machine had been about. But the plan was easy enough to guess. Samaritan escaped and wanted to upload to a satellite. The Machine wanted to upload as well and fight Samaritan up there, so someone had to go and upload The Machine's copy to the satellite.
Without a word, Harold retrieved his now empty suitcase, and stepped back. He finally looked up, but his face was unreadable. He was clearly trying to hide his intentions to John.
"I need you to gather all these weapons," he said, before quickly exited the room.
John had a dreading gut feeling that Harold was going to attempt something reckless at any moment. Whatever it was, John had to talk him out of it, convince him they needed to stay together. Harold just wasn't cut for the battlefield. Heck, he wouldn't even hold a firearm.
John gathered the weapons and his own suitcase as fast as he could and hurried behind Harold, but the little man had already closed the gate of the vault, locking John in.
"Sorry, Mr. Reese," Harold breathed.
"Finch, what are you doing?"
Harold looked at him with imploring eyes. "When I hired you, I suspected you were going to be a great employee," he said, his voice rigged with emotion. "What I couldn't have anticipated was that you would become such a good friend."
John felt a lump growing in his throat as Harold pronounced those words. The reverse was just as true. Even more than that, Harold was the man who had saved his life. Harold had reached out to him when John needed help, giving him a new purpose, something to fight for, a reason to live again. And ever since, Harold had never stopped looking after him, saving his life more times than John could count. And, here, once again, Harold was trying to save him. John wasn't sure why Harold seemed so attached to him, but it only made him more determined not to let his friend die. Harold Finch was one of those people the world couldn't afford to lose.
"You won't make it down from that rooftop alone," he said, feeling the grip of fear in his chest.
"Don't intend to," Harold replied. "I'm afraid this is where our partnership ends. Goodbye, John." He turned around and limped his way out as fast as he could.
"Harold," John called. He had to stop him. He couldn't let his friend go alone in what sounded very much like a suicide mission. He had lost too many people in his life, close-ones. He couldn't bear the thought of losing anyone else. He had to save Harold.
"Finch, wait," he implored. But Finch didn't stop. He didn't even look back.
John's despair spiked as he watched his friend walking away, to a certain death, in an obvious attempt to spare John's own life.
"Wait!" he called again. "Harold! Wait! Harold!"
But his friend was long gone.
The door of the vault closed in a load clang, and John hit the solid bars of the metal gate out of angry desperation.
"Are you there?" he said to the void. But the Machine didn't answer. It was out of reach in the vault. John rushed to the landline phone. "Are you there?" he repeated.
"Yes, John," Root's voice answered.
John was a bit taken aback to hear his dead friend's voice. "Root?"
"No, John," the Machine answered. "I have just chosen her voice."
John raised an eyebrow. It was a little unsettling to hear the Machine communicating with Root's voice but now was not the time to try and understand the AI.
"Let me out of here," he ordered.
"Harold seems determined to keep you safe, John. Quite literally, may I add."
John closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. "He's not going to make, is he?"
"Based on the 506735 simulations I have run so far, Harold has a 0.0004 % chance of survival."
It felt like a punch in the gut. "He's not equipped for this!" John shouted. "Let me go instead!"
The Machine paused momentarily. John assumed she was running new simulations. "Your own odds of survival are approximately 0.01 %," she said finally.
"Infinitely better, and nothing I haven't beaten before," he replied wryly.
"Actually only 25 times better."
John took a deep breath. Now was the time to remind the Machine of their long-standing deal. "We have an agreement," he stated firmly. "I held my end of it, worked the numbers for you. Now it's your turn."
There had been a time where John had lost faith in the legitimacy of their mission. He hadn't been able to save Joss, and it had been eating at him. What was the point of saving so many lives if he couldn't protect the ones that mattered to him, the ones that mattered to the world? He had quit, because he was too afraid of losing anyone else. He thought that continuing their missions, saving more numbers, would just expose Harold to too much risk. And that was something he simply couldn't accept. Of course, the Machine had tried to convince him to come back, in her own way, rerouting him toward someone who needed his help. The Machine had known that he wouldn't be able to sit on the sidelines while someone was in danger – especially if he was stuck on a transatlantic flight with no way to escape. The Machine could be clever like that.
In the end, he accepted to come back, but on one condition: Harold was to be protected at all costs. Delta Echo Alpha Lima the Machine had answered. She wasn't much of a conversationalist back then.
"We do have an agreement. But then, Harold made his choice," the Machine argued. "And he seems determined to save you."
John reaffirmed his grip on the handset. "And I'm determined to save him," he countered fiercely. "I swapped the suitcases. I am the one with your core code. You have to let me out, or Harold will die for nothing. And you'll die too."
There was a short silence on the line, and then finally the door of the vault slowly opened.
"Well played, big guy," the Machine said, and John could swear it sounded like she was smiling.
He put down the phone and checked the weaponry he had earlier taken from the knocked-out guards – He had one gun slid in his belt on his back, and two rifles. He slid the strap of one over his shoulder, and kept the other one in his right hand, ready to shoot. The Machine's suitcase firmly secured in his left hand, John hurried out of the vault.
"What's Samaritan's plan to destroy the satellite?" he asked through his earpiece as he climbed the stairs back to ground level and rushed to the street.
"A cruise missile."
John couldn't help a joyless smirk. The irony of barely escaping a missile strike in China only to be taken down by another one five years later didn't escape him.
"Has the building been evacuated?"
"Yes. However, Samaritan is already sending agents to secure the site until its download is complete."
"But you'd rather not send too many people to their death," John completed, reading between the lines.
"What are my chances to complete the mission on my own?"
"Approximately 74.3% chances to pass through Samaritan's agents and successfully upload the last copy of my heuristic code."
"I can work with that. What's the address?"
"1133 Avenues of the Americas."
This was quite far. "How long do I have?"
"The virus has made the subway seriously unreliable, which in turns has caused major traffic congestions around the city. Given your average jogging performance, I'd advise you to just start running."
John rolled his eyes. Running with a suitcase and two rifles was definitely not ideal. Not to mention all the side looks he was getting from pedestrians. But short of any other options at the moment, he complied, trying as best as he could not to shake the precious suitcase too much as he jogged through the crowd.
"Oh wait, take a right," the Machine suddenly said.
"Shouldn't I be going North?" John objected.
"A motorcyclist is coming your way. He should appear in your line of sight in about three minutes. Keep going."
John quickly turned right at the next corner, crossed two intersections and, just as the Machine predicted, he spotted a motorcyclist waiting at the traffic light. John crossed the street and stopped right in front of the man, his rifle directly pointed at his head.
"I need your vehicle," he said, shooting his most deadly look.
Shaking with fear, the man quickly got off his motorcycle. John threw his rifle over his shoulder and sat astride the powerful vehicle.
"I'll also need your helmet."
The terrified motorcyclist handed him over his helmet. John shot him a smile. "Thank you," he said, as he took off and disappeared into the traffic.
"Take the next left," the Machine said in his ear. "Then right, third left and straight North."
Zigzagging between cars and pedestrians, John expertly made his way through traffic.
"He's in Times Square, arguing with Samaritan."
"Samaritan?" John asked, alarmed and ready to go back up his friend.
"No worries, John. Harold is safe for now. Keep going."
"Is there something you're not telling me? Is Harold all right?"
"Harold is injured, but the wound is not an immediate threat."
"Promise me you'll keep him safe!" John shouted.
There was a short pause before the Machine answered. "That would require me to lie to him."
"Then you damn lie to him! Promise me," John repeated fiercely.
"I promise you, John. Careful at the next intersection, there's a big truck coming. Go around the block."
John quickly checked over his shoulder the way was clear and took a left.
"John, can I ask you a question?"
John rolled his eyes. For sure the Machine had taken on Root's chatty personality. "You think this is the best time for small talk?"
"We might not have many other opportunities. There's still a high probability that we'll both be dead in ten minutes."
This was a rather gloomy but valid point. "What's your question?"
"Aren't you afraid of dying?"
The Machine had apparently taken on Root's vaguely morbid traits, too.
John shrugged. "Not really." Death was inevitable, but if he had a say in the matter, John would rather go on his own terms, and for a cause he had chosen.
"I've been watching a lot of people. Most would have been more than happy to accept the easy way out of being stuck in the vault."
"I guess I'm just not most people." And it was Harold. John literally owed him his life. He would never be able to live with himself if he let Harold die in an attempt to spare his life. But maybe, by saving him back, and saving the Machine – Harold's beautiful creation – he could pay him back.
The Machine went silent for a while.
"Your father would have been proud of you," she said finally.
John felt his heart tighten in his chest, and it had nothing to do with him driving at full speed to his certain death.
"You don't know my father," he breathed between his teeth.
"No, that's true. There is very little digital footage of your father. But I know the values he gave you and what he meant to you. I know he died a hero and that all you ever wanted was to be just as good a person, to honor his memory."
"How can you possibly know that?"
"I've been studying you. I know you."
That was kind of unsettling, realizing that the Machine was not only watching over them but truly watching. "You've been studying me all this time?"
As he was forced to stop at a red light at a busy intersection, John glanced at his watch. 9 minutes to go. Time was running out fast. He looked left and right and stepped on the gas as soon as the way was clear.
"I wanted to learn from you," the Machine said.
John shook his head. "Learn from me? What could you possibly want to learn from me?"
"Well, I learned how to dismantle and remount a variety of weapons."
John grinned. "I guess that could always come in handy… If you had hands, that is."
"Not all my recruits are of the same fiber as you. I sometimes have to teach them a thing or two. Things that I've learned from Harold, others that I've learned from you. You're a good person, John. You always have been."
John snorted. "Right…"
"Even when you lost your way," the Machine continued, "you never ceased to be good, deep down."
"Very deep down then, because on the surface…" John said bitterly.
"I've been watching you. I could tell you were different. You wanted to be good, you wanted to help people. And you did quit the CIA. This was just not for you."
"I did," John admitted. "I wish I had quit sooner though."
"And for myself, too," John whispered.
"Nine o'clock," The Machine said suddenly. "Samaritan's agents coming your way."
John grumbled. He didn't have enough hands for everything: driving the bike, holding the suitcase and firing a weapon. Spotting his opponents, he hit the brakes, jumped off the bike, threw away the helmet and ran to cover behind scaffoldings. Grabbing his rifle, and with the help of the all-seeing Machine, he started shooting, taking Samaritan's squad down one man at a time.
"I'm failing," the Machine suddenly warned. "I might lose tracks of things. You're three blocks away. Samaritan is bringing more back-up to the building. Once you're there, take the East entrance. The elevator will be down the corridor on your left. If you make it to the elevator fast enough, I should be able to insure you reach the roof on time."
"Any arsenal nearby?" John asked, mentally counting the ammunition he had left.
"I'm afraid we don't have time. If you use it wisely – as you usually do – you should have enough ammunition to make your way up to the roof and defend the position until upload is complete."
"But not to make it down," John completed.
John's last opponent fell to the ground just as he shot his last bullet from his first rifle. John threw the weapon away, grabbed the second one that was strapped to his back and sprinted to the building.
It wasn't long until Samaritan's minions came running toward him, but with the help of the Machine indicating the exact position of his opponents via his earpiece, John managed to reach the East entrance of the building without a scratch.
His progress slowed down as soon as he stepped inside the small corridor and walked right into a tight formation of two dozens of shooters who were waiting for him. The East entrance offered no cover so John used the cramped space to his advantage by blocking his entry point so he only had one front to cover. He strained to hear the Machine over the gunfire but communications had become somewhat erratic, with increasing moments of silence.
Samaritan's men were more heavily armed and protected than he was, but they obviously had very little training, much like Jeff Blackwell. Petty criminals turned assassins that were no match for John who had no troubles taking them down one by one.
"Machine, you still there?" he asked between two successful shots.
"Sorry, John, I'm dying. That virus is a killer. But I'll do my best to stay with you."
Slowly but surely, Samaritan's men were stepping back. But the minutes were passing and John's remaining ammunition was decreasing dangerously. He was already down two third of his magazine, and there were still a good dozen men blocking the corridor.
"I could use some help here," John said. "Can you create a distraction on the other side, to clear enough of the way before I run out of ammo?"
"I can do that. Give me a second."
Almost instantly, a loud bang was heard coming from elsewhere in the building, startling everyone and creating confusion among Samaritan's agents.
"It's a break-in," someone shouted.
"Go check it out," another ordered.
They split, half of the gunmen running to go check who else was breaking in. Facing a less offensive hail of bullets, John's progression finally accelerated.
"Elevator?" he asked.
"Ready and waiting for you."
He was now very close. He fired his last rounds to clear the way and took a deep breath. "Now!" he shouted while sprinting toward the elevator as the doors opened. He smoothly slid in and the Machine closed the door quickly behind him.
"Close call," the Machine said laconically.
"Good job," John appreciated. He put down the empty rifle and took the gun that he had holstered in his back. This was his last weapon. He'd have to use it wisely.
There was a jolt, and the elevator started its ascension. The calm of the small elevator shaft was a vivid contrast after the racket of the corridor shooting. John could hear his heart pounding against his ribcage. The floor numbers were passing horribly fast, and as he watched them pass, he felt a growing knot in his stomach. But now was not the time to waver. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, forcing himself to calm down and doing his best not to think too much about the fact that this would likely be his last mission.
The relative safety of the elevator would also probably be his last opportunity to share a moment with the Machine and say goodbye before Samaritan's agents catch up to him. John looked up at the camera on the top right corner of the elevator.
"Look, I just wanted to tell you. Thank you for the job, and for helping me find my true calling."
"It's been an honor working with you, John. I won't forget you. I have a 97.3% approximation of you."
John grinned. "I've kept less than three percent of mystery from you? Am I this predictable?"
"Only to me."
"Hey, when this is over, keep an eye on Harold, Lionel and Shaw for me. Make sure they're all okay."
"I will. I wish we could end this differently. I will miss you, John."
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened.
"All clear," the Machine announced. "I've led Harold to the building on the other side of the street. He's on the rooftop. He hasn't noticed it is not the right one yet."
"Just make sure he'll get down before the strike."
John got off the elevator and made his way to the rooftop. He squinted his eyes at the sudden brightness of the sunlight.
"Control of the satellite dish is located at the North corner of the roof."
John spotted it and crossed the empty space. He turned on the communication with Harold, who seemed to be having his own conversation with the Machine. And apparently John was just in time to join in.
"Wait, are you sure this is the right place?" Harold was asking.
"Yes. This is where you're supposed to be," The Machine answered.
"No, none of these dishes are capable of transmitting to a Molniya orbit," Harold protested. "This is the wrong building."
The simple sound of Harold's voice in his ear brought a smile to John's face, even though Harold didn't sound happy to have been fooled by the Machine. John, on the other hand, couldn't be more grateful of the AI to have played along and accepted to protect her creator.
"Right building, Finch, for you," John said, just as his friend came into view on top of the building on the other side of the street.
Harold turned around and spotted him. "John. What are you doing?"
"Me and the Machine have had a long-standing arrangement. A deal," John explained. "Told you, I'll pay you back all at once. That's the way I like it."
"No," Harold protested. "I told you. It's supposed to be me, alone."
"Sorry, Harry," the Machine intervened. "Deal's a deal. You know as well as I do that he wasn't gonna let you die."
John tucked his gun back in his belt and fired up the control laptop for the satellite. He adjusted the position of the dish and the dish started to rotate.
"Should get moving, Harold," he said, hoping to convince his friend to get back to safety. "It's gonna get a little exciting up here."
John locked the position of the dish and launched the upload.
But Harold hadn't decided to let go of him just yet. "All right, you've done it. Now let the upload take care of itself. Get out of there, John."
John wished he could, but he knew he had to stand his position and defend the upload. If Samaritan's agents were to destroy the laptop, prevent the complete upload of the Machine's code, then everything would be lost.
"Behind you, John," the Machine warned "Now."
John quickly grabbed his gun and shot down the man approaching before he got a chance to adjust his own shot.
"Two more," the Machine instructed. John turned to his left and took them down as well. "More on the way."
"Mr. Reese. John," Harold called. "This wasn't supposed to be the way."
John looked back at him. "Sure it is," he said softly. "This is what I do, remember? When you came to me, you gave me a job. A purpose. At first, well, I had been trying to save the world for so long, saving one life at a time seemed a bit anticlimactic. But then I realized, sometimes, one life, if it's the right life, that's enough."
New assailants were closing in. John prepared to shoot. He sent one last glance toward his friend. "Good-bye, Harold," he said with a heavy heart.
"No!" Harold screamed.
"Two on your nine o'clock," the Machine indicated. "One at twelve o'clock."
John turned his focus back to the men coming his way. They were just as bad shooters as the men John had encountered downstairs, but what they lacked in efficiency, they made up for by coming in numbers. Samaritan sure had no scruples sacrificing its recruits.
The Machine's voice seemed to struggle a bit and suddenly switched back to its impersonal robotic mode. But it stayed with him, continuing to give him the position of his assailants. Given the configuration of the rooftop, John didn't really need it, but it was a reassuring presence by his side.
John glanced one last time at Harold, who was finally leaving the rooftop. A wave of gratitude for the man who saved him – literally and metaphorically – overtook him.
Sooner or later, both of us will probably wind up dead. Actually dead, this time. Harold had warned him a long time ago. I said I'd tell you the truth. I didn't say you'd like it. It seemed such a long time ago. But John had sworn to himself that he'd do anything for Harold not to wind up dead. And as he watched Harold walk away, he smiled. Harold would get to live. And this was what mattered the most.
He failed to save Jessica, and Joss. But at least he'll succeed in saving Harold's life. He hoped that, after this big ASI war, and whatever its outcome, his friend would finally retire from it all, and allow himself to go back to the life he longed for, with Grace, in Italy.
He imagined her the way Harold always pictured her to him, at her easel, painting, bathed in the soft light of a late Mediterranean afternoon. She would turn around, and Harold would be there, standing in the distance, a little awkward and unsure of her reaction. He would smile, and she would smile back. Both of them would glow with a soft happiness as they would finally be reunited.
The prolonged, and probably final, silence of the Machine called him back to the present. John's heart tightened as he realized the Machine was gone. He hoped that the last copy would make it, up there, and would return victorious, to continue saving the numbers, continue what they had started. Hopefully Shaw and Fusco would make it too. They should be out of the subway by now. He wishes he could ask the Machine about them, but she was gone now.
Shaw would make a great team leader. There was no doubt that if the Machine came back and resumed the irrelevant protocol, Shaw would be happy to continue, with whoever would have survived and whoever she'd recruit. She might have to work on her manners with the numbers, though. At least she'd take good care of Bear.
He wondered if Lionel would want to continue. He probably would. Lionel had been really invested in their mission. John sure hadn't anticipated what a great partner Lionel would have become. If loyalty was one the first traits of character he noticed in Lionel, John hadn't expected to become the object of the detective's indefectible loyalty. Lionel was a good man, and a good friend. He had probably considered John a friend before the ex-CIA agent realized Lionel was much more than a simple asset. John hoped Lionel would come out of all this unscathed and that he would be able to return to his detective work.
Samaritan's men would just not stop coming, and despite John's best efforts, they were getting inexorably closer and closer.
Faster than the others, one of his assailant managed to shoot before John. The bullet hit him in the right shoulder, tearing the muscle. John quickly swapped his weapon from the right to the left hand, but not until another bullet hit him, this time in the stomach. Clenching his teeth under the pain, John fell to his knees, but managed to take down his opponents.
Finally, an audible beep from the computer indicated that the upload of the Machine's heuristic code to the satellite was complete. This was the signal that the mission was complete, and that John could now get the hell out of there.
Immediately, as he continued to methodically take down his assailants, John started to mentally assess different escape scenarios. The building was way too high to attempt to jump. There were two stairways down, and both routes were blocked by Samaritan's goons. He was cornered, with no cover and nowhere to go, and they wouldn't stop coming.
The realization hit him almost as painfully as the bullets tearing his guts. This was it. He had no way out. He wasn't going to make it. So many times, he had faced what should have been a certain death, and yet always found a way out. But not this time. There was only so many times you could cheat death. He was overwhelmed by a wave of sorrow. He hadn't thought he would have felt so sad to leave this world, leave his friends behind. Who was going to look after them?
A whistling tore the sky. The missile was coming. John braced for the impact and closed his eyes.
This was the end.
"But you're not alone, John," a soft voice said next to him.
John looked up. "Jessica?" He felt a pinch in his stomach. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he whispered. "Will you forgive me?"
"Of course I have, John. But have you forgiven yourself?"
A tear rolled down his cheek. "I can't."
"We can't save them all," another voice said. It was Joss. John smiled at her. "The best we can do is keep trying."
"And you never stopped trying, Johnny," his father said. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. I wish I could have seen you grow. You did good, son. I'm proud of you."
John looked at the three of them, standing by his side, and smiled. "Will you stay with me?"
"Always, John," they said together.
If he had to die, he couldn't have asked for a better way to go, saving the world, and most importantly, saving Harold.
Then he let go.