Author's Note: many thanks to Talkingtothesky for the beta!
At first, he just liked the sound of it. Reese. John Reese. There was a certain ring to it. As a CIA agent, he assumed many fake identities. Some identities were short-lived, meant to die once the mission was over, while other, more complete identities, were recurring aliases that were other versions of himself. But of all the fake names he carried, this was the only one that felt somewhat real to him. He could see himself as John Reese.
It was a name given to him by Kara Stanton, his partner at the CIA. Kara was an extraordinary agent. She was driven, fearless. Her confidence in the mission never wavered. Working by her side, learning from her, John developed a sincere admiration for Kara, and he grew attached to the name she had chosen specifically for him.
As John Reese, he travelled the world, chasing down traitors and terrorists. Together with Kara, they formed a deadly team. Stanton and Reese, the unstoppable duo. He killed a lot of people over his five years of service for the CIA. Most of them bad guys, and he wouldn't lose his sleep over them. But the CIA's definition of "traitor" turned out to be rather vague… As time went on, and as the line between good and bad blurred, the missions started weighing down on him. Kara could tell him again and again that what they were doing was right, but it didn't feel right. He tried to persuade himself that it was a necessary evil, that someone had to do it. That with his skills, he was the best suited to do the job right. And that if they had to kill a couple of innocents in the process, that was simply the price to pay to keep his country safe. But his heart wasn't buying it.
He didn't like the man he was becoming.
He put on a façade. Pretending to be someone else was making it easier to accomplish the government's dirty work. It wasn't really him killing all those people. It was John Reese, government assassin. And he didn't like John Reese. So he tried to resist. He disobeyed. He would let the target go in exchange for a couple teeth as "proof of death". That didn't make him feel much better though. It just meant that on top of being a killer, he was now also a traitor. And if anyone ever found out, he had no doubt they would send another Stanton and Reese after him.
Except they only sent Stanton.
He could have claimed back his real name when he left the CIA (or when the CIA left John Reese), but it had felt wrong to stain his father's name. He wasn't worthy of carrying the name of such a good man – not after all the terrible things he had accomplished. He could kid himself as much as he wanted, he was John Reese, government assassin. John Reese might not have been his true name, not even who he truly was, but the blood was very much on his hands. Accusatory, indelible. His old self was lost and he didn't know if he would ever manage to find him again.
He became a nobody. Barely a first name. Joan was still calling him John. But for most people, he was simply Blue Eyes, or Stranger.
Until an eccentric billionaire in a three-piece suit found him. Since he had claimed to know exactly everything about John, Harold could have picked any of his names, including John's true name. Was it by discretion that he chose to call him Mr. Reese? John never really knew. It didn't matter. At the time, John couldn't have cared less what anyone could call him.
In Harold's voice, the name sounded different. Harold didn't call him Reese, but Mr. Reese. Via the earpiece, Harold's voice was a constant presence. No matter how far John had to venture from the library, Harold was always within earshot. His voice in John's ear felt like a lifeline, a promise. It was the reassurance that John wasn't alone, that Harold wouldn't let him down.
And Harold never did.
Again and again, Harold saved John's life. But even more important than that, he saved his soul. He gave John the opportunity to use his skills for something good, something that felt right. John thought he was good at killing people. But it turned out he was pretty good at saving them, too. And together, they saved a lot of people.
The John Reese of the CIA was gone, but Harold's John Reese was someone different, someone better. Little by little, with each of Harold's calls, each life they saved, John learned again to like the man he was.
He felt almost sad to have to bear the identity of Detective Riley. There were perks about this new identity. For the first time in more than ten years, he had an actual, legitimate job – if under a fake name. Even more than before it gave him the feeling that he belonged, that he wasn't walking in the dark anymore. It also made working the numbers much easier, both for the resources the precinct provided, and by working more openly with Lionel. But he didn't form the same attachment to Detective Riley as he kept for Mr. Reese. To the world, he was John Riley, but to his friends, he was still John Reese.
No one knew John Reese outside of their very small circle, and yet, John was carrying this name with a new pride, born from all the good things they had accomplished together. Modestly, at his own level, Mr. Reese was making a difference in this world. And for the first time in a long, long time, John was feeling good about himself.
Heart pounding, John reached for his earpiece, reached for Harold, as always within earshot, always by his side, even from the opposite rooftop.
"John," Harold was calling from the other roof. "This wasn't supposed to be the way."
John turned to face his friend and smiled. Of course it had always been supposed to be this way. Because without Harold Finch, John Reese would have died an abandoned former CIA operative. Without Harold Finch, John Reese wasn't worth living.
But with John Reese, Harold Finch might just live another day. Because sometimes one life, if it's the right life, that's enough.