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Perchance to Dream
by Sailor Chronos
Part 1: Dreaming
March 10 2016
John Reese dreamed of pain, and falling, and then oblivion. He was aware that he was dreaming: his intense military training allowed him to recognize the difference between hallucinations and mere dreams. However he didn't remember why he was dreaming, or how long the images had been taunting him. What he did know was that he absolutely had to find something, but whenever he seemed to be getting closer to his goal, the ever-present darkness behind him threatened to pull him back.
This time he stood in an apparently mundane school hallway lined with coloured lockers and filled with laughing teenagers. However at a second glance he noticed that all the kids had barcodes tattooed onto the back of their right hand and coiled wires dangling from their left ear. As one they turned to him and shouted, "You didn't save us!" Filled with a sudden inexplicable panic, he sprinted down the hallway, just narrowly avoiding their grasping hands. Perhaps they were right, he thought. For every life he had saved, there was another that he'd been unable to help.
Something flew over his head and he instinctively ducked, but the object turned out to be a shadowy form in the shape of a bird. He followed it, but with every turn it appeared farther away from him and he was unable to catch up no matter how fast he ran. "Wait for me, please!" he called out, but it disappeared into the distance. Disembodied hands grabbed at him as the school corridor began to warp and shrink. Spotting a nearby yellow locker that was open, he leaped into it.
Harold Finch writhed restlessly but could find no comfort. He dreamed that something very important to him was missing, but for some reason he couldn't identify it or figure out where to start looking for it. Grey landscapes, streets, and buildings raced by him in a blur. Was he flying? Was he falling? He couldn't tell. The only thing he saw clearly was a dark humanoid figure holding its arms out, far ahead of him.
Abruptly his feet found purchase, and he saw that he had landed on a thin golden rope suspended over a bright green floor that was crisscrossed by many similar ropes. He spread his arms carefully and attempted to make his way along the rope toward its far terminus. In reality he shouldn't be able to balance like this due to his injured back, but in a dream it seemed that anything was possible.
As he neared the end of the rope, a sharp sound like that of a gunshot echoed through the area. The floor below him fragmented into hundreds of shards that careened in all directions and sliced through the rope. Grasping wildly at the air as he fell, he managed to catch hold of a beige bar striped with odd colours – and one end of the bar was supported by that same dark figure.
After a moment's disorientation, John saw that he was in a narrow, dingy alley. The muffled drone of city traffic emanated from all sides. Movement from above him caught his eye, and he saw a window from which faded yellow curtains billowed out into the breeze. A rickety metal fire escape protruded from the wall below the window.
Tires screeched in the end of the alley, and he whirled to see a black limousine accelerating toward him. There was nowhere to run except up the fire escape, so he sprang up to the ladder just in time as the car roared beneath his flailing legs, missing him by inches. He expected the car to exit the other end of the alley and merge into the traffic, but instead it violently crashed into a school bus that happened to be passing at that moment. Both the limo and the front of the bus burst into flames.
He dropped back to the ground, hesitant to approach the inferno to find out if there were survivors that needed help, until he heard a familiar voice from inside the bus urgently calling his name. Racing forward, he reached the rear emergency door of the bus and wrenched it open. Then he scrambled inside, groping around through the smoke as he tried to locate the source of the call. His hand closed around something, and he saw that he was holding a tiny grey and yellow bird with black wings. Quickly he launched it out of the rear of the bus and it flew away, as the flames engulfed the vehicle with him still inside.
The next time that Harold dreamed, he was surrounded by dark grey curtains that flapped and undulated as if in a fierce wind, yet he felt no air movement on his skin. He carefully lifted a curtain aside only to be blocked by another identical one. When he looked up he saw a mirrored ceiling, the reflection showing that all the curtains formed a seemingly endless labyrinth.
He wasn't about to spend an excessive amount of time threading his way through a maze that might not have a discernible exit. Removing his tie clip, he grasped one of the curtains firmly with his free hand and slashed the clip across; the curtain tore in a satisfying manner and fluttered to the ground. Emboldened, he strode forward and continued to rip the curtains down one by one, making a path for himself, until he came to a drapery that was much larger than the others. Cocooned tightly in its center was the dark figure that had assisted him previously, but for some reason he couldn't see its face. "You didn't save me," it croaked.
The thought came to his mind that he had been unable to save another person who was dear to him. Perhaps he could make up for that by doing the right thing here. "I will save you," he insisted, and attacked the curtain with his clip. All the pieces he had torn down suddenly animated and began to wrap themselves around him, forcing him to abandon his rescue attempt. In a desperate move he transferred the tie clip to his hand that was closest to the dark figure, and stretched it out. He called, "Save yourself," just before the cloth smothered his face.
The smoke and fire faded, and then a comfortable darkness surrounded John, along with a faint rhythmic pulsation that sounded reminiscent of a heartbeat. Whose heartbeat, he asked himself idly.
A bright wrinkle appeared in the gloom in front of him, resolving into the shape of a face. "Mr. Reese," it said.
With a start, he recognized that voice; it could be no other. "Finch?" He moved closer. Why was his friend in his dreams?
The apparition warped and was absorbed back into the dark, but in a few seconds it reappeared further above him. "Save me, John," it called.
"I already did!" he responded. He reached desperately around himself, searching for a solid object to grab or climb onto, an effort which proved futile as he found nothing. "You were supposed to live and be happy. Are you haunting me because of what I did?" When the face faded away, he fell to his knees in anguish. "Why can't I be at peace?"
The next time the face became visible, it was so far above him that he could barely see it, much less hear the words that filtered down to him. "That wasn't the way. Save yourself, John." Then he was alone once again.
Save himself, he thought sarcastically. How? He had been quite ready to die ever since his beloved Jessica had been killed by her abusive husband. His work of saving lives with Finch, and the tragic shooting death of their friend Detective Joss Carter had cemented his resolve to find some way to go out heroically. And he had done that: changing places with Finch at the crucial moment so that the last person he had cared about could have the life he deserved.
But Finch hadn't wanted to live either, had he? He had planned everything so that he would be the one to take the fall, as personal atonement for his role in the rise of the Samaritan supercomputer and everything that had happened afterward. Finch had even locked John in a bank vault in the hopes of keeping him safe, not knowing that John had already made a bargain with Finch's Machine to take his place.
Harold's dream voice had pleaded to be saved. Did that mean he still wanted to die, even now, despite John's own last words to him? Sometimes one life, if it is the right life, is enough. Was the darkness of his past still troubling him so much that it made his new life unbearable, to the point where he was yearning for the one person who had shared in that darkness and truly understood it?
The truth that he had been avoiding for a long time burst upon him like a nova. Both he and Harold had difficult pasts, had done terrible things, and had many personal failures along the way. They each became so fixated on their mutual mission, and on what they had lost, that they had failed to appreciate what was right in front of them. They'd had each other. They had redeemed each other. Could they, he dared to think, even have loved each other but were too proud or scared to admit it?
That's what the voice had meant: in order to truly save Harold, to love him and understand him, and help him feel the same, John had to save himself first.
The sound of the heartbeat around him grew stronger. He now knew it to be his own, and he reveled in it, feeling the warmth and strength that he needed to get out of this self-imposed black hole of a dream and wake up. A gentle yellow light winked into existence above him and he willed himself to fly toward it. The darkness around him formed tendrils that tried to latch onto his legs; he kicked out savagely and they recoiled. He felt his entire body being squeezed then – the dark wasn't going to give him up that easily – but he growled in defiance and continued to struggle, focusing on the one precious person that meant light and purpose.
His dream shattered.