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Part 3: Living

12 March 2016

It had taken almost two days before all the arrangements had been finalized and paperwork signed. John had given them little choice in the matter: if they didn't remove the tubes and needles from his body and pronounce him well enough to leave the hospital, he was going to walk out on his own even if he had to swipe a pair of crutches. However he knew better than to argue with the restrictions that had been placed upon him. His previous experience with injuries in the field had taught him that one could not rush the body's healing process no matter how excellent the treatment had been or how hard one pushed it.

When he was finally discharged, clothed in nondescript sweatpants and jacket, and allowed to go home with his right arm in a sling, he balked. He wasn't certain where "home" was any more. The library and the subway had been compromised, as well as several of the old safe houses, and he didn't want to risk returning to any of those locations even though there was no further danger from Decima or Samaritan. His identity of Detective John Riley was out of commission as well, having been presumed dead after the missile explosion.

There was one place that might still be available: the loft on Baxter Street that Finch had gifted to him. Even though he had not been there for months, he recalled that its expenses were paid via a series of shell accounts that Finch had set up and there was no limit on the lease, so it would likely not have been sublet.

Once he was settled in, he would start his search. It would be a challenge, because while he guessed that Finch had joined Grace in Italy, the man was a master of hiding his identity. Finch, Wren, Crane, Whistler… how many types of bird were there in the world? Would he revert to his real surname, which he had never mentioned? Plus there was no Machine now to ask for help.

No matter, he would track Finch down the old fashioned way if he had to.


Harold stepped off the plane at La Guardia airport and was quickly escorted to a waiting car by the security detail that he had hired. Thanks to his many contingencies, access to one of his cover identities as well as his vast resources had been restored upon the demise of Samaritan, which enabled him to move about as freely as he once had. He was dropped off at an upscale hotel, but as soon as he had registered at the front desk and paid a porter to deliver his luggage to his room, he surreptitiously exited and hailed a taxi. Although one Harold Wren was booked into the hotel for five days to attend a conference on insurance and investment, his true destination was one of the safe houses that he was certain had not been exposed.

The first thing he did once he arrived at the apartment was to set up the laptop he had been carrying in a briefcase. With the Machine shut down he had to resort to his own somewhat out of practise hacking skills. Luckily it didn't take him long to gain access to the records of the hospital where he had left John four months ago, and the most recent entry on John's file was from earlier that very morning when the patient had been discharged.

His hands froze above the keyboard and his blood roared.

Not deceased. Discharged.

John was alive!

Shaken, it took him a few moments to fully comprehend the magnitude of this revelation. His dearest friend, whom he had last seen lying comatose and near death, was alive! Not only that, he was well, and had been able to leave the hospital on his own.

Harold's fingers flew across the keys as he set up a search routine. New York City had a population of over eight and a half million people. John Reese was almost as adept at hiding as he himself was. Locating him would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack… or would it?

He tried to think as John might. It was to be assumed that he planned to start a new life either here in the city or elsewhere. The first place that he was likely to go to ground had to be familiar, supplied, and easily defended. Many of the secure sites that had been set up prior to and during their work together were now inoperative, so he would avoid those. He also would abstain from contacting their allies Detective Fusco and Ms. Shaw.

Would John think of contacting him? No; not after what had been said and done. As far as John was concerned, Harold was in Italy and wanted to remain so, making a new life and home with Grace.

"Home," he whispered. Wait a moment.

Baxter Street.

That's where John would go.

Harold snapped the laptop closed, swept up his jacket, and left as quickly as his damaged leg would allow.


Upon reaching the apartment building, instead of doing the obvious thing and using the elevator, John struggled mightily to get up the stairs, figuring that the sooner he started to use his legs, the better. The cab driver had happily accepted a generous tip to help bring his belongings up. The loft was just as he had left it, tidied to military precision and blessedly quiet. There was no sign of anyone having been there since… that day.

He removed everything that remained in the refrigerator and disposed of it immediately, and then cleaned the appliance thoroughly before installing the supplies that he had bought on the way here. His stomach was craving a burger, but he knew the discomfort that indulgence would cause. Instead he selected a container of flavoured gelatin and gave it a disgusted look before opening it and downing the contents. At least, he told himself, it was only for a few days.

Already tired from his efforts he dropped into a chair and began to massage his legs which were aching from the unaccustomed use. Long-term patients didn't normally just stand up and walk around as if nothing had happened. But this pain was a good thing: it told him that he was aware and functioning. After a few minutes he stretched his legs, and then rather clumsily levered himself out of the chair with his left arm. He wobbled a bit but was able to stand again.

He stripped down to a t-shirt and boxers, and spent the next hour doing a series of exercises that had been suggested by the physiotherapists at the hospital. They were nothing more strenuous than basic movements and stretches, essential to getting his muscles to move as they should, but it felt as if he had heavy weights tied onto his limbs. At the end of the routine he was out of breath and sweating like he had run five miles through the desert, so he decided to take a shower.

As the warm water cascaded over him it irritated the still-sore spots where he had been connected to the hospital equipment, but he was able to bear it. Gradually he began to relax and reflect on what had happened. By all rights he should have died in the missile strike. Not all missiles had the same payload but Samaritan would not have cared about how much ordinance was required to just destroy the antenna; it would've used what was available to preserve itself. He couldn't rule out the likelihood that the Machine had somehow managed to manipulate things behind the scenes as it often did, such as adjusting the missile payload, hacking its guidance system so it would impact in a slightly different place, or directing him to a position that offered the highest odds for survival. Or his survival could have been pure chance. It was impossible to know for certain.

Nevertheless, he was alive and more or less in one piece, and had a task in front of him. He knew that when – yes, when – he found Harold, he would have a few questions for his former boss. Not to mention, he thought with a half-smile, an admission of feelings that he had long denied.

Hair damp but once again clad in his accustomed Hugo Boss suit, he felt more like himself. He paused for a moment to feel the material, remembering the first time that Finch had insisted that he dress appropriately for the job. The instant that he stepped into the main area of the loft, however, he saw that it was no longer empty. Someone was standing in the entry. An intruder? Reflexively he reached toward his belt for a gun that wasn't there, and he grimaced as pain surged up his right arm. In the next second he recognized who the visitor actually was. And was further shocked at what he was wearing.


Harold hadn't at all expected their reunion to unfold this way.

He had let himself into the loft with the spare key that he carried, to see John standing right in front of him, dressed in his so-familiar suit as if he was preparing to go out on a mission.

It was like seeing a ghost. John was pale, his hair slicked back, and the suit hanging from a much thinner frame than it had been originally made for. But his sea-blue eyes were keen and purposeful.

Alive.

The ex-agent stopped in his tracks and attempted to grasp a non-existent firearm but cringed in pain, and then stared pointedly at Harold's chest. The programmer flicked his eyes downward in curiosity. For some reason Reese's attention had been caught by the tie he had on – which by a bizarre coincidence was a pale yellow silk four-in-hand tie that was hauntingly similar to the one that he had been wearing on… that day.

Why had he noticed that particular accessory?


For a long moment, neither spoke; each scarcely able to believe that the other was actually standing in the same room. The tension was palpable.

Reese broke the awkward silence first. "Finch?" he said hesitantly.

Finch's mouth dropped open as inestimable joy at seeing John and hearing his voice coursed through him. "Mr. Reese," he replied in a shaky voice. He was unable to say anything more as he suddenly found himself being clasped in a hug. The actual physical touch of the man finally convinced him that this was real, not a dream. The younger man was trembling, Finch realized: with emotion that he was desperately trying to hold in. Just as Finch instinctively tensed, Reese released him and stepped back, concerned about exacerbating both of their pre-existing injuries.

"Why did you leave?" Reese asked in his low monotone.

The simple question stunned Finch as memories of the past months flew through his mind, back to the horrible day where Reese had bid him goodbye on the rooftop. He cleared his throat. "You told me to leave."

"That's not what I meant."

The stoic look on Reese's face made him feel worse than any harsh words the man could have thrown at him, and Finch struggled to keep control. "You were comatose… barely alive. The doctors said that because there was such a remote chance of recovery, removing life support would be the kindest thing to do." When he saw Reese's gaze harden, he blundered on. "I made the appropriate preparations and then departed, because I couldn't bear to watch. John… I'm so sorry. I truly believed that you had died."

Reese took a step forward and then stopped; his entire body rigid as if he were a tiger poised to spring upon its prey. "I dreamed," he said. "I was chasing something, but I couldn't catch it. In each dream, something yellow gave me a clue that told me what to do." He indicated Harold's tie, and continued, "Then I heard your voice." Finch tried to interject, but Reese raised a hand to forestall him. "After a while I wanted to stop running. I wanted to be at peace. But something kept pushing me to keep going until…" he took a breath. "Until I could escape from the darkness that permeated my life… until I found what I was looking for."

A sense of wonder flared within Finch. "Is it even possible," he began, "for dreams to be shared? I had gone to Italy and found Grace, hoping to relieve my guilt." He allowed himself a smile. "She was so compassionate; she accepted my broken self as if no time had passed at all. Most nights, however, I dreamed of being trapped somewhere, and being aided by a dark figure that I couldn't see clearly. At first I thought it to be post-traumatic stress and sought medical help, but that only mitigated the situation for a short time." His legs were stiffening up, so he began to limp slowly around the room to alleviate them, acutely aware that Reese's eyes were following every halting step. "Two nights ago I had the most vivid dream of all: the dark figure who had been helping me became the one who needed help. As a result I decided that I must return to New York immediately and seek its meaning, or I could never rest."

"I woke up two nights ago," Reese stated simply.

Finch whirled toward him in awe, his face ashen. "John…"

The ex-operative nodded. "They took me off life support, but I didn't die. I didn't know how long I was lying there just existing… and dreaming. They told me later it was months."

"Mr. Reese, I…" Finch stammered. He had read as much in the hospital file but hearing it directly made his mistake more ghastly.

"It wasn't your fault," Reese said softly, his tone conveying forgiveness. "You had no way of knowing. And you're right: I had told you to leave. But even at that moment when I was certain that I was going to die, deep inside I knew that we needed each other then, more than ever."

"I should never have left," Finch said stubbornly, and then stopped with a shake of his head. "Recriminations are pointless now. We both know I would not have survived that day had you not done what you did."

"I chose to," Reese said, his voice firming. "If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to live with the guilt, or admit to myself why I chose that fate."

"You need not explain," Finch demurred, but something clicked in his mind and he pursued that tack instead. "The dreams," he said with fascination creeping into his voice. "Science has postulated that dreams are merely the brain's way of sorting random subconscious images and memories; they are not believed to impart any true meaning or portent." He glanced up at Reese, who still maintained a neutral expression although it was obvious that he was having difficulty doing so. "Why, then, did we both feel an overwhelming need to find each other?"

The words were out before he realized what he had said, and he automatically brought a hand to his mouth as if to erase them. It was unthinkable. He preferred women. Reese preferred women. How could there possibly be any such emotional attachment between two men who had been employer and employee, colleagues, and friends? Yes, Reese had been intensely loyal to a fault, to the point of taking bullets for him, and literally sacrificing himself even though he had never been asked to do so. But that? "No, I can't accept an answer that would indicate such…"

"Harold, love is love; should gender really matter?" Reese said, moving to within a foot of him but taking care to not touch him this time. "Science might say otherwise, but when I woke up, I had to accept that my dreams meant something. Why had I lived, if not for a purpose?" He paused, collecting his thoughts, and Finch didn't interrupt. "You once pulled me back from the brink; you saved me and gave me a purpose. That purpose wasn't just to save lives. It was to save you from yourself, even though you didn't know it at the time."

"I…" Finch hesitated, and then gazed at Reese, seeing him in a new light. "You're right. I wanted to help others, yes, but my ultimate motivation was to avenge Nathan and make things right: my own perception of 'right'." He sighed. "The Machine stopped me from making some terrible mistakes. And it was the Machine that led me to you." Turning away from Reese, he lowered his head in regret. "I loved Grace. Even after I left her and started working with the Machine, I still loved her. I watched over her and took care of her from afar for over five years and she never knew. When it was all over, I had hoped that she and I could go back to what we had been." He then continued bitterly, "I should have known that was unfeasible. We were both too traumatized, and separated for too long. In the end I was no longer in love with her; I merely was infatuated with an ideal. The dreams I had were telling me that I needed something else, someone else. Grace was able to understand that before I could, and she released me."

Reese touched Finch lightly on the shoulder and the older man turned back to him. He looked at his former employer for a long moment, his heart pounding, and finally came out with it. "I love you, Harold," he said in a voice barely above a whisper. Finch gaped at him but he plunged ahead. "I have no right to it, but there it is. That's what kept me alive. Even in my dreams, no matter what pursued me or tried to drag me down, I couldn't stop searching. I was looking for you."

"John," Finch managed to murmur before Reese's lips touched his, briefly, tentatively.

That small contact unleashed a torrent within him: an explosion of emotion that suffused his very core and toppled all the mental barriers that he had put up since the accident to protect himself, barriers that he'd been unable to lower completely even for Grace. Never had he felt so susceptible, yet so protected, by the presence of the very man whom he cared about so much.

He did love John Reese.

The realization caused his knees to weaken and he put his arms around John's shoulders to steady himself. John responded by pulling him into a gentle embrace. The rational part of him exerted itself briefly against this newly born bliss but lost, and with a soft sigh of profound and unutterable longing he returned the kiss, leaning into it with abandon. This was what he had sought, what he needed. There was nothing now that could separate them.

John held Harold against him closely. Whoever's dream it had been – his, Harold's, the Machine's – neither of them could really know, but from now on they would make some dreams together amid a better world.

THE END

Sailor Chronos
February 2018

I would like to thank the following people:

My husband, as always, for his support.

My beta-readers scully1138 and SunflashNurse.

The Person of Interest community on FanFiction dot Net for continuing to contribute their stories and keeping the dream alive.