"We're all cracked; that's how the light gets in."
Finch was not there.
It was the first thing he was aware of, upon waking up – even before he noticed Bear's warm, soft muzzle nested under his free hand, a bit wet since the Malinois was drooling slightly in his sleep on the pristine bed covers, and also before he took in the blessed, wonderful and almost total absence of pain in his shoulder (just a dull ache – nothing in common with the fire that had burned with vengeance before, not even comparable.) He was evidently still on the good stuff, if the slightly cotton-ball-like quality of his awareness was of any indication, but clearly on a lower dose, considering he was actually awake and reasonably coherent.
And yes, Finch was not there.
It wasn't unexpected, or at least it shouldn't be – quite the contrary, Finch had said something that very morning about needing to take care of some business, which, in Reese's language roughly translated to something like go to his familiar Library and tie up the loose ends. He had been vague on the details, but if Reese had to hazard a guess it had to do with either Carson's case or Harper's – or perhaps both of them. Leave it to Finch not to let anything get in the way of the numbers' protection – not even his own kidnapping.
Well, in truth Finch had been rather vague on basically everything in the last few hours, and not just his current whereabouts. Their whole conversation that morning had been uncommonly stilted, awkward. John's recollections of the previous day and a half were rather scattered and lacking at best – the memories getting even murkier after he'd been given a shot of morphine , but had been enough for him to know that Harold had stayed with him all the time – first rushing him to Madani's clinic, then somewhere else for an x-ray to be taken and his arm taken care of, and finally his apartment. A steady, constant and yet very quiet presence. During all this time they hadn't shared more than a few words.
Well, of course Reese had been asleep for the most part of the first day, he considered as he slowly sat up, which had definitely put a damper on any attempt at conversation. But Harold's demeanor – silent, demurring, standoffish even - had carried on in the morning and the faint scowl on his face had not disappeared.
John stood still for a while, perched on the edge of the bed, feet firmly planted on the wooden floor, trying to get his bearings. Much to his satisfaction, his body didn't protest too much to the more vertical position. A slight headrush, perhaps, but it was to be expected since he had been in bed almost non-stop for a day and a half, and it didn't even last long.
Once again, his right arm was ensconced in a sling – thicker than the one the doctor had given him after the shooting, more like a brace this time, that had his arm completely immobilized. An x-ray had revealed a broken and chipped scapula – probably a combination of the bullet and the following strain, as Finch had tersely reported him - and a small fragment of the bone had had to be removed.
(That's why it had hurt so much, he had thought upon hearing the news. He had refrained from saying it out loud, but Harold had probably come to the same conclusion on his own, if Reese had correctly interpreted the thin line of his mouth, and he was fairly sure he had.)
But now, all was well, wasn't it? Everyone was alive and well, Finch back in the reassuring safety of his Library, the numbers hopefully both out of danger, the bad guys in the FBI clutches. And his shoulder fixed and on the mend. All back to normal, or at least on the way to be.
Then why was he feeling so antsy, so uneasy?
The answer was unfortunately obvious, as was the reason why Harold seemed to be avoiding him. John's eyes roamed restlessly around the room, without really seeing anything. All he could envision, right now, was Harold's haunted expression when he had stopped him from killing Morris, and he saw it down to the smallest detail.
He knew what he was supposed to do right now: lie back down, get some more rest, wait for Finch. And then, later on, when they were both better, more rested and this whole mess well behind them, they would talk. Reese would explain and reassure and fix things.
A sound, reasonable, judicious plan, right? A plan Harold would definitely approve of.
He took a deep breath, planted his good hand on the wall for support and got up.
He had never been good at being judicious.
The metal gate of the Library squeaked slightly as Reese pushed it open to let Bear in, announcing their presence to Finch.
The older man turned his upper body towards them as they got closer. He regarded them briefly with a sharp, inquisitive look, then turned back to face his monitor.
"Mr. Reese, what are you doing here?"
"Bear needed to stretch his legs," the ex-op replied lightly, carefully removing his coat. Putting a shirt on had been out of question, since maneuvering his arm around the damn sling was impossible, so he had finally opted to wear just the jacket and the coat – one sleeve only - over the t-shirt he was already wearing. He felt oddly undressed, at least compared to the last couple of years' standards, but, admittedly, he had tried much worse attires during his life.
"Bear." Clearly, Finch had not been fooled in the slightest.
"Yes. You know, he was tired of being cooped up."
"It's been less than two days," Finch commented in a mild yet reproachful tone. "I would expect a military-trained dog like him to be a tad more patient than that."
Despite the way the remark was phrased, there wasn't much room for doubt regarding whichmilitary-trainedmemberofthepartyFinch was actually referring to, but Reese just gave a one-sided shrug at the jibe – a futile gesture, since the older man was still turned, and went to sit on the couch. As much as he loathed to admit it, he was already exhausted again. The thought of his bed flashed in his mind – a tantalizing prospect – but he was here for a reason and the leather sofa had to be enough. At least now he had a partial view of Finch's face – only one half, but better than nothing if he was to interpret what was going on in his friend's mind.
Harold made to say something, then evidently changed his mind, because nothing followed. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, clearly torn in an inner debate, then finally commented, "you should be resting."
It was, Reese suspected, a polite way to tell him to go back home and leave him to his quiet – a bidding he was blithely about to disregard. "I am resting," he retorted, somewhat testily, gesturing vaguely at the couch he was currently sprawled on. It earned him a quick, but rather pointed look, but aside from that Harold let the matter drop, so John decided to count it as a win.
Quiet settled again, but it had nothing to do with their usual, companionable silence. No, this was tense and charged, and full of things that needed to be said. Even the usual tapping sound of Harold's hands on the keyboard was somehow off. Stilted. Uneasy. Uncomfortable.
Because by now, Reese had become an expert in interpreting and classifying the sounds coming from Harold's workstation, thanks to the countless hours spent listening to them, either in person or through the earpiece. Lightning-fast, frantic typing was common during the emergencies, like life and death situations that were probably far too frequent for Harold's liking. In such occurrences the older man gave his best, multitasking between searching data and hacking databases and watching video feeds, all at the same time, looking for a last-minute information that could solve a case and save a number's life – or John's. A slower rhythm, instead, meant he was doing preliminary research on a number, the sound frequently combined with the background noise of the printer, and beeps coming from the terminal signaling that some background search had been successfully completed in the meantime. And then, there were times in which the typing became even slower, steadier, or sometimes even replaced by metallic, clinking sounds when Harold took apart and then reassembled one of his many devices. Reese associated these sounds with maintenance work – work that he suspected was actually not particularly urgent or even necessary, but that Harold did whenever he needed time to think or as a stress relief.
This apparently was one of those times, as the half-dismantled laptop huddled at a corner of the desk confirmed.
Reese let his gaze roam listlessly around the room, trying not to let the heavy silence get to him. It was a relief to see that the Library was back to its normalcy – lights on, computers running, Harold sitting at his workstation - its usual, pristine order restored. Gone were the books he had shoved from the desk in his frenzy just a couple of days before, gone the shattered cup he had thrown in a fit of rage. Only a dark smear of coffee on the wall remained, the tangible proof that this had really happened – so small it was barely visible, but undoubtedly there, indelible. He wondered if he would ever be able not to notice the stain.
His eyes lingered on Harold. To the untrained eye, he might have looked engrossed in his work, but Reese wasn't fooled. The stiffness of his shoulders, the tightness of the expression – at least judging the side of Harold's face on John's field of view – told a very different story. Which one, though, remained to be seen.
Was he angry? Disappointed? Scared? Reese was not sure, but none of the options above was particularly appealing.
"You knew who I was when you hired me, Finch," he said quietly when the silence become too much to bear. You knew what I was, he had been tempted to say. A killer. A monster.
How had Harold defined him, that very first day in the Library? An alcoholic hit-man. Reese remembered it perfectly. He had taken no offense of course, for it had been nothing but the truth, and still was.
Well, the whole alcoholic part he might've overcome – courtesy of no one else but Finch – but the hit-man thing? Never going to change.
He was, after all, a murderer. That had been his job, and that's why Harold had chosen him and not someone else – because he was able and willing to do what Harold himself couldn't, or wouldn't.
"What happened yesterday," he added, "that's who I am."
A minute shake of the head, a piercing but very quick look thrown his way, almost in annoyance, then Harold went back to his tinkering.
"I think you're selling yourself a little short, Mr. Reese," was the only, curt comment he got in response.
Reese blinked, perplexed by the cryptic statement. It was not the answer he had expected.
He wondered, and not for the first time, whether Finch really knew. Well, he knew about his past occupation, that much was obvious. He knew about his assignments, his methods, perhaps his victims too – to what extent, though, remained unclear since they had never discussed this particular issue (and Reese hoped they never would). But did he understand? Did he really understand?
Did he get how damn close John had been the day before to kill Morris in cold blood, and why? And, more to the point, what else did he expect from someone like him?
John knew what Finch wished to hear from him, now. He wanted him to say he was sorry.
The problem was, John wasn't sorry. Or, well, he was, but not for the reasons Harold wanted him to be sorry for.
He didn't really regret the murder he had almost committed. No, what he regretted was that they had got to that, that he hadn't been able to prevent things from getting this bad. That Finch had been there to see him and that he had had to stop him. That he regretted.
But, unfortunately, it was hardly something he could apologize for. Sorry for letting you see you I'm a monster. Hardly going to cut it. He wouldn't even lie, though – he didn't want to.
"You do realize, Finch," he finally resorted to say, choosing his words carefully to stick to the truth, as bitter as it might sound, "that something like this might happen again? And if it does…" He let the ending hang in the air, feeling it was rather obvious even if let unspoken. If it does, I won't stop.
Finch finally ceased his typing. He regarded the monitor for a few more seconds, then, ever so slowly, he turned to face Reese. A small frown creased his forehead, but his expression was otherwise blank, unreadable. "I do, Mr. Reese," he simply said.
The ex-op was a loss for words. It was not the reaction he had been expecting from Harold. And, in truth, he wasn't really sure that the older man really did understand. It probably showed on his face, because Harold spoke again after a few seconds. "Now you're selling me short, Mr. Reese, if you really think I've never taken into account the chance of things, mmh, escalating to such an undesirable level. Or if you think that I never come to envision the consequences our choices might have."
What the hell was Finch telling him? It might be the drugs still abundantly coursing through his system, or perhaps the older man was being even more cryptic than usual, but Reese felt he had no idea of the direction the conversation was taking. He had expected reproach, displeasure, disapproval from Finch, and instead this almost sounded like acceptance. Like absolution. It made no sense.
And besides, if Finch wasn't disgusted or terrified by Reese's true nature – as he should very well be – why had he been avoiding him? Reese felt he was missing a piece of the puzzle.
"And yet you're upset," he finally ventured to say, careful to keep his tone neutral.
Harold extracted his linen from his pocket, and took his time to clean his lenses. So much time, actually, that Reese had almost lost any hope to receive an answer.
"Do you realize you came very close to losing function of your right arm?" Finch finally asked. It was a bit of a non-sequitur, and for a moment Reese found himself at a loss for words.
"It might happen, if you get shot," he replied carefully after a beat, trying to cover his confusion.
"No, John, it might happen if you keep using an injured limb as if nothing was wrong," Finch retorted tersely, looking at him straight in the eyes. "The bullet did strike your bone, but it was the constant movement that caused the break, not the bullet itself. The fragment could've severed the nerve. Or an artery, or whatever. You could have bled to death!"
Oh. That was why Finch was upset, because he'd got hurt? It didn't make much sense, either, especially considering it was hardly the first the time. Reese stared, even more confused. Considering all the events that had transpired in the last few days this seemed…well, not unimportant perhaps, but definitely of little relevance. In truth, there were other things that Reese found were way more worrisome right now. Like the fact that someone who had seen Finch's face – and was aware of his potential – was in the hands of the FBI, ready to spill everything. Or the very fact that it had been so easy for someone to abduct Finch, and that he had been unable to prevent it. And yet, Finch seemed completely unconcerned by this, like it was a thing of little significance, choosing instead to focus his dismay on the wrong matter.
Because he was dismayed, that much was still obvious. Shoulders tense, mouth tight, forehead creased, he was the epitome of unhappiness.
And then it dawned on Reese. It wasn't anger that fueled the fire in Finch's eyes. It was guilt. Finch felt responsible, at fault. It was absurd, Reese thought, ridiculous and yet so Harold. He couldn't help but find it heart-warming.
"I do remember what I told you at the beginning, that we will probably wind up dead someday, doing what we do," Finch went on, following his train of thoughts, and unwittingly interrupting John's. "And yet, I'd really appreciate it if you didn't try so hard to get killed."
Despite Harold's obvious aggravation, John felt the corners of his lips quirk upwards at the dry comment. "For the record, even if you might not find it obvious, I'm doing my best to stay alive."
The older man threw him a sharp look, clearly annoyed at John's grin and blasé attitude. "It's not something to joke about. I'm serious about this."
"Me too, Finch," Reese replied, immediately sobering. He looked at Harold straight in the eyes before continuing – he wanted his friend to understand how dead serious he was. He wanted him to know that what he was about to say wasn't just an empty promise but, for him, a life commitment. "I told you, I'll always come looking for you, no matter what."
The older man closed his eyes briefly. But the exasperation that had been clear on his face until a few minutes before had receded, giving way to a troubled, almost pained expression. "As much as I appreciate it, I never asked you to be my personal bodyguard, especially not like this," Finch protested, gesturing vaguely in his direction. "It was never my intention. I hired you to protect the numbers, not me. Never, ever, to give your life for mine. And anyway you – "
"And what about the Machine?" Reese cut him off.
Harold frowned, apparently taken aback by the question, staring back uncomprehendingly. "What do you mean?"
"If need be, wouldn't you want me to protect the Machine? If it was in danger?" he insisted.
The older man blinked slowly, considering the question. "Well, yes I guess," he finally replied slowly, after a brief hesitation. "But still –"
"Well, then that's it. It's the same thing. You created it, you're just as important. Irreplaceable," Reese replied. His voice held a tone of finality and a hint of smugness – like he had, after all, made his point and won the battle. He felt that Harold's speechlessness, however temporary it might be, had just proved him right, and he let himself sink further into the couch, satisfied.
But Finch was evidently not done with the discussion, and was definitely not of the same opinion if his indignant tone was of any indication. "What? No, I'm…for God's sake, your life is as important as mine," he argued. "I don't want you to think otherwise."
"Well," John replied placidly, "I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on that."
"That's hardly enough," Harold protested, but his tone had lost part of the previous heat. He wasn't giving up – if there was something Reese had learned about his friend was that he was extremely persistent, just like he was – but he was evidently planning on calling off the argument for now and deferring it to a later time. Retreat to regroup.
Which, incidentally, was more than fine by John. The relief at finding out that he hadn't caused irreparable damage to their friendship had swept away the anxiousness that had plagued him since his awakening, leaving in its wake an encompassing lethargy.
He shifted his body until he was more or less stretched on the couch – not the ideal choice of sleeping accommodation, as Harold had pointed out several times in the last year and a half, and probably even less than usual now, given his injuries, but comfortable enough, and with the added bonus of being in the Library.
Silence fell once again, but much to his satisfaction, it now had a more relaxed quality to it.
Drowsiness was tugging at him and he was very tempted to let the quiet sounds of the Library lull him to a doze, but he tried to resist. It felt somehow rude to give in to the need to sleep, considering he had come here with the precise purpose of talking. He lazily observed Harold as he worked. The older man had stopped typing on the computer, and had moved to the edge of the table to work on the half-disassembled laptop. A position, Reese noticed, that now put him in direct line of sight of the ex-op and vice versa. Surely a coincidence.
The computer looked somewhat familiar, and it took him a moment to realize why. It was the one Finch had brought at the conference, and that Reese had retrieved two days prior. "That's your laptop," he commented. He wondered if the older man was taking some security measure or just playing around with it. "I don't think anyone touched it. Your room was clean – no sign of intrusions."
Harold briefly raised his eyes from his work to meet John's gaze, then turned his attention back on it. "I saw that a fire was reported at the hotel two nights ago," Finch commented mildly after a beat. "Arson."
John just gave a non-committal sound – the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
But Finch wouldn't be so easily discouraged. "It was a bit risky, wouldn't you say?" he persisted.
"Just some smoke, Finch, gimme some credit. I knew no one was gonna get hurt."
"I meant for you," Harold clarified. His tone had a sharp edge to it.
Reese blinked in confusion. It was hardly any different from the things he usually did while working the numbers, and in truth this didn't even seem particularly dangerous considering the stunts he sometimes pulled.
"You had no backup," the older man said looking at him in exasperation, correctly interpreting his silence. "Attracting the attention of all the emergency services in the area is not exactly what I would define a wise course of action. They could have seen you. Or caught you."
"Well, it worked," John deadpanned after a few seconds. Harold just sighed, and plunged his screwdriver back inside the computer.
The faint, metallic sounds of his tinkering resumed and Reese found it was becoming increasingly harder to keep his eyes open. A sudden thought struck him.
"Your Machine agrees with me, you know," he slurred behind closed lids.
A perplexed silence met his observation. Then, "excuse me?"
"About you. It – she – whatever, helped me find you," the ex-op elaborated, stumbling a little over the pronoun choice.
Right pronoun or not, Harold's reaction made it immediately clear that the message had indeed come across. "The Machine did what?!"
Harold's shock at the revelation was obvious, as was his desire to go into more detail, and Reese felt compelled to at least try to open his eyes. As he had imagined, Finch was staring at him wide-eyed, laptop completely forgotten despite the screwdriver he was still wielding.
"Sent me Leon's coordinates. Gave me free access to your laptop. Without a password," John succinctly explained.
"Mmh. That's rather…unexpected, to say the least," Finch observed, a thoughtful frown marring his face. "And it did this spontaneously?"
"Not at the beginning," Reese replied sleepily. "For Leon I had to, mmh, ask." This was, admittedly, the understatement of the year, but Finch didn't have to know. "Then yes. With your computer, I mean. It powered up on its own. See," he added somewhat smugly, "it agrees with me. Wanted me to find you."
"Well, this is a matter that will undoubtedly require my attention," Harold commented. He sounded pensive, but while there clearly was a trace of worry in his voice, Reese thought it felt different than before. Less troubled. More like scientific interest.
His eyes slid closed again. He whistled softly for Bear and the dog happily moved closer, stretching next to the sofa, just within reach of John's good arm. The ex-op immediately sank his hand in the dog's soft fur.
"I'd really like to take a nap if it's okay with you," he mumbled after a while. "Doctor's orders."
Admittedly, it was probably the first doctor-approved decision he took in the last few days, but he kept the thought to himself.
Judging by Harold's snort, though, the older man's train of thoughts wasn't probably too dissimilar.
"Perhaps your bed would be more suitable for the purpose. You know, Doctor Madani came to suggest we should tie you to the bedpost. I'm beginning to think I should have listened," Harold mused, perhaps, John suspected, not entirely joking.
"Change of scenery, Finch," he replied after a beat. His words were growing increasingly slurred and the pauses in speech longer and longer. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so relaxed, so at ease. Harold was not wrong, his bed would have been definitely more comfortable, and Reese had no doubt that the older man would soon insist to take him back home. But, for now, he was perfectly fine where he was. In the Library, with Finch. "You know, it does wonders to your health."
One Last Author's Note
Aaaand that's all, folks. It's been one heck of a journey - for me, a few years long. Posting the last chapter of this long tale gives me mixed feelings: I'm proud of it, but also a bit sad that it's come to an end. A very special thank you goes to everyone who took the time to read and leave me a comment; in particular, to DancingInTheDark85, for betaing this and for being the good friend she is; and to SWWoman, chocolate56 and DeepSorrow, who reviewed each and every chapter and made me truly feel their support. It meant a lot to me.
Someone asked me whether I'm going to write and post again for POI and, well, as much as I'd like to say yes, the truth is, I honestly don't know. I did have something in mind - not exactly a sequel, but a stand-alone story loosely connected with this one - and I already have the structure and a couple of chapters written but...I'm not sure. Right now, I'm not feeling very confident. So, maybe, but I can't make any promises.
One last thing: I am aware that the quote at the beginning of this last chapter (which also gives the title to the story) is actually a misquote. The real sentence, that comes from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem", is "There's a crack, a crack in everything: that's how the light gets in." I deliberately chose to use the misquote (which is probably more famous than the real quote - sorry Leonard!) because I feel it fits better with the story, and John's character in particular. I hope fans of LC won't be offended ;) So, thank for sticking with me for so long; I loved every moment of this: writing, sharing and receiving feedback from you guys. I truly hope you enjoyed reading it just as much.
So, thank for sticking with me for so long; I loved every moment of this: writing, sharing and receiving feedback from you guys. I truly hope you enjoyed reading it just as much.