Person of Interest: Night Watcher: Chapter 3
John had slowed his jog to a walk to catch his breath as he reached the theater district. The late night shows would be letting out soon, but for the moment, everything was quiet. It didn't appear that anyone would need his help tonight.
He had turned to start back for the library when he heard the high-pitched scream of a woman carry on the cool autumn breeze.
"No, no, please, take anything you want," a man was saying. "Look, here's my wallet. Just please don't hurt my family."
John rushed back until he found the narrow side street where a couple of thugs were terrorizing a husband and wife and their young son. The father and son were dressed in expensive suits and the wife wore a blue evening gown and pearls. John guessed they had been leaving the theater early from a nearby side exit. John picked up a broken cane from beside a dumpster, and stepped toward the thugs. Both wore ratty overcoats and worn out boots. One of them had long hair and a dusty bowler hat perched at a rakish angle on his head.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," John whispered in his deepest voice as he placed the tip of the cane against the back of the man with the bowler hat.
The man froze. The other whirled around just in time for John to punch him in the face. He pushed the first man down and away from him. Both men scrambled to their feet, staring at him, breathing hard.
"Did they take anything of yours?" John asked the family.
When the husband shook his head, John told the thugs "Go on, get out of here. But if I catch you at this again, you best be assured you're going to jail. Got it?"
Both men were nodding as they tripped over their own feet trying to get away.
"Are you all right?"
The husband and wife nodded.
"Bruce, honey?" The wife took hold of her son's shoulders and glanced down at him.
"I'm fine, Mom. I'm okay."
"Thank you," the husband was saying. "Thank you, sir. Is there anything we can-"
But John was already gone.
The weather was cooling rapidly for late October and rather than go for a jog, John decided to walk the city, taking in the bright yellow, red, and orange leaves falling from the trees and swirling around the feet of those who walked the night. It would do him good to see the place he lived as it was, and not through the rushed eyes of someone trying to hurry home unseen.
New York City was the city that never slept. As one popular musical put it, it was also the center of the universe. And New York City knew it too, like a dog that knew it was the cutest thing in the room. It was in the way the people walked importantly down the street, even if they had no where in particular to go; the way everyone honked their horns, already late to catch their morning coffee at three am; and the clothing styles people chose to wear, even on a Saturday.
From John's vantage point, everything was as it should be. Though, to be honest, it hadn't looked much different when Samaritan was in charge of things. He glanced up at a telephone poll and didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Nothing screamed "Samaritan!" at him. He doubted he would recognize their equipment anyway, even if it was there. Then he thought back, Samaritan wasn't the Artificial Intelligence that had needed extra equipment. The Machine was the AI that had moved into the phone lines for safe keeping and her company, Thornhill, had put up electrical boxes on each telephone poll to help house her. He remembered seeing the stylized "T" on the boxes before Harold had managed to rescue The Machine's core code.
The white box up there now had a "T" on it, much like the old ones had.
He didn't stop to stare at it, but kept walking, head down, suddenly in a hurry like an important New Yorker going about his business regardless of what was going on around him. What did this mean? Was The Machine still running? Had they won? Or were those boxes just old remnants from the time before that someone had forgotten to take down?
His thoughts carried him all the way to Central Park, where he slowed down and took a deep breath. He wouldn't be solving this problem tonight. Maybe not ever. He would need to use the internet at a real working library to learn anything significant. He wasn't sure he was ready to know the truth. If they'd lost to Samaritan, he wasn't sure he could face that just yet. He'd already assumed they had, but didn't want it thrown in his face like a mud pie from a five-year-old.
John's head jerked up when he heard a cry of pain. It appeared that an elderly man had fallen on the path ahead. No, a spry young person was fighting him for his bag, trying to pull the shoulder strap from the man's tight grip, while kicking him in the ribs.
John put on a burst of speed in order to get there in time. He pushed the young man out of the way and gave him a brutal punch, followed by several more until the man stumbled away and didn't come back. John turned to the man on the ground and reached a hand out to help him to his feet. He handed his bag back to him.
"Oh, thank you so much. You really didn't need to... John?"
John stared at the man for a brief moment, noting his black rectangular glasses, his brown tweed three piece suit with a plum tie and matching pocket square, and his very familiar face.
The man blinked up at him. "John?" he asked again in that voice that made John's heart break every time he fell asleep these days.
John turned and ran.
He'd gotten to the edge of the park when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Sure he was being followed after his strange encounter, he put on another burst of speed and kept running until the feeling had gone away. Then he continued running until his legs were trembling like Jell-o and he could barely catch his breath. His stomach was doing flip flops and the dinner he'd eaten not that long ago was threatening to come back up.
He made it to a trash can just in time.
No. He knew he'd imagined the whole thing. It was only the shadows of the night playing tricks on him. There was no reason a stranger should know his name. The man had been calling for Joan or some other John. It was a common name, after all.
John walked unsteadily all the way back to the library, taking as many roundabout routes as he could. When he arrived home, he was chilled to the bone and shivering, despite the jacket he wore. Using the electric tea kettle he'd recently found elsewhere in the building, he boiled water and made himself a cup of tea to steep while he took a hot shower.
He drank his tea on the couch, surrounded by the warmth of Harold's blanket, staring at the wall of books opposite him. The tea, he realized, was Sencha green, a habit he'd picked up from Harold. When the mug was empty, he set it on the floor, curled up, and closed his eyes.
His nightmare from the previous night had fueled his vision when he'd saved that stranger. That was all. He fell asleep just as the sun was beginning to peek through the windows.
John woke up in a sweat, screaming, rolling over on the floor. His shoulder and hip
were throbbing in pain where he'd landed when he'd fallen off the couch in his sleep.
"No! Harold!" He was still reaching out, trying to grab and cover Harold in order to protect him from certain death. When he opened his eyes he was hugging empty air, crying out for someone who was already dead.
Shivering, he lay on the floor as he'd fallen, attempting to wrap his mind around what had happened, trying to tell himself it was nothing but a bad dream.
He was still shaking when he picked himself up off the floor, and deposited himself back on the couch, wrapped up in his blanket, where he stayed for the rest of the day, the events of his nightmare and his run in with the man in the park blending together. He was sure the man had only looked like Harold because of what he'd been wearing and John had conjured up his voice and mannerisms. It had all been a lie fabricated by his own mind.
He was going insane. That was clear. He was missing Harold too much. Maybe he should leave the library and live out on the streets like a real homeless man. Get away from this place that was affecting him.
But for now, since he'd just gone grocery shopping, and wasn't in need of any other supplies for awhile, he determined that he wouldn't leave the library for as long as he could. It was probably for the best. What if he ran into that man again?
John knew he'd been followed for some distance the night before. He couldn't determine by whom, though it hadn't been the man who'd been knocked down. Maybe it had been the one who'd tried to steal his laptop bag.
He would never know, but in the interest of staying safe and anonymous, he wouldn't put himself in the position of being recognized for awhile.
John's self hibernation rule had to be broken when he ran out of food staples. He went out well after midnight, in an effort to stay more hidden than usual. He didn't care to run into people who were dead again and he didn't want his brain to trick him into thinking he was seeing people he wasn't. Maybe if he handled his business later, and didn't dawdle or do anything other than go to the grocery store, he would be less likely to see people he didn't want to see.
As he was approaching the store at a fast walk, his breath steaming in the cold night air, he noticed the 24 hour laundromat across the street and was reminded that he needed to wash his clothes soon.
John did a double take. A black town car was parked in front of the laundromat and in the front passenger seat was a man on a laptop, the glow emanating from the screen lighting up his face and reflecting off of his dark framed glasses. The man looked so much like Harold, John felt drawn to walk over, get into the drivers seat and ask him how the new case was going, or whether or not they'd gotten any new numbers.
Instead, he stopped by a newspaper dispenser for one of the free local rags. He opened the plastic door and pulled out a paper while keeping his eyes on the car and its occupant. A dark-skinned man he didn't recognize, approached and got into the driver's seat. With the new occupant blocking his view of the passenger, John watched the two men talking for some time. He was beginning to think it couldn't be Harold when the driver started up the engine and began to pull out of his space along the curb.
John, unwilling to let this chance go just in case, looked frantically around him for an answer until he saw an older model Buick with rust on the rear bumper, the windshield covered in take out menus and perhaps a parking ticket or two. It hadn't been there long enough to get the boot however, and breaking in was a piece of cake. John hot wired it within seconds and began following the town car at a leisurely pace, two cars between them.
The car with the Harold look-alike kept going at a sedate pace and didn't try any evasive maneuvers. This late at night the traffic was manageable, and within half an hour, they'd pulled into a short driveway to a nice looking town house, not seeming to notice they'd picked up a tail along the way. John parked two houses down.
Both men got out of the car and headed toward the front door. It was hard not to notice the shorter of them had a very noticeable limp. John gasped. It was Harold. It had to be. Who else looked like Harold and had a limp like Harold. He'd once memorized the way Harold moved in an attempt to know when he would need overt help, when he would refuse any kind of help at all, and when he would accept subtle help in the form of hot tea.
John found he couldn't breathe for his heart cracking open in his chest. He wanted nothing more than to follow the two men and confront Harold. His body disobeyed his orders to get out of the car. He couldn't move. Everything inside him had turned to jelly. Had Harold found someone new? Was that why he'd never come for John in the clinic? Hadn't he locked John in the vault to keep him safe? Hadn't he kissed him in that vault? Or had that just been a dream too?John gripped the steering wheel, afraid to follow and confront Harold lest he scare, or hurt him. His heart splintering into a million different pieces, he bowed his head. He would find a way over this.
A drink. That would fix this. He could numb the pain, until there was no more pain, until there was nothing left. What was the point of sticking around now? Harold hadn't wanted him to live after all.
He'd thought he'd known Harold all this time. They'd been so close and shared so much while still being very private men.
What had happened?
Bright sunlight glinted through the windshield, straight into John's eyes, blinding him for a moment, until he could block it with his hand. He wasn't used to being out during the daylight hours so much that he was surprised to see the sun coming up. He must have been sitting in the car all night and had lost track of time. He rubbed his hands together to warm them. He should have left a long time ago. By now, someone could have spotted him, which was the last thing he wanted, especially now that he understood Harold was alive and no longer had feelings for him.
He took one last longing look at the blue front door of the town house before he started up the engine of the stolen car and turned up the heat. He would dump it in another neighborhood and walk back to the library. He could use the walk, even in the cold daylight. Maybe he'd even stop and get those groceries he'd meant to purchase during the night.
The front door of the town house opened just then, and Harold came out, leaning on a cane, followed closely by Shaw. Yes, that Sameen Shaw. What the hell was going on?
He watched them both get into the town car, Shaw in the driver's seat, Harold, again, in the front passenger seat. It appeared Harold was giving her directions as he pointed out the window.
John followed them completely baffled when they hit the warehouse district, and he had to wonder if they were working a case, a number, without him, and if they were, why?
As they began to slow down, John began to recognize his surroundings. He'd lived here when he'd been homeless and helpless. Joan had kept him safe here for awhile. She hadn't been able to keep him safe for long though. The pain he'd held back then had sought the bottle, no matter how much she'd tried to keep him sober. He hadn't been able to stay away from alcohol until Harold had come along. In more ways than one, Harold had saved his life, which meant it hurt more to know Harold had left him without a care in the world.
He saw them take the long drive up to the once empty warehouse he'd lived in, and wondered what they were doing. He drove past a little ways before he doubled back.
He'd never returned to the homeless encampment when he'd gotten out of the clinic because he couldn't face Joan again. He didn't want her to know he'd fallen a second time, that he'd lost the one person who had been taking care of him, just like he'd lost Jessica all those years ago. He couldn't face the fact that Joan could have died herself since he'd last seen her. His heart clenched at the realization that he needed someone. John Reese wasn't fit for this world unless he had someone to live for, someone to take care of him. The idea rankled. He was a grown man. Why couldn't he deal with life on his own? Why did it have to be so fucking hard?
Why was Harold going to the homeless encampment? That was the wonder of all wonders. Was he trying to find some other homeless man to save? If so, what about the one he'd already saved once? Was he really just going to let that go like it didn't mean anything?
He watched from a distance as Harold went into the building alone. Shaw respectfully stayed outside, though she had gotten out of the car to lean against the front bumper, her arms crossed over her chest.
She straightened up as he returned. Harold shook his head and they spoke for a moment before getting back into the car.
John repositioned himself to follow them again as they left.
When they turned right onto the dirt lane of a cemetery, John dumped his stolen car two blocks over and walked back. He found Shaw parked near the gate, once again leaning against the front bumper. At a distance, he wasn't sure what to make of her expression. Was she angry? Or worried? It was hard to tell. He skirted behind some trees so she wouldn't see him and walked further into the cemetery, hoping to find Harold.
John spotted him limping heavily along a row of grave stones with the aid of his cane. He stopped in front of one and John circled around to approach him from behind, careful to keep his footsteps quiet as a gentle breeze through the grass.
"I thought I saw you recently," Harold was saying. "I thought it was you who'd saved my life that night. But it couldn't have been. Could it?"
"Hold it right there," a low, familiar voice came from behind John.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Shaw was asking.
John opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
"Who are you?" she asked again, taking the safety off her weapon.
"Ms. Shaw, what's going on?" Harold had turned and was coming toward them, careful of his steps.
John itched to help him, but his feet were stuck to the ground and Shaw had a gun aimed at him. She could accidentally hit Harold if he moved and she fired.
When he was close enough, Harold lifted his eyes and met John's. He gasped and stared.
"John's dead," Shaw said. "Weren't you just standing over his grave?"
John sank to his knees, his eyes lowered to Harold's brown Italian leather dress shoes. And wasn't this ironic? He'd always been at Harold's feet, metaphorically speaking. He would do anything for him, including lay down his own life. Like a worn out working dog, or a lame horse, if he was no longer useful, Harold would have to put him down.
With resolve, he found the words he needed. "Do it," he told Shaw.
"John?!" Harold sounded horrified.
"If you didn't want me," John choked and took a moment to swallow the lump in his throat. "You could have left me to die on that rooftop. It would have been easier for you."
"I locked you in a vault to keep you alive!" Harold's vehemence startled him, but he refused to look up. Harold continued, "you're the one who made some kind of deal with The Machine to sacrifice yourself in my place." His voice softened, "I thought you were dead."
"I was in a private clinic. They saved me with multiple surgeries and a lot of hard work just to release me to the streets to become a bum again. Why?"
"You're looking pretty good, for a homeless man," Shaw commented.
"I ended up at the library when I couldn't find you. Can you just get it over with? Please?" John closed his eyes, not wanting to see Harold's reaction. He could only hope Shaw had the sense to shoot him in the head rather than his torso.
"No, John." Harold's voice was firm.
At the sound of a thump, John opened his eyes to see that Harold's shoes had been replaced by his knees. He would get grass and dirt stains on his nice suit, John thought, and wondered why Harold would take that chance.
"You are not going to die. Ms. Shaw? Please put that gun away."
There was a moment's silence and then John heard the safety clicking back on and the weapon being holstered. His muscles relaxed a bit. He glanced up then, and his eyes met Harold's again. Locked on.
"You've already replaced me. Let me go."
"We are expanding our team as we're able," Harold explained. "We recently hired Mr. Turner to help with the computer end of things, but that does not mean you are replaceable. You are worth more to me than you could ever know."
The warmth of Harold's lips crushing his in the vault came back to John then, as his head swam, filled with Harold's conviction. After all this time...
"Wait, I'm getting something from The Machine," Shaw burst out.
John reeled back to the present moment, on his knees in the grass, Harold in front of him getting stains on his pristine suit.
"Yes? What is it?" Harold sounded mildly impatient.
"She says her predecessor did it."
"Did what, Ms. Shaw?"
"She was able to get John to the clinic and gave them a huge sum of money to help him just before she went offline. That must be why we didn't know. You were in the hospital yourself for awhile. When the new version of The Machine came back online, we had so many issues, she likely didn't remember what had happened to John and neither of us thought to ask, seeing as so much time had already passed."
John had to admit it did make some sense despite what he'd been thinking. His anger began to recede.
"Can you give us a moment, alone?" Harold asked.
"Yeah, sure." The grass brushed against Shaw's boots as she stepped away. "Look, John," she stopped walking. "I know you and I didn't get off to a great start, but you have to know I never wanted to see you dead. Well, maybe in the beginning, before I knew who you were. But, not later. Okay?"
John nodded and she continued to move away.
"John?" Harold was reaching up, the pads of his thumbs brushing John's cheeks, smearing something wet under his eyes. Harold's face blurred before him and his breath caught.
"It's all right," Harold murmured. "We're here. I've got you."
His voice was a balm to John's frazzled nerves, and he found himself breathing again, if slightly erratic. He hung his head, listening to Harold murmuring something, drinking in the familiar voice he'd missed so much, not really caring what was said. His scalp buzzed with the gentle strokes of Harold's fingers through his hair, relaxing him bit by bit.
John was sure he was dreaming and soon he would wake to discover himself curled up on the couch in the library, wrapped up in Harold's blanket, alone.
"I need to get off my knees," Harold was saying, as he steadied his cane and placed a hand on John's arm. "Come. There's a bench. Let's go sit down."
John shook himself of his thoughts and got to his feet. Taking Harold's arm, he helped him up and walked with him, supporting him as necessary. He belonged at Harold's side. John knew that like he'd never known anything else before. If only Harold would let him stay.
"You need to see this first." Harold directed him to the grave he'd been standing over earlier.
John saw the name on the headstone and his breath caught in his throat again. It was his. Not his assumed name from the Central Intelligence Agency. No. His real name. The one his birth parents had given him.
"I didn't even look for you." Harold swallowed, his voice full of anguish, and gathered himself again, straightening his back even more than usual. "At first I... I was angry at you for taking my place. I didn't want to accept it, but I didn't think it was possible for you to have survived. I'm very sorry for that, Mr. Reese." He sighed and gestured toward the headstone. "I'll have this taken down."
"It's just John now." He heard the words coming from his mouth but he was unaware of the thought process behind them.
"Just John?" Harold glanced up at him.
"Kara gave me that other name and this one... it's not... who I am. Hasn't been for a long time." John hadn't thought this through, his own words were surprising him, and yet, they felt right, like a heavy weight was lifting off his shoulders.
"Would you like a new name? Or do you already have something in mind? You should probably know, I'm going by Harold Swift now, myself."
When John didn't reply, Harold said, "There's plenty of time to think about it. But John Falcon does have a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
John's heart beat faster and fresh tears were filling his eyes again. How could a name, a simple name, affect him so much?
"Are you sure you want to share the birds with me?" he asked.
"Do you like the birds?"
"Yes," came the hoarse whisper.
"I will share anything it's within my power to share with you and I would be more than happy to share the birds, if that's what you want."
John kept his eyes glued to the top right corner of the gravestone as Harold's meaning washed over him.
"You kissed me. In the vault. I didn't dream that."
"No. You didn't."
There was a long pause and John thought he saw Harold's lips quirk up into something of a smile from the corner of his eye.
The smile faded. "Was I wrong to kiss you?"
"No!" John turned to face him. "I did-do want that." John's heart was racing, his mind struggling to keep up.
Harold leaned up, pushing down on his cane to hold himself steady on his toes until they were eye to eye and John's arms automatically came around him to hold him up. Even through the wool suit jacket, he could feel the heat of Harold's body warming his hands. His heart skipped a beat at the intimacy of it all. Harold didn't move any closer, but his eyes flicked from John's down to his mouth and then back up again, one eyebrow raised, waiting.
John's chest tightened as he pulled Harold in, wrapping his arms more firmly around him, almost picking him up off the ground. Their lips brushed as John whispered his name. Harold pressed their mouths together and John's tired soul melted into the warmth of the kiss, a warmth he hadn't felt in a long time.
Harold's cane fell against his leg, no more than a brief passing thought, as Harold held John's face in his hands, his thumbs caressing John's sharp cheek bones.
Oh God. John's whole body shuddered, his veins beginning to hum with life. He was coming back online again, as if he were Harold's Machine gone dormant for safe keeping.
"Plaid flannel looks good on you," Harold said, running a hand down John's chest for emphasis when they parted.
A shiver ran up John's spine and he laughed. "Thrift store chic."
"Maybe I ought to institute casual Fridays."
"Maybe you should."
John brushed a gentle kiss to his forehead before gathering Harold to him again, clutching him tight, unable to let him go for fear of losing him again. He squeezed his eyes shut, taking in the familiar scent of Harold's favorite shampoo and let out a long breath.
"Hey." Harold recaptured his mouth, more urgent and exploratory this time.
John let himself fall, then realized he wasn't falling, but flying, soaring through the air with Harold as his support and his wings.
"Come on you two, stop fooling around!" Shaw broke the spell and the two men pulled hastily apart.
Harold's lips pressed together into a small, knowing smile, his cheeks flushed, and his eyes shining brighter than John had ever seen them. The whirling hurricane of his emotions continued to spin as he picked up Harold's cane and handed it back to him.
"James says we have a new number. We've got to go."
John steadied Harold on his feet and held out his arm. Harold took it with a smile, and they followed Shaw through the gravestones.
"I thought you two would never figure it out," she said.
"Figure what out?"
"Exactly." Shaw sighed. "If he's moving in, I'm moving out."
"Moving out?" John asked.
"I do not want to have to listen to the two of you getting it on in the middle of the night. No offence or anything." Shaw shivered as they reached the car parked by the front gate.
Now John felt the heat rising in his own face and was grateful Shaw wasn't watching.
"We've ah, been sharing living arrangements in our new headquarters," Harold started to explain. "But... maybe..."
"The library's safe," John confirmed as he held the door open and helped Harold into the front passenger seat.
"I'll get us a house, John, if you're amenable to it. And the library! Oh how I've missed the library!" Harold was looking up at him, his eyes bright with happiness.
John closed the door and folded himself into the backseat, his heart overflowing with emotion.