The sun crept across the library room, chasing back the chill of morning. Natural light sprawling across the floorboards in languid, slow measuring increments. Warm, where it lingered, contrasting the neutrality of the artificial blue emitted from his computers, and the steady glare of a light bulb. It lacked that Fortress of Solitude majesty, but it served its purpose and that was really all Finch could expect from an abandoned library on 7th and Broadway.

Finch closed his eyes, worn at the edges from a night spent tossing and turning more than sleeping. On a good day, his pain was at a level three. Today was not a good day. He could feel the strain of old injuries down to the soles of his feet, in every step, and it was frustrating to know it would never leave, this bone deep ache nattering at the back of his consciousness. Trapped, like a fly in the spider's web, entangled, in a rare moment of weakness Finch looked at the map of his failures; all sticky-taped and tacked to the wall in endlessly convoluted strings. A cruel reminder of his very human frailties: the gimp shuffle-walk he'd bear for the rest of his life, and the Numbers. All those Numbers he'd failed that haunted the corridors of his dreams waiting to pounce the moment sleep became unavoidable.

His map was a bookmarker, a reminder of the time preceding Mr. Reese, never letting him forget why he did this. And why certain sentiments had no place here. They clouded his judgment, if he let them. So he didn't. But Mr. Reese was behind schedule, and he was worried. He allowed himself to process it before brushing it aside; he permitted it to linger in the guise of annoyance. He was allowed that.

Contrary to Mr. Reese's teasing, he was not actually a Machine. He wouldn't be in his current situation if that were true. No, he possessed feelings, sentiments, and right now they were becoming a problem. They would be dealt with. Later.

For the time being he set aside personal distractions getting to work on the latest Number, a six-digit string of code that connected to a Danielle Brooke. She was an avid reader of post-modern literature, single, and searching for a man according to her eHarmony profile. Criteria listing: Tall, dark, and handsome, with an interest in mountain hiking. Must be employed. Must also be 20 years or older.

Finch admired her discerning nature; a woman who knew what she wanted was to be admired. She was already a step ahead of him on that front. A pity though, as it was highly unlikely she wound find many candidates that met her standards. Case in point, the average New Yorker was liable to break into a sweat at the thought of anything more strenuous than hailing a cab.

Finch snorted, coughed to cover it before realizing he was still alone. He wasn't worried exactly, not yet, but concern was reasonable, justified even. He was responsible for a man both the CIA and FBI were pursuing.

Yes, Ms. Brooke's chances looked poor if the government was pursuing the only man who fit her criteria. Besides, John had more baggage that she would have had in mind when she'd filled out her dating profile. Absently, Finch swiveled in his chair, pausing in his typing to adjust his glasses.

"Where are you, Mr. Reese?" he asked the room at large. It didn't answer.

Ah, Mr. Reese has arrived.

He was lurking in the doorway.

Cat-footed, as ever.

Finch marked his presence by the drifting aroma of coffee, and the underlying scent of tea. Black, with a dabbing of sugar, exactly as he preferred it. Today he was too weary, too desperate for caffeine to care that Mr. Reese had discovered how he took his tea.

Finch was a little flattered.

He stifled the urge to hum his contentment as the brew rolled down his throat. From Mr. Reese's amused look, the barest upward tick at the corner of his mouth, he might not have been entirely successful.

"Long night, Finch?"

Mr. Reese didn't wait for answers. He knew better than to expect them, as he leaned across Finch's shoulder instead. Rifling through the folder on Ms. Brooke and invading Finch's personal boundaries with his clean pressed suit, and the dash of gunpowder he forever smelled of. Finch really ought to mind more than he did. He contemplated answering, just to shake up their usual routine of verbal fish-and-bait, but ultimately decided against it. Routine was good. Routine worked.

"You're late, again, Mr. Reese," he said, annoyed. "You must see about rescheduling these yoga classes of yours."

"Traffic was murder," Reese said, glancing up briefly, something like amusement lightening the darkness in his eyes. Finch chose not to comment. He was still learning to tell when the man was being serious. Moving on now, he decided returning to the work at hand. Sliding over the latest photograph of Ms. Brooke, he went through all the relevant data.

"Danielle Brooke, age 35, single, searching for either a torrid affair or happily ever after – Ms. Brookes words not mine" he said tacked on, removing the papers from Reese's loose grasp.

"She is an avid reader, and enjoys hiking. Her record is clean, barring one unfortunate DUI, and her banking adds up as it should for a CEO's secretary. As far as I can tell, she's spotless. I'd go so far as to say sparkling."

"Maybe this one will be cut and dry."

"Let's not knock on wood, shall we Mr. Reese."

"Last known address?" Reese prompted, chugging the last dregs of his coffee, still hot enough Finch could see the puff of rising vapor. His face never changed. If it burned, it didn't show. Finch shuddered to think where the man might have had need for such a skill.

"36610 Millbrook, Apartment 29."

As quietly as he'd come, Reese left, leaving Finch to his blue screen monitors and software. He arranged himself in front of the monitors and quietly relished the euphoria of control as he tap-tap-tapped on the keyboard, operating systems and high-level security software falling apart with each stroke, a wealth of knowledge rushing at him faster than he could decode.

There, with no one to see, he smiled. Freed from the smell of gunpowder, his space no longer infringed, Finch distantly came to a troublesome realization. He hadn't minded it all that much. He was becoming used to Reese. After so long with only his own company, Finch would go so far as to claim that Mr. Reese provided a welcome distraction, despite his guns and CIA-fostered moral ambiguity. Any sentiments beyond that were, of course, irrelevant.

Finch kept one eye trained on Mr. Reese at all times. After the parking garage incident, he was understandably leery of letting the other man too far from his camera-range. He managed this by way of the numerous cameras scattered throughout the city. The other eye he kept on his screen as he rummaged through Ms. Brooke's life, searching for her proverbial dirty laundry. The deeper he dug, the more suspicious he became. Her records were beginning to look a little too perfect, not unlike a well-orchestrated alias.

I've sunk to new depths of paranoia. Won't Mr. Reese be so pleased…

That thought firmly in mind, he flicked his attention back towards the monitors tracking Mr. Reese. Communications were sparse in the following hours. Ms. Brooke had frequented a salon, a boutique, and a Red-box. Of the selection on offer she chose Inception. Indulging in a moment of profiling, Finch considered what her movie choice said about her personality. Strong, independent -

"Something's not right, Finch." Reese's voice cut in via his Communicator, and he was on edge. The faint emphasis settling over his name, a slow drawing of vowels, said as much. Reese, unlike every other cop and detective on the beat, wouldn't be shifting, restless. No, he would betray nothing but a slow, rolling tensing of muscles as he surveyed his surroundings.

"Finch?" Mr. Reese's voice like a whispered crack reeled his attention back to where it belonged. "I'm here, Mr. Reese."

"Either Ms. Brooke is a hyper-vigilant driver, or she's checking for tails."

"Paranoia doesn't mean that no one's out to get you, as you well know, Mr. Reese."

"She's also carrying."

"A baby?" Finch asked, surprised, disconcerted to learn that he's missed such a vital piece of information. He re-scrolled through his data, but it didn't show any recent hospital checkups.

"There's no -"

"A gun, Harold." Mr. Reese isn't laughing, exactly, but there's amusement buried in the sounding of his name. Mr. Reese has a way with making names into things other than names, he's found, and Finch isn't sure if he likes that. Irrelevant, Finch decided, and spoke into his Communicator.

"I think it's time you have a little chat with Ms. Brooke."

"I think you're right."


-000000000-


Miles away from the other side of a monitor screen, Finch observed, - feeling uncomfortably like a voyeur. The collar of his neck suddenly felt restricting. Strange that it had fit adequately beforehand. Finch shifted in his chair as Mr. Reese plied Ms. Brooke with his subtle, and not inconsiderable, charms. The low toned quality of his voice - warm at the edges – working wonders on the woman. In less than five minutes she was eating out of his hand.

"Is this really necessary, Mr. Reese?" he asked, more agitation that he's comfortable with bleeding into his words. He'd really have to do something about that soon. This couldn't continue.

"Two men followed you in here Ms. Brooke - I need you to stay calm and use the back exit." Mr. Reese said, and the woman did exactly that. Mr. Reese got results. Finch didn't have to like how he came by them.

"It's not like I'm asking her to prom, Finch." Mr. Reese said, dryly. "I just need her willing to trust me. People trust people they like - you know that."

"I suppose you're right Mr. Reese."

"Incoming photo of the men tailing our Ms. Brooke."

"Dillon Pierce, a thug for hire from his rap sheet, multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon, vehicular manslaughter, and battery."

"Not a nice guy then."

"No, not at all."

"Good, then there's no one to care if he disappears."

Finch ignored the comment, reading off the information on Dillon's partner. "The bald fellow with him is a Greg Pierce his uncle. It seems criminal activity runs in the family. He is in the system for DUI's, theft, and vandalism."

"Family?" Mr. Reese asked in a deadly-calm murmur. Finch can't say that he liked where this was headed, but he would have to trust Mr. Reese. "No family."

Mr. Reese shoulder blocked the thugs before they reached the door Ms. Brooke had used. It was a common tactic but effective. "You should really watch where you're going."

"You watch where your goin' mister" Dillon grunted, his puffed out chest making him look oddly proportioned, and gorilla-like with his thick–set body and chest hair poking through his shirt. Mr. Reese ignored him in favor of double-checking on Ms. Brooke's safety; the mirrored wall showered her to be fine.

"What are you, stupid -? I'm talkin' to you!" Dillon snapped, leaping over the boundaries of proper society when he decided to get in Mr. Reese's face and prod his suit jacket with his finger. Finch was surprised, and pleased, to see that Mr. Reese hadn't broken it yet. The man from their earlier days in working the Numbers would have already. Progress, thy name is John Reese.

"In the wild, the male gorilla pounds his chest to show supremacy, or attract a mate," Finch commented, a wry smile playing across his lips. It was endlessly amusing that this singular action so often precluded a brawl. Finch wondered what that said about society at large.

In moments, Mr. Reese's voice crackled over the Communicator, and Finch smirked.

"I'm not sure I like your insinuation, Finch."

Considering himself a bit of an audiophile, and fast becoming acquainted with the John Reese-lexicon, Finch knew ironic amusement when he heard it. Edgy, but mild. Not really offended then, but not pleased either.

Mr. Reese snorted, crude, and inelegant, knowing very well that it irked him. "Besides, he's not really my type."

"Too male?"

"Too stupid."

Finch froze. That was not at all what he'd expected, but then with Mr. Reese it never was. "Have I shocked you, Finch?"

Wary amusement. Caution. Finch heard all this in the man's deceptively calm question. His answer clearly mattered to Mr. Reese. "Don't be absurd. What you do on your downtime is none of my business."

Silence, but for the soft exhale of breath on the other end of the line. Relief. Finch discovered he was disappointed that Mr. Reese had ever doubted his answer. "I am not the military, nor the CIA, Mr. Reese."

"Thank you."

"I find it strange that you feel the need to thank me for not being a close-minded extremist, but you're welcome."

Mr. Reese made a soft, undistinguishable sound, and Finch tensed. His face turned against his shoulder, away from the camera, Finch had no way of puzzling out what it was. Before he had the chance, his attention returned to Dillon. Mr. Reese was all business as he leveled him with a cold gaze, his voice never rising above a murmur. Are you very attached to your finger, Dillon?"

Finch shivered. His partner was a very, very dangerous man.

"What the hell, man?" Dillon sputtered, "Who you think you are, goin' around threatenin' me?"

The thug still had his chest puffed out, glaring at Mr. Reese in what was surely meant to be a threatening manner as he prodded Reese's suit jacket with a oil greased finger, again. "He's going to lose that finger" Finch privately mused, not nearly as appalled as he should be.

Mr. Reese glanced down at the finger poking at his suit, the chest pocket vaguely indented. The cameras barely caught the progress of his hands when he moved, precise and fast. He grabbed hold of the offending finger and twisted, a sharp and sudden jerk that effectively took the wind from Dillon's sails.

"I did ask nicely" Mr. Reese pointed out as Dillon clutched at his hand, his face leeched of color, his finger twisted at an unnatural angle. "Yes, you did Mr. Reese."

Threat neutralized, Dillon was frog marched out the door, Mr. Reese flashing a dead cop's badge to quiet the civilians. Greg trailed behind like a confused hulk in his green knit sweater and ripped jeans. Dillon shuffled along behind, docile as a lamb to the slaughter.

Having Mr. Reese's gun pressed against a person's back tended to have that effect.


Authors Note: Read and Review please, thanks!