by Speranza

Author's Note: Written for Draycevixen for Yuletide 2102.

I. 912-79-0899

"Get down," Reese said, half pushing, half dragging Finch behind the black town car. Finch, wide-eyed, nodded and crouched down, but not enough: Reese pushed him down and to the left so that he was behind the right rear door. "Stay here," Reese said, glaring and raising a single finger for emphasis, and then he was moving, fast and low, along the line of cars, gun drawn, and debating whether to take them one by one in hand to hand combat, or just shoot them in the kneecaps.

He took the first quietly, curving an arm around his throat and knocking him out cold, but the second put up a fuss, and Reese ended up having to throw him through the plate glass window of a drugstore. The shattering glass gave away his position, but the bullets whizzing past his shoulder also told him where Corcoran was--moving uptown: too close to Finch. Reese immediately doubled back, then cut between two cars and crept around the front of a double-parked SUV. He came up on Corcoran from behind just as he reached Finch: Corcoran gasped and froze as Reese racked the slide next to his ear, then gave him a single gentle tap to the skull.

"You so much as breathe on him, you're a dead man," Reese explained.

Finch jerked around at the sound of his voice. He seemed surprised to see Corcoran there. "Oh," Finch said, glancing from Reese to Corcoran and back again. "Is it over?"

Reese swung his arm and cold-cocked Corcoran with the pistol; he crumpled into a heap at Finch's feet. "It is now," Reese told him. "I'll call Carter and--"

A phone rang. Finch stilled, head tilted, listening. The pay phone was housed on top of a low grey metal stand in front of the corner deli. Instinctively, Reese glanced up and saw the red glowing eye of the camera. Finch had already started for the phone, but Reese put a hand on his shoulder. Finch looked startled at the contact and seemed to vibrate under his palm. Reese let his hand lay, heavily, where it was.

"It's for me," Reese said.

Finch stared at him. "What?" Finch asked.

"It's for me," Reese repeated gently, and then he went and picked up the phone and listened. Harold kept staring, mouth opening slightly. It was the same message. She was getting insistent. Reese hung up carefully, a familiar knot in his stomach. The machine wasn't infallible, whatever Finch thought. She didn't know everything; she just assessed probabilities. Probabilities were by no means certainties--

"Is--everything all right, Mr. Reese?" Harold's voice was cracking a little under the strain of wanting to know.

"Sure, Harold," Reese replied. "Everything's fine. Let's go round up some bad guys."

II: 080-32-2114

Four. Five. His fist made a most satisfying thwack. He might have broken his little finger again. Six. Maybe it was only sprained. Seven, eight. They were out of medical tape at the library. He had meant to pick some--

"Mr. Reese."

--up two days ago, but then Jennifer's number had come in. Nineteneleven. He could stop at the drugstore afterwards and--

"Mr. Reese. Mr. Reese. John--"

There were hands on him, grabbing, pushing. Something stopped him from reacting; a smell perhaps. Clean smell. But he only had eyes for Peter Peschel's purpling bloody face. Reese leaned in again, smiling. Twelve.

Harold wrenched him backward, forced him upward to his knees. "John, stop. You have to stop." Harold was pale and serious. "Hurry. The police are--"

"He killed Jennifer," Reese explained to him.

"Yes. Yes, I know. And I'm not saying he doesn't deserve to die." Harold's hands were pressed against the front of Reese's shirt. "He most certainly deserves it. But you must consider what it will mean to those of us who depend on you, if you get caught."

"Why Harold," Reese said. "I didn't know you cared."

"On the contrary, I care a great deal." The sirens were getting louder; closer. "Please, Mr. Reese. Hurry," but he was already moving; he couldn't bear to hear Harold say please. Reese pulled his hands in close as he stumbled to his feet, got his feet under him; he didn't want to touch Harold with bloodstained hands.

Harold was pushing him away from Peschel's battered body, glancing nervously down and up the street. "This way," he said. "Come on. Hurry," and then he was grabbing Reese's arm and hustling him around the corner and across two side streets and into the narrow doorway of an apartment building just next to a parking lot on West 23rd. "Stay here," Harold said, pushing him up against the grimy glass door. He looked Reese up and down and then, with great care, buttoned Reese's suit jacket and smoothed down his lapels. "Keep your hands in your pockets. Try not to look guilty. I'll get the car." Reese slid his bloody knuckles into his pockets and slouched, trying to look merely drunk, or like he was waiting for a bus.

He tried to clear his mind of black thoughts, something he'd had a lot of practice doing back when he was a drunk. But Jennifer Sackett's face kept swimming into his vision. 080-32-2114. Jennifer hadn't wanted his help. Jennifer had looked him up and down, taken in his height and his weight and the cut of his suit, and had judged him a predator: as one of the date-raping masters of the hedge fund who thought they could buy and sell her. Someone like Peter Peschel, who had killed her. Reese had understood right away that he was the wrong person. Jennifer needed Finch: needed his gentility, his essential decency. And Finch had come straight away, but there hadn't been time. Reese closed his eyes. Sometimes there just wasn't time.

The worst thing was that Jennifer hadn't been wrong. He was a predator. Not the privileged Wall Street frat boys she was used to, but something much worse.

He was only dimly conscious of the telephone. A passing delivery guy answered it, said "Hello?" a couple of times, and hung up. It began to ring again a minute later. Reese squinted at the security camera from the bank across the street.

"No," he said. The phone kept ringing. "No," he said. "You're wrong." But he came out of the doorway and crossed to the pay phone, ducking under the privacy hood to keep out of sight. "Look," he said patiently, "I don't care how many receipts you've looked at or what you think you know--" A black BMW pulled up with a jerk; Harold. "Some things are beyond your algorithms," he told her, thinking of Jennifer's panicked flight, Harold's immeasurable generosity, his own violent rages. "Not everything," he added gently. "Maybe not even most things. But this is different," he said, as Harold nudged him with a quick beep of the horn. "Believe me, I have only the utmost respect for you," he added hastily, then hung up and got into the car.

III: 380-00-0050

He lay there, bathed in sweat, and drifted in and out of consciousness. He was thirsty, but he didn't have the energy to move an arm, let alone to get out of bed. His tongue slid over his cracked lower lip. There was a humming sound, birds maybe. A shaft of sunlight fell over his bed, moved down, faded away. Sometimes he thought that if he could just roll over, he would see Jessica there, smiling at him. At other times, he thought that he heard Harold bustling about in the kitchen. Harold would bring him a tall, cool drink in a highball glass on a silver tray.

He closed his eyes and felt his head sink into the thick pillow. There were worse ways to die, he supposed, than on thirteen hundred thread count sheets on a ten thousand dollar mattress in a three million dollar apartment on Baxter Street. It certainly hadn't been the death he'd been expecting. But life was funny that way.

It was like falling asleep in the sun. He was so comfortable; just a bit thirsty. If he could just fall asleep, forget he was thirsty, everything would be...

He felt the first cool touch of the cloth to his forehead and opened his eyes. Harold. "Where's--" The words scorched his throat. Where's my drink, he'd meant to say.

Harold's face twitched with worry. "Shh," he said. "Shh. It's all right, Mr. Reese," and heaven, bliss, the cold cloth was moving across his face, wiping sweat from his eyes and the hollows underneath. "Don't try to talk."

This was really Harold. He'd been thinking about Harold for so long, imagining the moment he'd show up, that he hadn't quite realized it had actually happened. He tried to push up onto his elbows. He ought to get up, get dressed, offer Harold a--

"Please," Harold said, hands moving to his shoulders. "Please," and Reese settled back down into the pillows. He couldn't bear to hear Harold say please. "Good," Harold said, and then he disappeared into thin air for a while before returning with a tall, cool drink in a highball glass. A bent straw peeked out of the top. Harold carefully brought the top of the straw to his mouth. "Just a little to start," Harold chided, "because we don't know--" It was the most delicious water he had ever tasted, and he sucked furiously at the straw until Harold yanked it away, glaring down at him. "You're impossible," he said. "I told you, only a little--"

"Impenetrable," Reese croaked.

"--at a time, until you're, what?"

"Door. I thought--supposed to be impenetrable."

Harold, busying himself with a syringe, stopped and glanced over his shoulder at the door to Reese's apartment: reinforced steel, bulletproof, alarmed. "Not to me," he said absently, and then he rolled up Reese's pajama sleeve and primed the syringe. "Hang on, you'll feel better in a minute. Sorry, I'm not very good at this."

The injection didn't hurt, but the world swam before his eyes, and his heart suddenly thumped into rapid-fire action, sending blood rushing into his ears. Bells. The phone was ringing again. "It's for me," he said, blindly trying to reach for it.

Harold was bent low over him, trying to settle him back down. "What did you...?"

It was the same message, always the same. "It's the Machine," Reese managed. "She says. She thinks." Harold was frowning down at him, and Reese licked his lips and tried to explain. "But I've told her. Not everything. Runs to formula," but then the machine surprised him by whispering: But it's Harold's formula. I was built to Harold's formula, and so is he and so are you and Reese stopped, struck silent.

Harold stared down at him, obviously worried. "Mr. Reese? Are you--?"

"She's right," Reese rasped. "Of course she is," and then he tugged Harold's face down to his and kissed him. Harold kissed back just long enough to confirm that, yes, the Machine was right, before pulling back with a startled expression.

"Do I--should I call a doctor?" Harold asked.

"Why?" Reese asked. "Do you think he'll kiss better than me?"

"I'm calling a doctor," Harold said immediately, but Reese tangled his fingers in Harold's sleeve and said, "Don't, don't." Harold didn't, but he looked like his every nerve was on alert. Even his hair was standing up in tufts.

"Relax, Harold. It's all right." Reese relaxed back into the covers. The world had gone blissfully quiet: no more ringing bells. "I was just testing a hypothesis."

Harold made a face. "I am not a hypothesis, Mr. Reese."

"Of course not. Though I am worried about the quality of my sample. I think you should kiss me again." He tugged at Harold's sleeve, and Harold visibly hesitated before--surprisingly--letting himself be pulled down. It was quick kiss, over before it started, but electricity crackled between them. Harold looked away quickly, a bright red flush on his cheeks. Reese almost dispassionately registered the shift from longing to desire: hell, he was getting hard, and it had been a long time since that had happened. His life in recent years had been one cold shower after another. But all at once he was desperate to give a blowjob, or receive one. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like.

Harold still seemed to be processing. "Well," he said, absently running his fingertips across his mouth. "That was a hypothesis I'd never have thought to test. You're saying the Machine told you to...?" He trailed off and Reese nodded. "Well, I'll be," Harold said softly. "I suppose I should have seen it coming. The Machine found you for me, after all: I think she's been stage-managing my personal life for some time."

Reese nodded sympathetically. "These kids today. No respect."

Harold bit his lip to suppress a smile. "In any case," he said briskly, "we'll have to revisit the matter. No gentleman would take advantage in a situation like this."

Reese protested, but it was only for form's sake. The numb happiness drifting over him wasn't entirely due to the kiss; the drugs were kicking in. "I'm not an easy guy to take advantage of, Harold," he said.

Harold's face softened. "I'm not so sure about that. But never mind," he added, tucking the covers up around Reese's shoulders. "That's why you have me. Now, you're going to rest, and keep drinking water, and I'm going to give you another injection in," he checked his watch, "three hours and forty-two minutes. Then we'll run some tests and see if it's all out of your system. And then later, when you're feeling better, we'll talk about...we'll think a little further about ..."

"Testing the other thing?" Reese asked, drowsing. "The hypothesis?"

"Yes." Harold coughed. "I definitely need more data," but the Machine had already run the numbers, so Reese figured he and Finch were statistically close to a sure thing.

The End

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