by Speranza

Author's Note: For Therienne and Arduinna. Thanks to lim for beta and for all the beautiful Person of Interest vids!

There's a button in the heavy marble and silver ashtray that sits on one of the side tables in the library. Neither of them smokes; still, it's like Finch to be prepared for any possibility. Reese stares at the button--a plain, ordinary shirt button--before fishing it out with his fingertip. It's not quite ordinary, actually. Mother of pearl; iridescent. A slightly irregular shape, tapered at one edge. He frowns down at it; it's quite beautiful. It's not his--none of his shirts have been made with something this beautiful. But Finch hasn't lost a button. He would have noticed.

He puts the button into his suit pocket, carefully lodging it in the lower front corner. After a moment's thought, he takes a penny from of his pants pocket, a circulated 1970-S, and leaves it in the ashtray, as payment. Behind him, he hears Finch's lopsided gait shuffling up the hallway. He pivots to study the bookshelf. He's paging through an architectural history of New York City when Finch comes into the room. "We have another number, Mr. Reese," Finch says. "Allison Parks. She's an immigration lawyer who--you won't like this. Represents women who could be deported because they left their abusive husbands."

Reese carefully puts the architectural history of New York back on the bookshelf. "Oh, on the contrary," he tells Finch. "I like it already."

It's an easy catch; Georges Tatarescu is a terrible stalker. Reese finds him on the roof of the building across from Ms. Parks' small office at the Battered Women's Clinic. He's got a sausage and peppers hero and a long-range rifle. Reese waits for him to look up.

Afterward, when Reese sits disinfecting his knuckles, he notices a tiny piece of paper at the bottom of the first aid kit. A cash register receipt, machine printed, faded purple ink. Dated yesterday. Apthorp Pharmacy 2201 Broadway. Hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, antibacterial ointment, rolls of bandages, sterile pads. Three different kinds of analgesic. Ninety-six dollars and thirty-eight cents in cash at 2:49 PM. Reese sniffs the small piece of paper--there's a faint perfume to it--and tucks it into his jacket pocket. He thinks it over as he bandages his knuckles. When he's finished, he puts the first aid kid away and slides a depleted Metrocard into the edge of Harold's leather blotter.

It's gone the next time he looks.

Their next number is Paul McLaughlin, a software designer who works from home. To Finch's irritation, the man has taken pains to keep his online footprint small; to Reese's irritation, he never leaves the house. Neither of them has any idea who'd want to kill him, or who he'd want to kill, which leaves Reese on stakeout against trouble. Thankfully, McLaughlin keeps his desk near the window, so Reese can see him with binoculars from any number of vantage points; he has to shake things up a little or he'll go crazy.

The takeout man comes in. The takeout man goes out.

McLaughlin's apartment is on West 81st, which is only a hop, skip, and jump from the Apthorp Pharmacy, so Reese ducks in one afternoon. It's a boutique store, full of esoteric beauty items and European fragrances, but a glance at the pharmacist's counter shows that it has other, less obvious specialties. Hormone replacement. Fertility medications. Pain management. Reese flashes a smile when a woman comes up to ask him if he needs any help finding anything. "Yes, thanks," he says, and buys a bar of fancy soap.

Back on West 81st street, Reese arrives just in time to see a takeout guy from Empire Szechuan hop back on his ratty old bicycle, handles wrapped with plastic bags, and take off. Reese glances around and decides he'd have a decent enough view from the Starbucks at the corner (he could use a cup of coffee) but freezes in place as another delivery bike rounds the corner and pulls to a stop. He's wearing a tattered plastic poncho and a baseball cap that says "Good Cluckin' Chicken," but the bike is all wrong: it's a touring bicycle, not top of the line, but too good and too new for New York City.

Reese pivots and walks back up the street, watching as Mr. Good Cluckin' Chicken leans his bike against the railing (no chain; Reese moves his hand to his gun), unhooks his delivery bag from its handles, and goes to buzz the intercom outside McLaughlin's building, pressing more than one button. It takes Reese exactly two seconds to conclude the guy's an amateur and decide on the direct approach. Once he's buzzed in, Reese moves fast, grabs the door before it closes, and pulls his gun on G.C. Chicken in the elevator. Chicken yelps and reaches into his plastic delivery bag--the idiot's stashed his gun with the chicken--but Reese just yanks the bag away and rolls his eyes.

"W-wait," G.C. Chicken stammers. "P-please don't kill me," but Reese is already grabbing him by the collar and shoving him down the hallway to 7A. When McLaughlin answers the door, Reese throws the chicken man through and asks, "Why does this idiot want to kill you?"

McLaughlin blinks at him. "Gary," he says.

"You bastard," Gary screams. "You stole my code."

"I made my own fork," Paul McLaughlin says, crossing his arms, and Reese stands there frowning as the argument heats up and grows incomprehensible. He touches his earpiece: "You hearing this?"

"I certainly am, Mr. Reese," Finch says, typing. "I’m hacking their git server right now."

"Well, you have fun with that, Harold," Reese replies.

"Linus will never forgive me," Finch murmurs, and then, a few moments later: "This is bloated and inefficient. Did he copy and paste this approach from 1997?" Reese is pretty sure that's a rhetorical question. "A more elegant solution would be…" and Reese waits for it, listening to Finch's soft typing and watching Paul and Gary yell and shove at each other. Then Finch says, sounding satisfied, "Tell them I'm releasing it under the GPL."

"You're releasing it?" Reese repeats--and this stops Paul and Gary in cold horror.

"Wait, what?" Paul McLaughlin says. He dashes for his computer, Gary on his heels.

Finch says, in his ear, "Now neither of them owns it. Serves them right."

"Do we need to do anything here, Harold?" Reese asks. "Or can I clock out?"

Paul McLaughlin is pacing back and forth in front of the computer, hands to his face; Gary looks like he might cry. "We could make the whole project open source," Paul says finally. "Right? Do you think...?"

Gary sits down in the desk chair. He's still wearing his plastic poncho and his Good Cluckin' Chicken hat. "I don't know," he says, pulling up in front of the keyboard. "But if we got enough contributors..."

"I think our work here is done, Mr. Reese," and Reese slips out, taking the chicken.

He holds the bag up to Finch as he enters the library, and Finch smiles and gets awkwardly to his feet. "Oh good," Finch says. "I was in the mood for chicken."

"Me too," Reese says, and puts the bag on the table.

The chicken's pretty good, actually, and there are also big plastic tubs of mashed potatoes and green beans. Reese decides that he might well order from Good Cluckin' Chicken again. Finch eats his chicken slowly, carefully separating the skin from the meat with a plastic fork, and says, cryptically, that while he's never actually tried to kill another coder himself, he can see where one might want to.

Reese chews, nods, doesn't say anything. He doesn't want to spook Harold.

His patience is rewarded. "Then again, I suppose others might say the same about me," Harold says finally; he's meticulously piled the skin and bones of the chicken to one side of his plate. "I'm...not a very good collaborator."

"I wouldn't say that," Reese says. He's pretending not to look, but he sees the sudden tic in Harold's cheek.

"No. I suppose you wouldn't," Harold says finally. "Still. " He lays his plastic utensils carefully across the plate. "It's kind of you to say. That was very good chicken."

"Yeah. Good chicken. Lousy gunman though," Reese says. "That's two amateur killers in a row this week. They're so unpredictable. " He cracks his neck. "It's so much easier with professionals."

"Well, there's always tomorrow," Harold replies with a small smile.

Reese leaves the fancy soap from the Apthorp in the bathroom. He finds nothing--no, wait. There's a sugar packet in the silver bowl that's not the same as the others, which are all plain, white Domino sugars. This one says Café des Artistes, and Reese pockets it on his way out and rubs it between his fingers all the way home. There was a Café des Artistes in Texas, he remembers going there before he shipped out, but he's pretty sure this one comes from the restaurant on West 67th street, just off Central Park.

A few mornings later, feeling bold, Reese leaves a torn slip of paper in the ashtray. It reads Siskin, 212-474-3227--a phone number which, deciphered, will give Harold his alarm code. Not that Harold will ever use it. Still, Harold should have the code.

That afternoon, he's bitterly cursing his own stupidity as he bandages Harold's arm. A professional, just like he'd wanted, making a professional's cold assessments: go for the weakest link. Reese had gotten lucky with his last shot, but even then, the gunman's bullet had reached Harold, taking a chunk out of his arm rather than blowing his head off. An amateur could never have made the shot.

Harold is pale, sweat beading up along his hairline, but he doesn't complain. Reese focuses on making sure that the wound is clean, disinfected, well bandaged, and tries not to think about how Finch is no amateur when it comes to pain.

Carter calls just as he's smoothing down the last piece of tape. Finch immediately tugs down his torn and bloody sleeve, as if an exposed left elbow is the height of immodesty. "Just thought you'd like to know that your gun-for-hire rolled on Lucy Bellingham," Carter tells him, the busy station clattering on behind her. "Sang like the proverbial songbird, and better yet, he'd taped all her phone calls. So we've got her dead to rights on contracting to kill her husband."

That's a professional for you. "What did Ms. Bellingham say?" Reese asks.

"Not a lot." He could hear Carter's eyeroll. "She's holed up with her lawyer trying to figure out how to make herself look like a sympathetic defendant. Got her work cut out for her, though. It's Mister Bellingham I'm worried about," Carter says. "Even though you explained it to him in small words that his lovely young wife wants him dead, he's got a look on his face that says he's looking for a reason not to believe it."

"Give him time," Reese says. "Takes a while to put everything back into place when your world's turned upside down." He sees that Finch is struggling into his jacket. "Gotta go," he says, and disconnects. "Rawley turned on Bellingham," he tells Finch.

"Good," Harold says. "We can't have people hiring contract killers. That's what lawyers are for," and for a second, Reese isn't sure that Harold's trying to be funny. Then Harold's lip twitches and Reese smiles and looks away, ashamed for doubting.

"I'm going to go somewhere and rest," Harold says and gets to his feet.

Reese almost argues--his mouth is actually open to argue--and then he doesn't. Instead, he picks up an orange prescription bottle and shakes it like a maraca. "Take some drugs," he says, and tosses the bottle to Finch, who catches it easily with his uninjured arm. Good reflexes for a guy who spends as much time in a chair as Finch does. Finch, looking faintly pleased, slides the bottle into his pocket, aware that he's passed some sort of test. "I'll see you in the morning. Perhaps," Finch says.

"Right," Reese says, after a moment. "Take it easy, Harold."

When he's gone, Reese looks around, half sure he won't find it and more than sure that it won't be what he thinks it is and can't mean what he thinks it means. But then he finds it, the one thing out of place: a tiny gold tiepin in the shape of Saturn.

Reese closes his eyes: this little piece of jewelry has got to be worth at least $100,000, because it's probably only given to the Planetarium's top donors. He'd bet on it--and it's his third data point. He doesn't know the west side well, so he pulls up a map on the computer and starts triangulating. Apthorp: 79th and Broadway. Café Des Artistes: 67th and Central Park West. And here, the Hayden Planetarium: 81st between Columbus and Central Park West. The three locations make an upside-down, irregular isosceles triangle, and the center of it's really quite dense. He'll never find it if it's an apartment.

But if it's a hotel...

There aren't many hotels on the upper west; fewer still that Finch might patronize. Reese can't imagine Finch at a glittering monstrosity like the Mandarin Oriental no matter how many stars it has, and he bites his lip even at the thought of Finch checking into the Trump International. My God, Harold must hate that building.

But there, right at the center of that odd, upside-down triangle, is the Hotel Belleterre. Small, built sometime in the 1880s, around the time of the great apartment complexes named for vast midwestern states (The Dakota, The Montana, the Wyoming) but before the art deco buildings of Central Park West. Twelve stories, red brick with limestone details, Italian renaissance design.

Reese lets his head roll back and stares at the ceiling. It can't mean what he thinks it means. And yet, Finch said he was going "somewhere" to rest. Not home.

Finch never talks about home. Finch never talks about anything.

Reese rubs the small, mother of pearl shirt button between his fingers. He doesn't move for a long time.

It's night by time he turns up West 76th Street. The Belleterre is midblock, its limestone accents glowing with reflected New York City light. The hotel's awning is unmarked; in fact, the hotel itself is unmarked except for a little plaque: Hotel Belleterre. There's a single revolving door, which Reese passes through; the lobby has inlaid floors and red velvet furniture. In the back, there's a carved concierge desk. Birds fly through Reese's brain, beating their wings.

"Mr. Siskin," he says, pleasantly, to the concierge.

"Top floor," the concierge replies, and hands him a key.

It's a real key, not a card, and it's on a little ring with an engraved silver tab. Reese pockets it, goes to the elevator, and presses the button for the highest floor: 12. It's the penthouse, he supposes, but of course Finch would never go to a hotel that used the word "penthouse." When the elevator stops, his suspicions are confirmed; he's let off into a wood-paneled, softly carpeted hallway. There is only one door.

There's also a bell. This gives him a moment's pause. It seems only courteous to ring the bell, but on the other hand, he's been given a key. Harold's not one for meaningless instructions: he could simply have told the concierge to send him up. Reese looks down at the key and is suddenly sure that Harold won't--maybe can't--open the door if he rings. But he's given John a key.

He smiles suddenly. That's Finch, all right; he knows what jobs to outsource.

The lock opens soundlessly. The door opens onto a dim foyer that leads to a corridor; he can already see a set of long, narrow windows, open to the evening air, and a glass door leading on to some sort of stone terrace. He hesitates, momentarily rethinking his normal commitment to stealth, and then remembers: this is Harold. He's never been able to surprise Harold; it's Harold who engineers things, not him.

And in fact he's halfway down the dim corridor when Harold says, quietly, "Hello, Mr. Reese." The suite's main room is all shadows; there's only one light on, a small reading lamp with a colored glass shade. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

John comes into the room. Harold's back is to him; he's standing next to an elaborately linen-swathed teacart. He's in his shirtsleeves, though his cuffs are buttoned. He doesn't turn around, but John sees past him to the china cups, the silver tea and coffee service.

John goes to him, his footsteps absolutely noiseless on the thick carpets, but Harold must sense his movement because he turns, slightly but pointedly, even further away--and John knows him well enough now to imagine the stain of pink, high on Harold's cheeks. "Or," Harold says, and there's a noticeable quaver in his voice, "there is also some ice cream if you care to have some. They sent up a variety--"

John gently drops his hands on Harold's shoulders. Harold stills.

"--of-f f-flavors," and he can feel the tremor in Harold's shoulders, even though he seems perfectly calm. "I admit that vanilla is my favorite, which I suppose says--"

John leans forward, just a little, ghosting close but not touching. His breath stirs the spiky hairs on the back of Harold's head. Harold's quivering is more violent now, and when he sways, ever so faintly, a few hairs tickle John's nose and lips.

"--says something about me," Harold finishes, all in a breath. "But I had a sudden--"

John takes his hands from Harold's shoulders and turns off the small reading lamp. The room isn't quite dark--no room in New York City is ever quite dark--so when Harold turns, in his stiff, awkward way, the light from outside glints off his glasses.

"Craving," John suggests, finishing his sentence. Harold blinks owlishly at him, and then nods. "Coffee and ice cream sound good to me, Harold," John says, as seriously as he can manage. "Thank you for asking me," he says, and takes off his suit jacket.

The End

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