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Park Lawn

Finch was already waiting beneath the old oak in the middle of the park when Reese arrived, crossing the wide, manicured lawn to stop a few feet from the recluse. It was late, almost dark, and the park was nearly deserted. For a moment, they just stared at each other.

“Nice place, Finch, but could we get on with things? I was in the middle of doing laundry.”

“I beg your pardon? You told me to meet you here.”

“No, I didn’t. You texted me.” Finch’s eyes widened and Reese realized that they’d been set up. He sprang into action, pushing Finch up against the trunk of the tree and shielding him with his body as he drew his weapon, his sharp gaze sweeping the park. He saw a few people lingering on benches or walking their dogs, but no one suspicious, no one out of place.

“We should get out of here,” Finch said, but Reese was reluctant to leave what little cover they had. After a moment, he grabbed Finch’s arm.


Finch nodded, his face pale.

“Stay close to me,” Reese said, heading across the grass for the west entrance to the park, his steps short and tight as he compensated for Finch’s limp, his eyes searching the surrounding buildings, picking out the high places, the open windows.

A sudden noise made him jump and he whipped around, putting himself in front of Finch again, but it was just an automatic sprinkler head popping up out of the ground. He stared at it for a moment, then gave Finch a slight push to get him moving again. They’d taken only a few steps when the sprinklers suddenly came on, pelting both of them with cold, stinging drops. Reese glanced around, but only the lawn in front of them was being watered.

“C’mon,” Reese said, pulling Finch back. They headed for the north entrance instead, but Reese froze as more sprinkler heads popped up between them and their destination. He stood, waiting, but nothing happened.

“The system must be malfunctioning,” Finch said. They waited another minute, the hair on the back of Reese’s neck standing on end at being so exposed, then Reese took a hesitant step forward. Jets of cold water shot out of the sprinklers, hitting Reese in the face and nearly knocking Finch’s glasses off. Reese dragged him back, both of them wiping water out of their eyes.

“Tell me that didn’t seem strange to you, like someone was watching us and controlling the sprinklers.”

“It would seem that way,” Finch said, pulling his handkerchief and wiping water drops from his glasses. “But why would anyone do that?”

“They’re playing with us,” Reese said through his teeth.

“But why?” Finch asked again. “And how? Our phones are encrypted and the city has formidable security measures in place.”

“You could do it,” Reese said.

“Yes, but-” Finch gave him a startled look. “Is that what you think? Why would I do this?”

“I don’t know, Finch, why don’t you tell me?”

“John, this is absurd. I’m not doing this.”

“Prove it. Let me see your phone.”


“Give me that phone, Finch,” Reese said, taking a step toward him and reaching out to search his pockets. Finch tried to shove his hand away and Reese reacted without thinking, bringing his gun up and pressing the barrel against Finch’s chest. Finch froze, a look of shock and horror on his face, and Reese felt something inside him curl up into a cold, dead ball.

They both leaped back as the sprinkler at their feet popped up and spurted to life, soaking both of them before shutting off again. Pissed, Reese whipped around, pointing his gun wildly around the park.

“Where the fuck are you?” he shouted. “Why are you doing this? Show yourself, damn it!” The answer came in the form of a beep from his cell phone alerting him to an incoming text, followed half a second later by an echoing beep from Finch’s phone. The two men glanced at each other, then fished their cells out of their pockets. Reese brought up the latest text, frowning at the screen.

Asset: Reese, John
Status: Lonely
Course of Action: Assist Union with Finch, Harold

“Does someone think you’re lonely, too?” Reese asked, glancing around the park.

“This isn’t possible,” Finch whispered. Reese glanced at him, surprised to find his face white as a sheet, his eyes wide.

“What? Do you know who it’s from?”

Before Finch could answer, Reese’s phone beeped again. He brought up the new text. It was a map of the area, with a location less than two blocks away marked by a little pink heart.

“Where is that?” Reese asked, then realized that Finch hadn’t gotten an accompanying text. He held out his phone, letting Finch look. Finch licked his lips and took a shaking breath.

“It’s one of my apartments,” he said, then turned a slow circle, looking all around the park, but not at ground level. His gaze swept the sky, finally lighting on a light pole with a security camera on it, the staring eye pointed in their direction. “You have to stop this,” Finch said, seeming to talk to the camera. “This isn’t why I built you.”

Finch’s phone beeped and he glanced down, a frown creasing his brow. Reese stepped over and leaned close to read what the screen said. Words in red text were appearing and disappearing, words like kill, hate, murder, pain, death, and fear.

“I know,” Finch said, his voice soft. “I’m sorry, but…it’s what we need you to do.”

The red text stopped, the screen going dark. Then it beeped again and a new message appeared.

Asset: Reese, John
Sys Admin: Finch, Harold
Status: Lonely
Course of Action: Kiss

Reese took a step back, his head reeling. “Wait a fucking minute. Is that- that Machine of yours…playing matchmaker?”

“It would appear so,” Finch replied. “But why?” A single word began to blink on the screen: Love.

Reese suddenly found it hard to breathe. “Your Machine has a screw loose, Finch. It’s wrong-”

“It’s never wrong,” Finch said, not looking at him. “It’s designed to analyze human behavior. It must have seen something…” Pictures began to appear on the phone, one after another, alternating between images of Reese looking at Finch, unguarded moments when Finch was distracted by something else, and pictures of Finch doing the same, watching Reese when he wasn’t looking. The last picture was an image from that evening, of Reese shielding Finch from an unseen danger. Reese turned away, running a hand back through his wet hair as he tried to think of something to say.

“Finch, I-” He was surprised by a hand grabbing the front of his shirt, and more so by the warm lips that found his. He closed his eyes, returning Finch’s kiss until they both drew back out of breath. For a moment, they just stared at each other, then their phones beeped. Reese glanced down at the cell to find a new message.

Asset: Reese, John
Status: Happy
Course of Action: Love Finch, Harold

“It’s not that simple,” Finch said in response to his own text.

Reese sighed and put his phone back into his pocket. “Maybe it is. Maybe this time, it is just that simple.”

Finch licked his lips. “My place?”

“We really should get out of these wet clothes,” Reese said with a crooked grin. “Although we might want to find a drugstore first.” The words had barely left his lips before Finch’s phone beeped. He looked down at the message, a slight flush pinking his cheeks and ears. Without a word, he held out the phone so Reese could see it. On the screen was an address a block away, with a surveillance still of the inside of a drugstore, the camera pointedly focused on the section for condoms and lubricant.

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