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Surveillance – Ch. 2

Standing in Times Square at half past midnight, Reese was amazed at how many people crowded the wide sidewalks, couples trying to prolong a wonderful evening, tourists taking pictures of the iconic buildings and news tickers, hundreds of numbers rushing to and fro, oblivious to the cold eyes that watched them from every corner, the calculating mind, devoid of all humanity, that analyzed their every move, their every word.

Reese had wrapped up another case that afternoon, and as usual, he couldn’t sleep, rehashing the events that had unfolded, second guessing his decisions and running through all the ‘what if’s. There was no time for any of that when lives were on the line, but afterward…

The cell rang and Reese groaned softly to himself. Not another one already. This was truly the most worthwhile and rewarding job he’d ever been given, but the frequency with which the numbers came, the never ending stream of corruption and greed, had begun to grow heavy on Reese’s shoulders. Often, as he lay awake at night, he wondered if it was too much for one man to bear.

“I was just having a dream about you,” Reese said, unable to resist teasing his rigid employer. Most of the time, Finch just brushed him off with a cool, deadpan remark, but on the rare occasion when he didn’t, when he let slip some personal detail or hint that he might actually like Reese, it made the weight of the numbers just a little easier to bear, because it meant he wasn’t in it alone. He had only carried this burden for a short time, unlike Finch who had suffered with the knowledge for years, helpless to do anything about it, and he hoped that maybe a little camaraderie could ease Finch’s pain now and then.

“In the middle of Time Square, Mr. Reese?” Finch replied, his tone benign. “I somehow doubt that. Nice jacket, by the way. Is it new?”

Reese looked down at the sidewalk to keep Finch from seeing the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Got it this afternoon,” Reese said. “I thought you would like it.” And then before Finch could reprimand him for wasting time, he cleared his throat. “Is there another number already?”

“No, not yet,” Finch said, and Reese arched his eyebrows.

“No? So you have personal reasons for watching me, then?” He glanced around Time Square, not sure which of the cameras Finch was using. Unlike that night in the alley, he had many to choose from.

“I wanted to make sure you weren’t otherwise occupied before I interrupted your evening,” Finch said, apparently unwilling to give away his location. “And yes, I’m contacting you for personal reasons. I realized something last week, and I just can’t ignore it any longer. I know it’s late, but could you come to the library?”

“Y-yeah, all right,” Reese said, stunned. “I’ll be right there.” He had to be hearing things. There was no way Finch meant what Reese thought he meant. And yet…the show in the alley had been a week ago. He hadn’t known if Finch would even see it, and afterward, when it appeared that he hadn’t, Reese had been quietly thankful. He had crossed a line, one that he had intended never to flirt with again. He didn’t want to risk losing the tentative friendship that he had managed to cultivate with the reclusive man. And now…

“Uh…Finch?” Reese said, trying to think of something to ask that would either confirm or deny his suspicions, but Finch didn’t respond. “Finch?” Reese could hear sounds from the other end of the line, rustling and footsteps – distant, hollow sounds. Finch had set his earpiece down, but left the line open, as he often did while they were working a number, remaining in each others ear for hours on end, only this time it was an accident. Reese started to hang up, but his curiosity got the better of him. He switched the call over to his earpiece and set out for the library.

For several blocks, the only sounds he heard were mundane ones – a door opening, more footsteps, a soft thumping, wood creaking – and then he heard Finch sigh. “Damn it, Reese, hurry up,” Finch muttered, some distance from the speaker, his voice so faint Reese almost didn’t catch it. After a moment, Reese quickened his pace.

He was halfway to the library when Finch let out an uncharacteristic groan. “What the hell are you thinking?” Finch asked, still not speaking into the phone. “If you do this, he’s going to look at you like the pitiful cripple that you are. Just call him back and tell him you’ve changed your mind. You’ve lived like this for so long, you can ignore it until you get used to it again.” Silence fell and Reese cupped his hand over his ear, trying to block out the traffic noise, not wanting to miss a single word. “No,” Finch said suddenly, “I can’t do this anymore. I need him, damn it.”

Reese drew up short, stumbling back as he almost walked into a light pole. Finch needed him. He might never admit it to Reese’s face, but that wouldn’t matter – Reese knew the truth. Finch needed him. Reese hung up his phone, slipped the earpiece in his pocket, and began to run down the street.

He was out of breath as he reached the library, his gaze sweeping the empty streets as he slipped around to the back entrance and let himself inside the big, deserted-looking building. His mouth suddenly dry, he ran a hand back through his hair as he made his way down the corridors and into the main room. It appeared deserted.

“Finch?”

“Back here, Mr. Reese,” came the reply. Reese crossed the room, to a back corner of the library where he’d never had cause to go before. A wooden door stood open, a light on in the small room beyond, and as Reese stepped through, his heart began to pound, his gaze taking in the scene before him. A neatly made bed stood against one wall, an old high-backed chair in the corner with a tall, brass floor lamp standing beside it, the stained-glass shade casting splashes of color on the dark, cinderblock walls. Opposite the bed was a tall bookcase, the shelves bare, the books stacked in half a dozen boxes scattered about the floor, and in the middle of the room stood Finch, neat as always, but also unusually dressed down; sans jacket, his sleeves rolled back, his tie loose, the first button on his collar undone. It was as casual as Reese had ever seen him.

Finch didn’t speak, he just stood and regarded Reese with an open, questioning look that betrayed nothing of what he might be thinking or feeling. Suddenly at a loss for words, Reese’s gaze wandered around the room again before settling on the bed.

“Do you sleep here?” he asked, realizing only after the words had left his lips what a stupid question it was. Why else would he have a…Oh.

“On occasion, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, a hint of a smirk in his voice, as though he could read Reese’s mind. Scrambling to regain his composure, Reese almost wished someone was shooting at him; that was so much easier to deal with.

“So,” he said, tucking his hands in his pockets and trying to play it cool, “why did you ask me here?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Finch said, turning away and taking a stiff, limping steps toward the empty bookshelf. “I need your help securing these shelves. I was rearranging my collection last week and I realized that they’re not anchored to anything.” To illustrate, he grabbed the bookcase and pulled, rocking it a few inches away from the wall. “It’s a hazard, Mr. Reese, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I’d take care of it myself, but…” He let the sentence die, finishing the thought with an annoyed puff of air instead.

Reese just stared at him.

“Is there a problem?” Finch asked after a moment.

Reese shook his head. “No, I just…” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle and continued shaking his head. “I was expecting something else, I guess.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Finch said dryly, limping toward him. “There’s a ladder in the utility closet down the hall and I’ve got a drill around here somewhere.”

As Reese wandered off to find the ladder, he wondered how he could have been so wrong. Upon reflection, everything Finch had said had been perfectly innocent, but Reese had heard so much more. He was reluctant to call it wishful thinking, because that implied he wanted it to be something more, which he couldn’t be sure of. Yes, it was challenging and entertaining and often rewarding to try to fluster the reserved genius, but what if the allure was in playing the game, and not in winning? If he couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t take the chance. It wasn’t fair to Finch.

Reese carried the ladder back to Finch’s ‘occasional’ bedroom, where he found his employer placing a mason’s bit in an electric drill. Shrugging out of his new jacket, he traded it to Finch for the drill and ascended the ladder. A little dust and a pair of molly bolts and L-brackets later, Reese grabbed the shelf and gave it a shake. It didn’t budge.

“There you go, Finch,” he said, climbing back down the ladder. “Anything else I can do while I’m here?”

“That’s very domestic of you, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, “but that will be all. Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Reese said, and he held Finch’s gaze for a moment longer than necessary, because it was the truth. He glanced around the room. “Where’s my jacket?”

“Out there,” Finch said with a slight nod of his head as he began to take his books out of the boxes and arrange them on the shelves. “I didn’t think you wanted it covered in dust, so I draped it over the back of my chair.”

“You’re a brilliant man, you know that?” Reese said with a smile as he walked out of the small room. “I’ll see you later.”

“Not if I see you first,” Finch replied.

Still grinning, Reese made his way across the room to the big, old library table with its stacks of books, multiple keyboards, and half a dozen monitors. How anyone could analyze that much data simultaneously was beyond Reese. As he grabbed his jacket and lifted it off the chair, he bumped the mouse, which was for some strange reason balanced at the very edge of the table. The movement caused the wall of monitors to flicker to life and Reese stared, his gaze darting from one to the next, each filled with a black and white still from a surveillance tape.

Reese turned, unsurprised to see Finch standing in the doorway of the little bedroom, a slow, satisfied smile creeping across his face. “Good night, Mr. Reese,” he said, and then he winked before disappearing back into his room. Reese stared after him for a minute, his fingers tapping absently on the back of the chair. He gave the monitors one last look, then turned and left the library. Impulse had led him to that point; his next move was going to take some serious thought.

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