The City of the Dead




He wasn’t watching the door, he told himself absently. Just as he wasn’t watching the clock or his wristwatch. He was simply restless which manifested itself in the need to walk from the door to the blacked-out window. Then to the bedrooms via the kitchen and back down the hall to the door again.

It was perfectly normal, this need to pace. It came from being cooped up—anyone would feel the same and he remembered John’s comment, the day he’d moved into the apartment after he’d been shot. He’d looked up and muttered through gritted teeth, ‘Just feeling a little restless here, Finch.’


Harold used to love being cooped up; he used to love the isolation and the quiet. The reassurance that the world could go to hell in a hand basket and he’d still have his computers, his work.

But, as in all things, the advent of the machine and John, had changed all that and he’d made the unpleasant discovery that if he wasn’t working on a new number, he felt, well, restless.

He turned and was heading back to the windows when the door flew open, stopping him in his tracks.

It was Theresa. She leaned in, calling out, “They’re here! They’re in the courtyard! I saw them from the window!”

“Theresa,” he admonished. “I’m right here. How many times have I told you about shouting? You’ll wake the baby.”

“Sorry, Mr. Finch,” she said, doing her best to look contrite. “I forgot.”

“Well,” he said because there was really no use scolding her—she was, after all, barely a teenager. She was still chaffing under the new rules imposed by her aunt as well as going through a ‘phase.’ At least that’s what the book that John had taken from Barnes & Noble called it.  “Next time, try to remember.”

She nodded and pointed to the bedrooms. “Can I get her up?”

He looked at his watch—two hours. More than enough time. “Yes, you may.”

“Can we go to the elevators and meet them?” She shifted from foot to foot.

He hesitated. The building was secure—his many alarms would have gone off if there had been a breach. But with the scare of the week before, he was still jumpy.

“I’ll wait until they get off the elevators,” Theresa added hopefully. “I promise.”

He finally nodded. It had been two days since John had set out—he was as anxious as she, though for different reasons. “Fine, but put her coat on—it’s cold out there.”

She was gone before he finished talking. He sighed. At least she hadn’t argued like she had before, saying that she could take on anyone and anything. She’d had the fear of God—and zombies—put in her.

He followed her silently and watched from the doorway. She’d sat Leila on the edge of the bed and was talking to her softly. “You gotta put this on ’cause your daddy’s right—it’s cold out there. Yeah, that’s good,” she murmured as she stuffed Leila’s arm into her tiny coat sleeve.

“And now we’ll just zip this up and we can go see your dad, okay?” Theresa carefully zipped the coat up to Leila’s chin, then picked her up and turned to the door.

When Leila saw him, she smiled. And the thing that had taken up residence in his chest ever since her arrival jerked. “Here’s my big girl,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”

Leila waved her fist, then said, “Daddy!”

“That’s right, Leila,” Theresa answered before he could, hitching Leila up on her hip, a move that had to be pure instinct. “That’s Daddy. And now we’re going to go meet your other dad.”

He followed them through the suite and out to the foyer. It was odd, Theresa’s designation as to who was ‘dad’ and who was ‘daddy.’ She seemed to use the words interchangeably when referencing them. Did the one denote a more casual relationship and the other a more serious? Was one more masculine, the other more feminine? He didn’t know; he was still trying to work out the details himself. “Be careful.”

“We will.”

“Remember, wait until they get off the elevator.”

Theresa nodded and squinted through the peephole. She’d grown since the first time they’d met—she didn’t have to stand on tiptoe at all. 

“Do you see anyone?”

“Just Mr. Trask. He’s fixing the security door.”

Leila watched him over Theresa’s shoulder. He waved and she grinned.

“Mr. Finch,” Theresa said without turning around.


“Is Zoe gonna stay for dinner? She said she would.”

He picked up a book off the side table. “I think she’ll need to return to the precinct as soon as possible. The sun is going down; she won’t want to take the chance. Not just for dinner.”


Theresa’s tone was of complete desolation and he wanted to smile. John was right—she had a crush on Miss Morgan. He didn’t quite understand it—she had a perfect role model in her aunt. Elizabeth Whitaker had proved to be fearless and if anyone, it had been she that had saved the day when an infected stranger had gained access to the floor via the stairs. She’d reacted quickly, barricading the woman in the stairwell until Trask and John got there.

John said not to worry about Theresa’s mooning after Miss Morgan, that even he had gone through a crush stage and that they just had to hope that it wouldn’t extend to Theresa doing something stupid in an attempt to impress Zoe.

Intrigued, because he couldn’t imagine John as a lovelorn teenager, Harold had wanted to ask who had been his first crush. He’d held his tongue, however—he’d been in the middle of repairing one of the laptops and it wasn’t the time.

“I’m sure she’ll have time soon,” he added. “She and Mr. Reese need to finalize their plans.”

“Oh,” Theresa said again, this time more glumly.

Harold could relate. The thought of John and his team heading out on their own in an effort to contact Mark Snow? It worried him, to say the least.

“Here they come.”

He sighed. “Finally.” But she didn’t hear—she was already out the door, running down the hall.


He went to the armchair and sat, then opened the book. When John came in, trailed by Trask, Miss Morgan and Theresa, he was calmly reading.

Trask called out enthusiastically, as if they hadn’t seen each other in days, “Hey, Mr. Finch. Nice to see you.” Miss Morgan said nothing.

He nodded to them and looked over at John.

He’d taken Leila and was nuzzling her cheek, his sparse beard making her laugh and clutch at his hair. He was wearing all black, from his watch cap to his black boots, and his face was dark with dirt. He looked as if he’d stepped out of a bad action movie. At least he’d left his weapons in the foyer this time. “Hello, Mr. Trask, John.”

His voice was bland but it didn’t fool John. He smirked and said, “Nice to see you, Finch.”

He put the book down, his effort to deceive patently failing. “How did it go?”

“It went fine, didn’t it?” John murmured into Leila’s hair. “Didn’t it sweetheart.”

He was lying, but Harold was unable to hide his smile—there was something about seeing them together…

“We found your man,” Miss Morgan said. She sat on the sofa, spreading her arms along the back as if making an effort to soil as much of the upholstery as possible. He huffed and John sighed, but she ignored both of them. “He was about five miles from where you said he’d be.”

Trask sat down on the arm of a chair, his eyes alight with curiosity.

Harold glanced at John, then back at Trask. Thanks to a stray comment by Detective Carter, their new acquaintances knew why John went out every few days to search the city. The details, thankfully, were still a secret. If it was up to him—and it was—they would never know.

He sat in the chair again. “I told you, Miss Morgan. It’s not an exact science—my source is no longer reliable. All I have is a vague idea of where the person might be. ‘Might’ being the operable word.”

She leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Yeah, you told me. You also told me that they would be day trips. This is the third time we’ve had to spend the night out in that hell hole.” She jerked her thumb, gesturing towards the city.

He opened his mouth but John answered for him. “We do what we can with the information we have, Zoe. You signed on for this, remember?” His voice was low and pleasant and didn’t hide the steel.

She glanced at John and cocked her head. “You’re right, I did.”

“And when this is over, we’ll all go our separate ways.”

She stood up. “I’m looking forward to it.” She nodded to Theresa. “See you later, kid.”

She stalked off, and with a glare at Harold and a humph at John, Theresa stomped after her.

“Mr. Trask?” Harold said.

“Sure.” Trask got up. “I’ll make sure Miss Morgan gets out okay and make sure Theresa gets back to her place.”

“Thank you.”

John raised Leila, holding her above his head as he said, “Ernie? I’ll meet you in the lobby at eight.”

Trask waved. “Sounds good.” He left, tool belt jingling, and finally, they were alone.

“Did it really go okay, or was that for Miss Morgan’s benefit?”

John grinned. He bounced Leila one more time, then took Zoe’s place on the sofa. “That was for Theresa. She doesn’t need the gory details.”

“Then neither does Leila.” Harold stood and held his arms out.

With a smile and a kiss, John passed her to him. “Do you need any help?”

“No.” Harold smiled and ducked his head back when Leila tried to grab his glasses. He’d made the mistake, in the beginning, of letting her make a game of taking his glasses. She was slow to talk, but quick in every other aspect. “She’s not too heavy yet.”

“No!” Leila said, making another effort.

“No, honey,” he said firmly. “Daddy’s glasses stay on Daddy’s face.”

“Are you Daddy this week?” John murmured. He was staring up at the both of them, hand resting against his cheek, a small smile on his lips.

Harold gave him a sideways glance. “I have no idea. Poor girl; if we ever get through this, she’ll be so mixed up if she has to introduce us to her friends.”

John’s smile died. “Probably.”

Harold shifted Leila to his other hip. John didn’t like it when he made references to the future. It was starting to become an issue between them. “Let me go put her down. I’ll be back.”

John nodded and then stretched on the sofa; Harold refrained from any sighs or comments.

He went to the small salon off the main room and sat Leila gently in her playpen, leaning over to get her favorite toy. “Here you go. Here’s Big Bird.”

She laughed and reached out. “Bird!”

“Can you add the ‘Big,’ Leila? Big Bird. Big Bird.”

“Bird!” She said again, pounding the toy on the mattress. “Bird!”

He laughed and combed her hair back. “That’s right, ‘Bird.’” He straightened up. “Now you stay there while Daddy and I talk, okay?”

She bit the bird’s beak and reached for another toy, this one a stuffed football.

He watched her as he left, making sure she didn’t try to follow. She’d managed to get out the other day. John had grinned, saying she was going to be a climber and that they’d baby-proofed the apartment so she’d be fine.

Harold reminded him pointedly what was waiting for them outside the building. John had lost his smile and the next day had fixed the playpen so she couldn’t escape. It wouldn’t, however, keep her confined for much longer—she was too good at latches and knots.

He was wondering if it would be possible to construct some sort of maze for Leila when he returned to the living room to find John fast asleep.

He put his hands on his hips.

He should wake John up because it didn’t look comfortable, lying that way, one arm and leg hanging off the sofa. He should wake him because it would be nice to take Leila for a stroll in the courtyard and it was getting too close to sunset to venture out on his own.

He should wake him because he liked that sofa even though it wasn’t really his.

But, even through the dirt, he could see that lines of stress that John never liked to admit to, so he just sighed, bent to take off John’s boots, then went to start dinner.


He’d just finished chopping the carrots when he heard a bright squeal of laughter. He leaned sideways to peer through the door.

John had gotten up and showered, and was on the floor, playing with Leila. He was lying on the carpet, raising Leila over his head. He’d lower her and when she was just able to touch his face, he’d lift her once more.

She squealed again and John laughed. “Oh, no you don’t,” he said. “You can’t catch me, you can’t—” He did it again and she laughed again. He lowered her again, this time to sit on his chest. “Did you miss me, sweetheart? Did you miss Daddy?”

She grabbed his t-shirt and said, “Pancakes!”

John raised his eyebrow. “Pancakes?”

“Yes, pancakes,” Harold said as he came into the living room. They looked up at him and once again, he wished he’d thought to pack his camera. He used Trask’s when he wanted to scan the immediate vicinity for looters or the sick, but didn’t want to use it for personal, intimate photos like the one he was imagining now. “I made her pancakes yesterday morning. Next to eggs and cheese, they are now her favorite food. She can’t get enough.”

“They are?” John turned back to Leila. “You can’t? Are pancakes you’re favorite food, sweetheart?” He leaned up and kissed her stomach and she laughed and grabbed his wet hair. “Are they?”

When she let go, John looked up at him again. “What else did I miss?”

“You were gone for two days, not two weeks.”

“It felt like two months.” John rolled to his feet in a neat, fluid motion. And then, completely unexpected, he leaned close and brushed his cheek against Harold’s whispering, “Maybe even two years.”


They ate in the dining room, Leila between them in the high chair John had borrowed from Mrs. Petrov in four-twelve.

They didn’t talk about the last forty-eight hours or current affairs. They watched as Leila finished her carrots first, then her peas and chicken.

“She still doesn’t like mashed potatoes?” John asked, head propped on his fist, his own dinner forgotten.

Harold sat his own fork down. The meal was good, the meat better than he would have expected, but he wasn’t really hungry. “I think she’s suspicious of the texture.”

John leaned over and picked up a spoonful of Leila’s potatoes. “They look like clouds, sweetheart.” He gave her the spoon. “See? Fluffy, tasty, starchy clouds.”

She took the spoon, and—as Harold expected—banged it against the plate like a drum. It was actually very cute but all the books said she was well into the action and consequence stage. He reached over and took the spoon, mid-swing and said, “That’s not a toy, Leila,” adding for John, “And Daddy should know that by now.”

John grinned, completely unrepentant. “She’s got great upper body strength, Finch. There’s a climbing wall on 43rd. I should take her over and see what she does.”

He folded his napkin, very precisely, and said, “I know you’re joking, but if I find you’ve—”

“Relax.” John grinned. “We’ll wait until she’s ten and then take her to the Catskills.” He stood and lifted Leila out of her chair, then began to clear the table. “There’s a canyon that would be perfect for her. By then she’ll be stronger and ready for action.” He turned to the kitchen, calling out over his shoulder, “Great dinner, by the way.”

Harold watched them go. “Ready for action,’” he quoted under his breath, a little bemusedly. “We’ll see about that.”


“Is she down?” he asked without looking up from his laptop.

There was a noise, a squeaking sigh, as John lay on the sofa behind him. “She is.”

“Did you read to her?”

“Of course. The Bunny Book and Goodnight Moon. When did she get that bruise on her shoulder?”

“Yesterday. Theresa was playing with her and misjudged her balance.”

“Did she get hurt?”

“Theresa? No, but it scared her. She’s not used to babies.”

“She’s not used to a lot of things, Finch. She’ll learn.”

He twisted in his chair. John was stretched out on the sofa again, arms behind his head, looking up at the ceiling. “Maybe babysitting Leila is too much responsibility.” They’d had this argument a handful of times—his fear of adding to Theresa’s burden, John’s insistence that she was more than capable, that it was important for her to help.

“She’ll be more careful next time,” John murmured.

“I just want what’s right for her.”

“I know you do.”

He hesitated. He really didn’t want to have this conversation, but it was necessary. It was, after all, what they did. “So how was it out there?”

There was another soft sound as John shifted about on the sofa. “Not good. Like Zoe said, we found our man about five miles from where the machine said he’d be.”

He didn’t remind John that he’d warned him several times that the numbers they’d received were suspect in every way and that they wouldn’t know if the machine was still working until they were back online, completely. “But?”

“But, the locals found him first. By the time we got there, he was cornered in an alleyway.”

“Had he been exposed?”

“By all the blood on his face, yeah, I’d say so. There was nothing we could do.”

“Well,” he said half-heartedly, “you tried.”

“Yeah, we tried. Too bad the machine fucked up.”

John rarely swore and when he did it was generally without heat. “I know,” Harold replied calmly, answering the unspoken accusation.

John looked up then, meeting his gaze. “I’m not blaming you.”

“I know.”

John sighed and sat up. “Forget what Zoe said. She doesn’t know what I know. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know.”

John sighed again. “It’s almost eight. I need to meet Trask. Did he fix the door?”


“I’ll check it out.” John stood up and headed towards the bedroom to change his clothes.

“There was a brief power spike this morning,” Harold called out. “Can you take a look at the generator?”

“Sure. Do you want to come with us? We’re going to walk the perimeter.”

“No.” He turned back to his computer. “As thrilling as appraising the barricade you’ve built around the complex sounds, I’ll leave that to you and Mr. Trask.”

“I’ll bring the two-way. If I’m not back in an hour, you know the drill.”

Code for, ‘If I’m not back in sixty minutes, sound the alarm and get everyone behind locked all the doors.’

He nodded and murmured, “Yes, I know the drill.”



It was actually fifty-five minutes and even though he knew the likelihood of another incident was extremely low, he kept glancing at his watch, unable to concentrate on his laptop.

He’d picked up the two-way and was preparing to hit ‘call’ when the door opened. He dropped the radio.

“Any problems?” John asked as he closed and locked the door.

“Of course not, Mr. Reese,” he said with no hesitation. “Everything is fine.”


They went to bed soon after. He brushed his teeth and changed into his pajamas while John looked in on Leila.

He was in bed, trying to decide what book to finish when John came in. “How is she?”


“On her back?”

John unbuttoned his shirt. “I thought Meg said it was okay for her to sleep on her side?”

He put the book on Jefferson back on the nightstand—he’d go with the Gaddis. “Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Then tonight we’re safe. She’s stretched out on her back.”John stripped off his shirt and tossed it on the foot of the bed, followed by his jeans.

“That’s good.”

John crawled under the covers and yawned. “Why is it when I get into bed I’m not sleepy?”

He glanced sideways. Normally, a remark like that would lead to lovemaking, but he doubted John meant it as an invitation. “The mind’s automatic response to stress, I would imagine,” he replied evenly.



John turned on his side and closed his eyes. “Hmm?”

“Are you sure this is a good idea, contacting your former colleague?”

“No, but if anyone knows what’s going on, it will be Mark.”

“You said he was holed up in Brighton Beach.”


“The same Brighton Beach that is still controlled by our old friend Elias.”

“The same.”

“They both tried to kill you. More than a few times.”

“Yes, they did.”

He drew another breath, but John got there first. He sat up and crossed his arms over his knees. “Finch, you said it yourself—we can’t stay here forever. We have to figure this thing out—someone out there that has to be investigating why all our friends and neighbors have turned into the living dead.”

He pursed his lips. “They’re not really dead, Mr. Reese.”

“They’re close enough and we need answers. Mark is a bastard, but he’s still connected.”

“And if he tries another double cross?”

“Then I’ll kill him.”

It was the expected answer, but still, he muttered, “I don’t trust him. Or Miss Morgan.”

“Neither do I. That’s why Carter is coming along.”

He shrugged. The only saving grace in John’s insane plan was Detective Carter. If anything happened, she’d have his back.

“Harold,” John said, when he hadn’t spoken. “It will be fine. A day out, a day back—three days, tops. We’ll take it hour by hour. If it’s too dangerous, we’ll turn around.”

He nodded but must have looked less than convinced because John took the book from his hands and tossed it on the nightstand.

“I was reading that,” Harold protested mildly.

“And now you’re not.” John turned out the light and pulled him down, wrapping around him from behind. “It will be fine,” he murmured, his breath warm on Harold’s neck. “You’ll see.”

He covered John’s hand with his own. “All right,” he finally said, because really, what else could he do? The world—or at least, their corner of it—had changed and they all needed to adapt.

He was stroking John’s hand, using the rhythmic motion to quiet his fears when John whispered as he always did right before he fell asleep, “Finch?”


“Were you able to make contact with anyone while I was gone?”

“No,” he said through a calm he didn’t feel. “Nothing on the ham radio or the laptop. Maybe tomorrow.”


It took John two days to get his equipment and people gathered. His idea was to go out in three groups of two. Miss Morgan had wanted to travel en masse, but John argued that they’d be less likely to draw attention from the criminal element and the sick.

Harold watched, Leila in his arms, from the dining room as they made the final preparations. Detective Fusco was paired with Elizabeth, Detective Carter with Miss Morgan. John was travelling with Andrea Gutierrez and little Darren McGrady. Harold had argued until he was blue in the face about the last addition until John pointed out that now that Darren and his foster parents were living in the building, there was no way to keep him from following—he was too good at sneaking through John’s safeguards.

Theresa and Mr. Trask were missing. Theresa, because she was furious that both her aunt and John had told her no uncertain terms she was to stay behind, and Trask, because he was downstairs with Lily, monitoring the activity out on the street.

“Okay,” John said when everyone was armed. “You’re weaponed up and you’ve got your instructions. The main thing is to keep within eyesight and earshot of each other at all times. This early in the morning, they’ll be sluggish and slow but don’t get sloppy.” He surveyed the group and smiled reassuringly. “We’re going into enemy territory with one objective but even that isn’t worth our lives. If we can’t make it today, we have tomorrow or the next day.”

John waited for a response, but other than a shuffling of feet and some quick sidelong glances, no one had anything to say.

“Okay.” John nodded then gestured to the door. “Wait for me by the elevators.”

When they’d filed out, John came over to where Harold was standing.

He expected more instructions, something along the line of, ‘If we get caught, here’s what you do,’ or, ‘If a new number comes up, just…’

What he got was John stepping close so he could wrap one warm hand around his neck to give him a kiss that hurt and then didn’t.

John drew back. “Take care of yourself, Harold.”

“I will.” His voice was disconcertingly breathless, and he said it again, “We will.”

“I’ll try my cell periodically even though it probably won’t connect.”

“No, it probably won’t.” An inane thing to say as John had just said it, but he couldn’t seem to think clearly, not with John rubbing his neck that way. “And I’ll keep running my program. Maybe by the time you get back, I’ll have news.”

“Maybe. And you…” John turned to Leila and smiled. “You be good, sweetheart.”

“Bird!” she said happily.

“That’s right,” John said, “Bird.” He kissed Leila and then he was striding across the room and out the door.

“Well,” Harold muttered. “That was odd. Why do I feel like a girl, sending her soldier off to war?”

Leila just laughed and grabbed his glasses.



He spent the day working on a new computer. The day they’d had to abandon the library for the apartment, he’d written a simple program designed for one task—to locate and lock onto any other computer. So far, he’d come up with nothing, which wasn’t surprising given that he didn’t know if he was even connecting when he tried to connect. He finally gave up at five and joined Theresa in the main room.

She was flopped across the sofa, playing a game on her no longer smart, smartphone. Leila was in her playpen, chewing on a toy. She was doing that a lot lately, which meant another tooth might be coming in. Not something he wanted to experience in the relatively small apartment.

He sighed. “Theresa, are you going to be mad all day?”

She didn’t look up. “Yeah.”

“Then I suppose it’s pointless to suggest a walk.”

She was on her feet before he finished speaking. “I’ll get Leila dressed.” She tossed the phone on the sofa and picked Leila up, already murmuring, “Do you want to go outside? Huh?”

He shook his head at the vagaries of children and went to get his coat from the closet.

He was pulling it on when he glanced at the safe that held John’s extra guns.

He hated guns. He truly did. So which was worse—the worry that they’d come across a situation like last week and that he’d be unprepared? Or the worry that he’d simply miss and make matters worse?

When he’d discussed that very situation with John, he grinned and pointed out that the infected were incapable of running faster than Harold could walk and that if he was worried, just bring Trask along.

He closed the closet door and got the two-way from to the kitchen. It took him a moment to remember which button to use. “Mr. Trask?”

There was a slight pause, then a burst of static and Trask answered. “Any problems, Mr. Finch?”

“No. We thought we’d go for a walk.”

“You and Miss Leila? Sounds like a plan. I’ll meet you in the lobby. Don’t go out without me.”

“We won’t.”

He hung up as Theresa came out, carrying Leila and the baby carrier.

“We’re ready,” she said. “She’s getting fat. I could barely button her coat.”

“She should be fat,” he murmured as he took her and lifted her into the carrier. She did feel as if she’d gained a few ounces. “A fat baby is a healthy baby.”

Theresa frowned. “I thought fat was bad?”

“There’s good fat and bad fat. Don’t forget your coat.”

Theresa shook her head, then grabbed her coat and opened the door.

The air in the hall was cool but not cold. He scanned up, then down. It was odd, but somehow the walk from the apartment to the elevators, a mere fifty feet, was his least favorite part of going outside. It would be, he always thought, the perfect place for an ambush and if he ever wrote a thriller, that’s where he’d place such a scene—right at the beginning when the protagonist was least expecting it.

“I hope the elevator is working,” Theresa muttered.

“It should be. Mr. Trask would tell us if it were broken.”

“It’s so quiet out here.”

“It’s almost six. Everyone is at dinner.”

“Everybody is too afraid to go outside,” Theresa muttered under her breath.

He glanced at her. “Fear is one of the ways we survive as a species. It’s not necessarily a negative.”

When they got to the elevators, Theresa pushed the call button. “John and Mr. Trask aren’t afraid. They go out all the time.”

“That’s because they’ve faced far scarier things.”

“Like what?”

A question he should have been prepared for and he answered neutrally, “I think I’ll let them tell you.” The elevator doors opened and they got in.

“Mr. Finch—” she began to whine and he turned to look down at her. Or rather, over at her—she really had grown a lot.

“I can’t tell you because this is one of those cases where the less you know, the safer you’ll be.”

She mulled that over, rocking on her heels, frowning. Finally, just as the doors opened again, she shrugged and held out her arms, question and complaint forgotten. “Do you want me to carry her?”

He hesitated. He could carry Leila for a while before his back started to hurt. Last time they’d gone for a stroll in the courtyard, he’d overdone it and returned with a backache that had taken days to recover from.

But, Theresa had spent all day watching Leila—she needed time to be a child, too. “Maybe later when we go back up.”

Theresa nodded. “Sounds good.”

Trask was waiting in the lobby and they all walked out into the courtyard together.

The day had been grey and dreary, but the clouds had moved off and the sun glanced through the buildings, casting a lovely orange light across the paving stones. If it weren’t for the eerie lack of noise, he’d think it was a normal afternoon.

Theresa took off for the barricade, as he knew she would and he called out, “Be careful. Don’t get too close.”

She waved without looking around. “I won’t.”

“Cabin fever,” Trask muttered, shaking his head as he watched her run away.

Harold nodded.

“Luckily,” Trask added, “I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.” He grinned at Harold and picked up a rake and began to dig in one of the flowerbeds.

Harold watched him for a moment, then carried Leila over to a tree to let her pull at the branches.

The days were getting warmer, now that spring was on its way. Normally, he never paid much attention to the weather, but these days, he found himself wishing for snow—he and John had found out the first week that the sick disliked wet weather and kept inside.

He sighed and pushed all thoughts of their predicament away. “Leila? Do you want to walk?” He lifted her out of the carrier and sat her down. “Can you walk sweetheart?” He held her steady until she gained her balance and then released her. She hesitated, then took off, arms waving with excitement.

“Leila!” Theresa came running back. She crouched a few feet away and held out her hands. “Come here. Come here, Leila.”

Leila threw up her hands and tottered towards Theresa, saying something so garbled Harold couldn’t make it out.

But Theresa understood. “Did you guys hear that? She said my name!” She scooped Leila up and twirled. “She said, ‘Theresa!’”

Trask had come over to watch and he shook his head. “Sounded more like “Reese,” to me.”

Theresa shook her head. “No, it was ‘Theresa,’ wasn’t it Leila?” She twirled again, making Leila squeal with joy. “It was!”

Harold stood in the weak sun and watched as they played and laughed, and soon, sooner than he would have liked, he had to say, “It’s getting late. We should get back inside.”


The next few days dragged by.

He spent the time reading with the ham radio on and laptop nearby in case his program worked. He also took to carrying his cell and the two-way everywhere he went, even to the bathroom, just in case John called.

Theresa stayed over, sleeping on the sofa in the main room, telling Harold she wanted to be there in case Leila needed her. He didn’t have the heart to tell her aunt had asked him to watch her and that he never would have let her stay in her apartment on her own, in any case.

Lily came by on the third day, purportedly to let them know the generator was working at full capacity and they could turn the heat up a few degrees if they wanted. But her real agenda was to help him with Theresa and he gave her a nod of thanks and asked her to stay for dinner.

On the fourth day, frustrated by his inability to concentrate on the biography of Jefferson, he decided to work on the makeshift satellite dish that John had built. The problem, of course, was interference from the surrounding buildings and he thought if he made just the right adjustment, it would work. So he went up to the roof and adjusted and fiddled and did everything he could think of with no success.

Finally, after cutting his palm on the sharp edge of the dish, a surprisingly strong wash of anger swept over him. This was futile. The dish would never work and it was stupid, spending time on it. He’d like nothing better than to pitch the whole thing over the roof.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Time wasn’t necessarily an issue anymore so he could waste it if he wanted. And if he did throw the dish to the street, perhaps it would hit one of the sick and put them out of their misery.

The black humor somehow eased the knot of tension in his chest and he packed up his gear. When he returned to the apartment, his anger had faded. Theresa was in the living room, feeding Leila a dinner of split peas and turkey. She asked him cautiously if the satellite worked and he was able to answer with a strangely perfect calm, “No. We’ll try again when Mr. Reese returns.”

On the fifth day, he read and cleaned and when he’d put Leila down for the night, he wandered into the main room where Theresa was playing another endless game on her cell phone. He was standing there, at a complete loss as to what to do until he could go to bed when Theresa mumbled, “Mr. Finch?”


“Maybe we could go look for them?”

He shook his head. “Absolutely not. We need to stick with the plan.”

He thought that’s all it would be, but then she said, “Do you miss them?”

The question threw him and he didn’t know how to answer. Finally, because she’d stopped playing the game and was looking up at him with anxious eyes, he said, “Of course I do, but don’t worry—they’ll return soon.”

She nodded and went back to her game.

The sixth day was much of the same boring routine and he found himself sitting at the dining room table, remembering Elizabeth’s words that first day they met, wondering how long one generally waited for a loved one before giving up.


They returned, appropriately enough, on the seventh day.

Harold was in the kitchen, trying to decide what to do with the potatoes Trask had given them when the two-way buzzed, then cracked.

“Finch? Come in Finch.”

At the sound of John’s tinny voice, he fumbled for the receiver and pushed the wrong button, then the right one. “I’m here. Where are you?”

“Around the corner. How are you?”

“I’m fine.” He took a deep breath and added, “Leila’s fine,” before John could ask. “How are you? Is everyone okay?”

“Yes, for the most part.”

“That sounds suspiciously ominous. Do you have news?”

“Yes. We’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

The two-way crackled again, then went dead.

“We’ll be here,” he said to no one at all, then, “Theresa?” he shouted over his shoulder, for once forgetting his own rules and regulations. “They’re back!”


If the group’s departure was silent, their homecoming was not.

Harold heard them before he saw them, a raucous chatter that grew louder as the door burst open.

Zoe was first in, followed by Elizabeth, Theresa and Detective Fusco. Detective Carter, Darren and Andrea were next and last, appearing in the doorway as though he’d stepped into the wrong apartment, was John.

He was loaded down with large duffle bag, a rifle and his backpack. He was scruffy with dirt and a week-old beard and for a moment, Harold flashed on the past, to the day by the bridge when he’d met John for the first time.

He swallowed and when John’s eyes met his, he had to look away.

He was never any good in groups and he watched on the sidelines as the team babbled about the mission, all talking so much, he couldn’t pick out one comment from another. And then, as if by a silent signal, they all left, one by one. Zoe was the last and she shot Harold a strange look as she waved goodbye to John.

“Finally,” John said. He’d dumped the gear by the door and was sitting on one of the bar stools. He rubbed his jaw. “I need to shave this off. Have any new numbers come in?”

Harold waved that away. “No, but never mind that now. You should sleep.”

John stood up. “Later.”

“Then take a shower; by the time you’re finished, dinner will be ready.”

“Where’s Leila?”

“In her crib.”

John raised an eyebrow. “Is she all right? She’s usually up by now.”

“She’s having trouble sleeping. It’s been difficult to get her to stay down.”

“Maybe she doesn’t need two naps.”

“Quite possibly.”

It was such a bizarre conversation. They were on opposite sides of the room, talking as if they were casual acquaintances. But it was catching up to him—John had been gone and now he was not and he couldn’t make himself move.

“Well,” John said with atypical diffidence, as if he too felt the strangeness. “I’ll check on her and then wash up.”

Harold nodded.


John waited until dinner was over and Leila was in bed before getting his bags by the door. The one was his portable arsenal, full of everything he needed to commit mayhem. The other was short and bulky. He sat it on the coffee table and unzipped it.

Harold, tea and whiskey in hand, sat down on the sofa and peered in. “What is that?”

“Hopefully a way out of this mess.” But what John pulled out of the bag wasn’t a piece of mystery equipment—it was an ordinary ruggedized laptop, a compact satellite and a satellite phone.

“Hopefully, it’s more than what it seems,” Harold said drily. “We already have one of those.

“Yes, but you don’t have the frequency of a specific satellite.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “Where did you get it?”

John smiled. “You’re not going to like the answer.”

“Don’t tell me.” He poured a measure of whiskey and pushed the glass towards John. “Elias?”

John nodded.

He sat back, sipped his tea, and said, “Okay. Tell me.”


John talked for an hour. About the journey south to Brighton Beach, past looted stores and the streets full of bodies and abandoned vehicles. How the dead lay on the sidewalks, in the parks, in their cars, the stench unimaginable. How the team had been waylaid on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge, unexpectedly coming across a large group of vigilantes. They’d managed to fight their way free with no injuries, but it had frightened them and had been hard going after that.

They’d found Elias on the third day, camped out in the Double Bs, having cleaned out everyone of Slavic descent.

He’d come out to meet John himself and that’s when the story got truly bizarre.

“You mean he actually hugged you?” Harold said for the second time.

“Yeah,” John answered with a little laugh. “I couldn’t believe it, either. His guy, the one with the scar, looked like he was going to stroke out.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t try to stab you in the back.”

“Which one?”


John shook his head. “No, Elias was glad to see us. They were planning on making their own trip up north. I saved him the trouble.”

“What happened then?”

“He led us to where he was bivouacked. They’re worse off than us, if you can believe it. No heat, no electricity. They had a generator but it kept crapping out on them.”

“Did you fix it?”

John slanted him a long look. “Of course. There were children in their camp.”

“Did you ask about Mr. Snow?”

“I did.”


“And, Fusco’s intel was off. Elias hadn’t seen Mark. Didn’t even know who he was.”

Harold sat back. “Is that good news or bad news?”

“Bad.” John poured another glass of whiskey. “Mark’s like a snake in the grass—it’s always best to know where he’s slithering before you take a step.”

They were silent for a long moment and then Harold asked, “What happened next?”

“Elias gave me that.” John nodded to the equipment between them. “It’s a VSAT. He said he’d gotten a signal a few times but didn’t know enough about the technology to make use of it.”

Harold tipped the small dish towards him. “What did you give him in return?”

John smiled. “Remember that bundle of cash you gave me to leave in exchange for the things I ‘borrowed’ for Leila?”

He tightened his lips. “That was for the store owners.”

John shrugged. “My fellow looters would have just taken it. When things are back to normal, we’ll pay them back.”

He wanted to argue, but John was right—it had been ridiculous, assuming the money would have made it to the right pockets. He touched the dish again. “Do you think this will reach anyone?”

“I have no idea. We’ll take it up to the roof tomorrow and try it out.”

“What about the plague? Did Elias know anything about that?”

John sat his glass down and leaned forward, arms on knees. As usual, they were conserving energy and had only the one light on—it shone on John from above, deepening the shadows on his face. It almost made him look dead.

“It’s not a plague,” John said. “Before the power went out, someone on Elias’ team caught the tail end of a news report.”

“What is it?”

“As near as the CDC could figure out, it’s the result of a short, violent burst of radiation. It took a few hours to hit, but when it did, it caused all this.” John gestured to the room, the city beyond.

“That would have to be a particularly strong wave,” he said doubtfully.


“Did it affect the entire world?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were we right about the risk of contagion?”

“I don’t know.”

Harold gestured angrily. “Is there any cure?”

John shrugged. “Maybe. The military sent teams to Atlanta. They picked up doses of the vaccine and returned to their bases.”

He frowned. “A vaccine? A vaccine won’t cure radiation sickness.”

John shrugged “Maybe Elias got it wrong.”

“Yes, but—”

“Finch. I don’t know any more than that. Maybe it’s something that happens to organic tissue once it’s been exposed? I don’t know.”

“Then why weren’t birds and animals affected?”

“I’m not an epidemiologist, Harold.”

“Yes, but—”

John sat back and rubbed his face. “You might as well ask why we weren’t affected. We were in the library with Leila when it happened. Why did it kill Michael Pope and not Darren? Why did Judge Gates and his son have to die?”

John’s voice had dropped to that deep whisper, the one he only used when he was very, very angry. Or very, very frustrated. “We don’t know that they’re dead,” Harold countered quietly. When John didn’t answer, he added, “It wasn’t your fault. You did everything you could.”

John had done things no one else would. Confronting the sick and the looters, rounding up the healthy and the people they’d saved, bringing them to Trask’s building, one by one. He’d never told Harold about those he couldn’t help and Harold had never asked—he read the story on John’s grim face each time he returned to the apartment. “It wasn’t your fault,” he repeated.

John shrugged.

“All these people, Joan, the Williams in two-ten and the Garcias in four-oh-nine—they would have died without you.”

“Trask helped.”

Harold nodded. The conversation had taken an odd turn and he wondered if this was what backpedaling felt like. “Yes, he did. But you were the one that brought them here.”

“Finch, if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.”

So, the same old subject, one he thought long closed and this time the anger wasn’t wash, it was a wave. Engulfing and enclosing, warming his entire body.

“Yes,” he said with that same perfect calm of before. “So you’ve said. I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

He stood, ignoring John’s open-mouth shock, and stomped off to the bedroom.

He took off his cufflinks and placed them on the dresser. He was behaving foolishly, like a child, and he should go back and apologize but he truly was tired and—

“What was that all about?”

He looked up in the mirror. John had followed him and was leaning against the doorjamb, arms folded across his chest.

“Nothing. I’m tired.”


“You were gone seven days. Seven days.” It felt astonishingly good, spitting the words out.

John paused, then nodded. “I would have called if I could.”

“I know.”

“There was simply no way to let you know we were okay.”

“I know.”


Months ago, if John had given him that same wry, ‘Harold,’ his stance would have been vigorously held, defended against all of John’s blandishments. But he was no longer the passive man he’d once been. Entwining his life with John’s had resulted in more than just the necessity of going out in the field, it had awakened something inside him and there was no going back.

So he took off his glasses, murmuring, “You always tell me you’re nothing special, but as I’ve said before, we both know that’s a lie. Leila and I would be lost without you.” He turned. John was watching him steadily, a blank look in his eyes. He held out his hand. “Come here.”

John cocked his head but pushed away from the door and padded across the room. Until he was standing so close, Harold could feel the heat of his body.

He knew the proximity was a challenge and a dare, was John’s way of saying, ‘Here I am—now what are you going to do with me?’

He answered by reaching up and bringing John’s head down to his.

Such a simple thing, the act of kissing. A mere press of flesh to flesh, and why should it be anymore erotic than a handshake? It just was and when he opened his mouth to John’s, fire streaked up his back.

“Harold?” John said again, this time in a whisper.

“Let’s go to bed.”

“After you.”

He pulled John the five short steps to the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. When John reached for his vest, he pushed his hands away. “No. You first.” A break in pattern and John smiled.

He removed John’s shirt and then his undershirt. He laid them on the chair near the bed. The belt was next and John sucked his breath in at his touch.

“Cold?” he murmured.

“No.” John touched the back of his hand. “Not cold.”

He hid his smile and unzipped John’s trousers. “Here.” He guided him to edge of the bed. “Sit.”

John sat.

“Lift your leg,” he ordered softly. He removed John’s boots and socks and laid them on shirt. And then, trying not to make a ceremony of it, his trousers and shorts.

John was a very well made man, he once again thought foolishly. Lean and strong, he posed for Harold’s gaze as if being nude meant nothing at all. Which, considering he’d been in the military, perhaps it didn’t.

Unlike himself who’d only ever undressed for one other person.

He pushed the memories away and stepped between John’s legs, deliberately placing his hand in the middle of his chest. John just spread his thighs and smiled.

“Lay back.”

Without a word, John slid to the middle of the bed. When he reached for the lamp, Harold was ready. “No.”

John looked up at him. “No?”


John blinked. “Okay.”

He undressed quickly, concentrating on the how and not the why, not John, who was stroking his own chest, watching.

When he was naked, his clothing in a pile on the chair, he hesitated and this time it was John who was ready. He leaned up and took his hand, gently pulling him onto the bed.

They came together, an awkward tangle of warm limbs, made less awkward through time and practice.

“What do you want?” John whispered in his ear.

“You,” he muttered in return, hoping he was understood, his faculty for words suddenly out of reach.


Another rush of desire made him burn, made him feel almost claustrophobic, so solidly was he placed within his own fractured body. “I don’t know what to do.” Not quite a lie, but close enough to the truth that he felt no guilt.

“That’s okay, Harold.” John kissed his neck. “I do.”


John was a good teacher. While Harold knew the basics, John knew everything else. He helped Harold get from point a to b to c, all the while assuring that no, it didn’t hurt and yes, he could take it.

When he was finally seated, flush against John’s back, the doubts he’d been ignoring came flooding in, clamoring for attention. This couldn’t possibly work. He was never any good at the physical and he’d ruin it. Premature ejaculation wasn’t even on the horizon, he was so stiff with fear.

No pun intended.

“Harold?” John said.

“Yes, Mr. Reese?”

John took his hand and held it against his belly. “You’re worrying too much. Your body knows what to do.”

“My body is an idiot.”

John laughed, a low, seductive sound and somehow that was the key.

He smiled in return, then withdrew a bare inch and thrust. When John moaned and pushed back, he did it again.


It was, he decided two minutes after it was over, not an epiphanic moment. It was good, maybe even wonderful, but nothing special.

And then he called himself a liar and asked himself whom he thought he was kidding.


“Now’s about the time I say, ‘Are you okay, Harold?’” John said, his voice lazy with sleep.

“Are you okay, Harold?” he mocked mildly.

John snorted softly. “I’m fine. Better than fine.”

“Good.” He leaned up and kissed the rim of John’s ear.

John pushed gently and Harold let go, moving back so he could roll over.

They lay on their sides, just looking at each other. John’s hair was sticking up. He smoothed it down.

“What are you thinking?” John asked, stuffing his hand under his cheek.

“About when we first met. You’re hair was much more grey.”

“It still would be if I let it grow out.”

“Please don’t.”

John carefully slung his leg over Harold’s. “You don’t like the hobo look?”

He stroked John’s arm and then his hip. “Not particularly. I much prefer to see you in a suit. Or out of one, as the case may be.”

His little joke earned him a smile and they were both quiet for a moment and then John said, “Zoe wants in on the machine.”

He stopped stroking. So much for pillow talk. “What?”

“Well,” John amended with a shrug. “Not the machine exactly. Carter mentioned something about what we’ve been doing and Zoe wants to help.”

“More like she wants to know how it will benefit her.”

“I told her it was your call.”

Harold pushed free and sat up. “John, no one can know about the machine. Their lives would be in danger.”

John rolled to his back. “From the government?”

“Yes. She’s connected. If she starts poking around, she could alert the wrong element and believe me, paranoid doesn’t begin to describe their mindset.”

“All right.”

“You won’t tell her?”


He stared down at John.

He’d found in his dealings with the human race that most were unable to keep a secret. They always started with good intentions, but eventually rationalizations got in the way and they slipped around the truth until the secret was exposed.

But, as he’d also found, John wasn’t most people.

“Good,” he finally said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” John smiled into his eyes, that odd, intimate smile that made everything they’d just done pale in comparison.

He looked away and murmured, “I should go check on Leila.”

John sat up and slid out of bed. “I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?” There was a bite mark on John’s scapula, small and insignificant and no reason to feel so pleased.

John went to the dresser and got out a pair of sweatpants. “She might be hungry. Do you want some tea?” He tugged them on.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

He watched John go, then went to the bathroom. By the time John returned, ten minutes later with a tray and Leila on his hip, Harold had washed up, put on his pajamas and changed the sheets.

He reached for Leila. “I’ll take her.” She had her pacifier, but her eyes were bright with no sign that she’d been asleep. “Was she awake?”

“Very much so.” John sat the tray on the nightstand. “She was standing up, trying to reach the mobile." He bent and kissed the top of Leila’s head, adding, "Weren’t you, you sneaky monkey?”

Harold sighed. “I told you it was too low.”

“I know. I’ll raise it tomorrow.” He took Leila again, then crawled into bed. She curled against his chest and he ducked his head. “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”

Leila didn’t answer. Her eyes were already half-closed.

“I guess not,” John murmured.

Harold, caught by the scene, just stood there. “Theresa thinks Leila has gained weight. The books say a child’s eating and sleeping patterns can be interrupted if she’s going through a growth spurt.”

John squeezed her gently. “She does feel a little heavier. I’ll try to find a scale tomorrow.”

“She needs more fresh vegetables but I doubt you’ll find any—”

He couldn’t finish. A radiation band meant contamination of food as well as people and the realization hit with the force of a hammer. He stared at Leila in a kind of horror.


He glanced up. John was leaning over, his weight making the mattress dip.

“Don’t worry about that yet. We don’t know anything yet and we have enough food for Leila for at least eight weeks. After that…” He shrugged.

He shook his head, half in wonderment, half in helpless irritation. “How can you be so blasé about something that could kill us all?”

“Because it didn’t kill us all.”

“That doesn’t mean it won’t.

“No, but for whatever reason, we survived and we didn’t get sick. That means something.”

“Yes, but—”



“Remember what I told you about tomorrows?”

He stilled, remembering John, holding Leila close, quoting a dead cold war spy. “It’s always so simple with you,” he murmured absently.

“When you live hour to hour, you learn to take it day by day. We’ll be fine.” John patted the mattress. “Come on. Let’s let her sleep with us.”

Harold hesitated, then sighed and got into bed. Leila made a soft sound and he reached over and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Can you cut her hair tomorrow? It’s getting a little ragged.” It was a concession and John nodded.


“Not too short. Just enough to even it up.”


“Remember to talk to her—she needs the reinforcement.”

“About that…”

He glanced up. “Yes?”

“While we were out there, you know…” John jerked his head towards the window. “I had a chat with Elizabeth.”


“About why Leila doesn’t speak very much. She said she had the same problem when she was a baby.”

“What did her parents do?”

“Nothing. They kept talking and reading to her, like we do. Her mom said one day she just started chattering and never stopped.”

“Hmm.” The books had said the same thing, but he’d found the rational part of his brain always bowed before the emotional where Leila was concerned. Much, he thought with a sudden start, as it did for John.

“But that’s not the real worry,” John added, interrupting his train of thought.

“What’s the real worry?”


He frowned. “Schools?”

John nodded. “Schools. Apparently people sign their kids up before birth. We’re almost two years late.”

He smiled at John’s bemused tone and turned on his side, making himself comfortable. His leg was hurting from the strain of the sex and he should get up and get a painkiller, but he didn’t move. “That’s the one thing we don’t need to worry about. When all this is over, if we find my accounts here in the city are cleaned out, I have plenty of other resources. Leila can go to any school we choose.”

John slid down and gently placed Leila on the mattress between them. “Finch,” he murmured, “I don’t want Leila to go to the kind of school only people like you can afford. I want her to grow up like other kids.”

Harold raised an eyebrow but nodded. “Okay. We’ll make sure to give her fast food three times a week and all the television she can stand.”

John snorted. “You know what Imean.”

“Yes,” he said slowly. “I do know what you mean, Mr. Reese. You want to give her the things we didn’t have.”

John smiled and closed his eyes. “The things we didn't have. Within reason.”

He nodded agreement. “Within reason.”

Within reason.

In his opinion, connection, friendship and love weren’t reasonable. They were experiences fraught with pitfalls and heartache, leaving one to question their worth, always on the lookout for the next hazard.


Leila made a sound and her little face and fists clenched as if she were dreaming of something bad. He reached out and touched her arm lightly. After a moment, her expression relaxed and her hands uncurled.

So, reason, he thought as he glanced at Leila and beyond her, John. Two completely unreasonable, completely necessary parts of his new life. And like the other, he wouldn't go back who he'd been, even if he could.

He sighed, not unhappily, and tucked his hand under his pillow and closed his eyes.






Story notes: 

John Reese/Harold Finch, et al
Person of Interest
10,100+ words 
Episodes referenced: All, but mostly from Baby Blue
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me
Note: this story is an AU based on my NCIS:LA story, On the Road with the Dead