croik: (Finch)
[personal profile] croik
If you follow me on tumblr you've probably seen THIS coming, lol.

Fandom: Person of Interest
Title: The Beta Period
Words: 3,440 (Oneshot)
Rating: R
Characters: Finch
Warnings: Descriptions of violence and bigotry.
Disclaimer: These characters and setting do not belong to me and are being used without permission but for no profit
Summary: Before Finch had Reese, he did his best alone. His best was never good enough.
Notes: C&C Welcome and appreciated. At the moment I think it's pretty canon-compliant pre-show fic, but I'm sure that will change as more episodes come out, so feel free to think of it as AU.





The machine gave him a number. It belonged to Alicia Barnes.

Finch found out everything he could about her. She was thirty-seven, 5'8", married, no children. She worked at the headquarters of a major software corporation and often stayed after hours. For almost a week Finch watched her make the trip from her condo to the office, watched her go about her work via the building's security cameras, watched her say goodnight to the security guard and leave through the parking garage. He wasn't able to find any indication of why the machine might have picked her.

It was after nine in the evening. Finch was finally getting around to finishing half a carton of fried rice when Alicia left her office and went downstairs. She said goodnight to the guard, and Finch watched her cross from the parking garage toward her car at the other end. Her fuzzy, black and white image slipped out of frame. Finch switched to a different camera.

The parking garage was well monitored, but there was one small space that was covered by none of the cameras. It was no more than twenty square feet as far as Finch could tell, and he was used to seeing Alicia disappear from one camera and reappear in the next a few seconds later. That night, she didn't reappear. Finch didn't even realize at first; he was sipping his tea, and automatically cycled to the next camera that showed where her car was parked. When she didn't show up, he had to backtrack to figure out where he had lost her.

He checked her phone, thinking that maybe she had stopped in order to take a call or send a message, and found nothing. He checked the guard's office but didn't spot anything out of the ordinary. As the seconds ticked by and Alicia still did not make an appearance, Finch grew more concerned. He clicked back and forth between the cameras, tense and searching.

Six minutes after Alicia disappeared the night guard went for his rounds. After reaching the gap in the cameras he raced back to his post and called 911. Finch listened in: Alicia was dead. Someone had backed her up to a pillar and shot her in the heart. Finch didn't know why and he never would, but he had watched it happen--had sat behind his computer while a woman was murdered. He didn't sleep for a week.

***


The machine gave him a number. It led him to Asim Kabir.

It didn't take long for Finch to realize that he wasn't the only one watching Asim. The man and his family were active members of their community, and volunteered often at a local Muslim community center--a center that had fallen into the crosshairs of its prejudicial neighbors. Finch was able to find references to it in the locked Facebook comments of several self-proclaimed neo-Nazis. They had picked Asim for being the head of the youth program, and were planning to attack him in his home, to "make an example" of him and the supposed message of terror he was spreading to impressionable children.

Finch didn't waste any time. He collected all the evidence he could and forwarded it to the police, and he waited. Nothing made it to the news, but he saw the police pay a visit to the conspirators. A few were taken in and questioned. Charges were never filed, but as the days passed it seemed as if their plans had been abandoned. Their bigotry remained, expressed through more careful language, but Finch couldn't devote any more of his time to them, not unless the machine indicated again that a threat was eminent.

Three weeks later, Asim was mugged and brutalized a block from his home. He survived, but in trying to defend himself his left arm was broken in several places, and he almost lost his hand. When Finch went back through what he could of the machine's stored data, trying to find some record of the attack, he discovered that the perpetrators were none of the men and women he had investigated. They were caught, and it was determined that the only motivation behind the crime had been greed, spurred by the moment, completely without premeditation. It was not an incident the machine could have ever predicted.

In the city, a person was murdered every eighteen hours, give or take. The machine couldn't catch them all, let alone the muggings, the rapes, the thefts, the arsons. But Finch could see them all, if only he would watch. Watch, and do nothing.

***


The machine gave him the number of Hannah White.

She was low tech. She didn't have a Facebook, barely used her cell phone or computer, and didn't even leave her house often except to go to work and run errands. She had been married for less than a year and had an infant son, Daniel. Her husband, Richard, was a school teacher. She had an ordinary life with the fewest of complications.

With the number of anonymous tips via email that Finch had been sending lately, the police had gotten suspicious, and without any information to give them anyway, he did the best he could by himself. He learned Hannah's routine, and when she finally deviated from it, he followed her. She took a day off work to go to Central Park. Finch had a hard time keeping up. By the time he caught up to her, sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons, his entire body was throbbing--he hadn't taken his usual medication because he needed to be as clear as possible if he was going to change anything.

A man sat down next to her. They talked for a few minutes, and then Hannah handed him an envelope. Finch couldn't tell much from its shape, but his instinct told him it was cash. The man tucked it into his jacket and left, casting Finch a wary eye as he did.

Finch didn't know what his plan was up until the moment he approached and said, "Whatever you're going to do, I wish you wouldn't."

Hannah flinched and stared up at him. "Who are you?"

"I can help you," Finch said. He didn't know if it was true. "If you would just--"

"Are you a cop?" She stood and glanced around nervously. "Is this a...was he undercover?"

"No." Finch frowned. "No, I don't really know anything. Except that--"

"Then you can't help me," Hannah snapped. She turned and strode quickly away.

Finch left the park and found the nearest payphone. He dialed the police's anonymous tip line, and gave them Hannah's name and home address. "I think something terrible is going to happen to her or her family," he said. "I'm sorry I can't be more specific."

"Sir, what leads you to believe that Mrs. White is in danger?"

"I can't say." Finch rubbed his eyes. "Please, there's not much time."

"Sir, if you can't tell me--"

Finch hung up. He went back to the library and did his best to track down the man Hannah had met with. He had a hunch, but just like Hannah herself there was very little digital trail to follow. He had no leads.

The next morning, the news reported that Richard White had died in a freak accident at home. There was no forced entry, no sign of foul play, but when Finch followed the police broadcast he noticed an officer investigating the phone booth he had placed his call from. He knew there was no reason to worry--fingerprints on a public phone meant nothing, and without any evidence at the scene of the crime the local cops wouldn't waste their resources investigating far. Still, Finch told himself never to go to the cops again.

***


The machine gave him Andre DuBois.

"His name is Andre DuBois," Finch said, sliding a manila folder across the desk. "Everything I know about him is in here. I want you to keep an eye on him, but stay out of sight. He doesn't know that I've asked you to do this."

The man opposite him was Carl Hennov, of the Yateman Security firm. "This isn't normally how I do business," he said. "If this kid is in trouble, why wouldn't he know about it?"

"There's enough money in there to cover irrelevant questions," Finch replied.

Hennov made a face, but when he opened the envelope and saw the promised bills, he straightened in his chair. "All right. How long do you want me to cover him?"

"At the end of the week I'll contact you again, either to cancel the job or give you more money. If you spot anything out of the ordinary..." Finch frowned, but he had little choice. "...you have my permission to involve the police. But if anyone asks--"

"This conversation never happened, I get it." Hennov tugged at his ear. "Pretty sure the name you gave me was fake anyway." He tucked the envelope into his jacket. "I'll take good care of your boy."

Finch kept an eye on Hennov and DuBois from his computer, as always. He knew that DuBois was being watched by a local gang--a cell of a larger, organized ring. By the time Finch realized that DuBois was a member, not a victim, it was too late. Hennov followed DuBois to an empty children's park where eight men were waiting, having long caught on to the tail. They were carrying bats and pipes and crowbars.

Finch called 911 and related the address, then left the computer. There was nothing more he could do, and he couldn't bear to watch. He learned later the Hennov had survived, but was brain damaged. When he felt a flash of relief in knowing that Hennov couldn't report him to the cops, it was followed by guilt so strong he hobbled to the bathroom and vomited.

***


Joe Barillo.

Thirty-five years old, 6'1", two small children. He was eating breakfast at a small hole-in-the-wall diner when Finch slid into the booth across from him. He glanced up with a start. "Who're you?"

Finch sagged into the plastic seat. He knew what he must have looked like, pale and haggard from insomnia, but he hoped the expensive cut of his suit would lend him at least some credibility. "Mr. Barillo," he said, "I want you to listen to me carefully. You're in danger."

The color left Barillo's cheeks; he knew immediately what Finch meant. "Did they send you?" he asked, ducking into his broad shoulders. "I'll get them the money, I swear--I just need a few more days."

"They didn't send me, but I am here to help you." Finch pulled out his checkbook and a pen. "I will give you thirty-thousand dollars, if you promise to pay off your debt and take your family out of the city for a few days."

Barillo gaped. "What?"

Finch wrote in the date and Barillo's name. "Is thirty not enough?"

"Wait--are you a cop?" Barillo glanced around in sudden paranoia. "If you're a cop, isn't this some kind of entrapment?"

"I'm not with the police," Finch said, trying not to let his impatience show. "I'm trying to help you." He signed the check without having put in an amount and showed it to him. "I'm very serious. You need to take your family and leave the city for at least a week."

Barillo shook his head, disbelieving. "And go where?"

"It doesn't matter. Your mother's cottage in Pennsylvania, maybe. Disney World, the Rockies--just get them out of the city--the state, even." When Barillo continued to stare at him, stunned, frustration made his voice sharp. "Please, Mr. Barillo. Think of your children."

Barillo took a deep breath and glanced about one more time. "Thirty's not enough."

Finch finished writing the check out for fifty-thousand dollars and slid it across the table. Barillo snatched it up, and without another word he dashed out of the diner.

Finch rubbed his face with both hands. They were shaking slightly, and he told himself over and over that there was nothing else he could do, until he had calmed enough to pay for Barillo's breakfast and go home. He didn't want to look at monitors. He had done something good, something that might save a man and his family, and he wanted to preserve that frail sensation of accomplishment as long as possible. That night he slept soundly for the first time weeks.

The next morning, Finch had the television on while he ate breakfast. The morning news was interrupted with live coverage from a house fire, where a man and his family had tragically burned to death. Finch felt his stomach clench into knots, but it wasn't until the names were released that the blow came. His orange juice smashed and splattered across the kitchen hardwood. His knees buckled, and he clutched at the countertop, but it wasn't enough; he hit the ground with a painful thud.

He had failed, again. Even with the machine, with all his knowledge and skill, alone there was nothing he could do and no one he could trust. He wept, overcome with bitterness and frustration. He was utterly helpless.

***


For the next three months, Finch didn't go back to the library. He tried to live normally, covering his tracks, monitoring and guiding his investments from afar. He stopped watching the news. He did whatever he could to separate himself from the numbers with the simplicity of everyday life, and for the most part, he succeeded. It was at night that his efforts were thwarted, where his dreams were all distant black and white, filtered through security camera static. He dreamt of numbers and gunshots and pixelated blood.

One night when Finch couldn't sleep and wasn't inclined to turn to pills, he left home and went to a long-hours café. A cup of tomato soup and a mug of green tea helped calm his frayed nerves. His tip was generous. As he left the café, breathing in the chill night air, he noticed a group of three young men following after. The hairs prickled on the back of his neck, but he kept walking, thinking that maybe he could duck into the twenty-four hour pharmacy on the corner until they moved on. He wasn't so lucky that night.

"Got a nasty limp there, Mister," said one. "Maybe you should have a cane or something."

Finch didn't look back. "I'm fine, thank you."

"You want us to walk you home?" taunted another.

Finch swallowed and didn't answer. He knew that if he tried to go any faster it would only make it more apparent to his pursuers that he couldn't, so he kept his paces even, his gaze on the gleam from the shop door ahead of him.

One of the young men grabbed his arm and pulled, dragging him into an alley several feet short of his destination. He didn't fight, but was punched in the face anyway. The blow turned his whole body, sent him crashing into the alley wall, pain searing down his nerves like lightning. He pawed involuntarily at the brick in search of a handhold, some stability, but then another fist in his gut stole his breath and sent him to the ground.

"Saw you give old Bonnie at least thirty percent," said one of the men. Finch stayed very still as they pawed through his suit looking for his wallet. His throbbing face and neck wreaked havoc on his concentration, but he was still able to make a quick calculation of what identification he had on him, and if he could afford to lose it. "We're hard-working folk, yeah? I think we deserve a cut of that."

"Hey!" Just before they could reach his breast pocket, a voice boomed from further down the alley, followed by frantic shouting in Chinese. The men jerked back, but it wasn't the burly man in a chef's coat that sent them racing for the street: it was the unmistakable rack of a shotgun.

Finch slouched against the alley wall, listening to the muggers retreat followed by the hurried footsteps of his rescuer. "Are you all right?" the man asked him, carefully touching his shoulder. "Did they cut you?"

Finch took a few slow breaths to calm himself and then removed his handkerchief, wiping the blood from his split lip. "I'm all right," he said weakly. "Thank you."

"Let's get you up."

The chef helped Finch to his feet and led him inside, through the back door of the café he had just left. "I was just cleaning up, but I can make you something," he offered. "Or some coffee? On the house."

"No, thank you." Finch sat down on a stool, and only then realized how fast his heart was still beating. When the chef offered him some ice, he wrapped it in his handkerchief to hold against his swelling lip. "You wouldn't really have shot them, would you?" he asked.

"Huh? Oh." The chef smirked and pulled a small recording device out of his pocket. When he pressed play, it issued the familiar clack of a shotgun. "It only works in the dark," he said, "but it's usually enough to scatter punks. Not bad, is it?"

Finch smiled. "Very clever."

"You have to do what you can these days."

Finch's chest tightened. He watched the chef go about his end of the night cleaning, feeling the ice numb his pursed lips. For a moment his gaze swam, and he imagined the chef in gritty black and white, a number swirling over his head. After several attempts he said again, "Thank you."

The chef grinned. "Don't worry about it. If you don't mind waiting, I'll finish up here and walk you out. You live nearby, right? I see you here all the time."

"Yes...I do."

***


The next day, Finch went back to the library.

He dusted off his equipment, booted up the computer, and with reluctance checked the reports he had missed in his absence. There were twenty-nine numbers.

Finch went to work, connecting every number to a name, every name to a life and, in some cases, to a police report. Of the twenty-nine numbers, twenty-four of them had resulted in a violent crime or death. He analyzed what he could of each case and was able to solve some, even if it did little good. He printed out articles and faces, tacking them to the walls, determined never to let himself forget the price of his negligence.

"There has to be some way," he muttered, over and over, as he tried to find a pattern--to understand why some of the numbers had not resulted badly, even without his interference. "I didn't try everything. There has to be..."

The answer was in number seventeen, Amy Umbridge. As Finch sorted through hours of surveillance footage he found her leaving a night club with a group of friends. They were attacked, but it wasn't the police that intervened and saved her life, or even a broad-shouldered cook getting off his shift--it was a homeless man in rags. Just moments before the incident he looked to be unconscious, a tattered and hopeless drunk sleeping amongst the trash, but as soon as the women were set upon, he jerked into decisive action. Within seconds the men were dispatched through a series of movements too fast for even the camera to catch. The women scattered, and by the time the police responded to their call the man had slinked off, disappearing into the alleyways.

Finch leaned back in his chair. He watched the footage through several times and felt perspiration collect on his brow. Emotion boiled in his chest--he wanted to scream, to be furious at the black and white apparition that had, in a drunken stupor, done what all his genius and fortune had failed to achieve. He came close to it, but was held back by the humbling realization that this ragged nobody was the answer he had been seeking: someone with skill, and strength, and the know-how that Finch himself lacked. No ordinary street man could have fought off three professional enforcers with luck and fury alone.

"Who are you?" Finch murmured, tracing the footage back. He needed to know where the man had come from, where he had gone, anything that would serve as a clue to his identity and origins. "Who are you?" He devoted all his focus to the mystery assailant, desperate to continue until he knew everything.

And that's what he did.

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