Chapter Eight: Wonderboy (5x13 Return 0)
WARNING: This chapter takes place after the finale and thus deals with John's death.
Fusco startled when someone dropped a pile of files on his desk. He put down the file he had been reading and looked up at the intruder. He didn't even know who the fellow detective was. Between those that went missing and those that got brought in from other workforces to help deal with the post-apocalypse mess, he didn't recognize anyone in the precinct anymore.
The one little upside of the whole situation is that the captain had disappeared along with most of the cops that had appeared to be agents of Samaritan, the bad AI, and there was no one to question Fusco's legitimacy in the 8th precinct. On the contrary, as one of the most renowned "historical" figures of the precinct, he was one of the rare detectives everyone knew for sure who he was and therefore, trusted.
Fusco sighed and glanced over to the desk facing his. Detective Riley was still nowhere to be seen. A lot of the cops that went missing the day everything went to hell had reappeared as dead bodies found at the site of the missile strike. Some of them had been killed by the blast, but a large number had been mortally shot. There must have been a hell of a fight in there, and no doubt John had taken part in it, but there was no sign of him, good or bad. Detective Riley was still missing.
For now, Fusco had managed to defend his partner's desk, despite the lack of space at the precinct, and the stacks of files piling up on his desk. It had been ten days now, and with no signs of John, Lionel was getting a little desperate. It wasn't unlike John to disappear without leaving a note, and John wasn't one for a social call. But ten days was a damn long time, even for him. And if not John, then Harold should have called.
No news is no news, Shaw had said with her usual laconic manners.
Well, that wasn't good enough for Fusco. He glanced at his special phone sitting desperately quiet on his desk. No news was not good news.
Lionel kept staring at his silent phone. There was one thing he could try…
Fusco straightened the collar of his coat against the wind and resolutely walked to the phone booth across the street. He picked up the phone, like he had seen John do. He wasn't sure what to expect, and confronted with the silence of the line, he felt really stupid. How did that damn thing work? Was he supposed to insert money? Dial a number?
"Hello, Lionel," Root's voice answered.
Lionel's heart missed a beat. "Co- Cocoa Puffs?"
"No, Lionel, it's The Machine. I have just chosen Root's voice as my own. She's always been my voice, after all."
That was deeply disturbing. It sounded so much like Root. But Lionel had seen her cold dead body, and as strange as it sounded, the most rational explanation was that indeed, the artificial super intelligence Harold had built was talking with Root's voice.
His mouth was dry all of a sudden. He couldn't bear the pain of asking the question.
"Lionel?" Root's voice called. "I'm built to predict people, but I can't read minds – yet. I'm guessing you have a question for me?"
Fusco took a deep breath. His heart was pounding hard in his chest.
"John and Glasses. Do you know… What happened to them?"
He was holding onto the phone handset as if it were a lifeline.
His cellphone buzzed in his jacket, startling him. With a shaky hand he retrieved it from his pocket. On the screen was playing a blurry video from a surveillance camera. Squinting, he brought the phone close to his eyes. He recognized the small figure of Harold, sitting on a bench in a park. By his side, holding his hand, was a woman with vivid red hair, that Lionel recognized as one of the people they had rescued. He remembered driving her to the airport, as she was on her way to start a new life, in Italy.
His throat tightened by emotion, he spoke into the payphone again. "So, Harold made it? He's in Italy?"
"Yes," The Machine answered. "He's in Italy, with Grace, his fiancée."
"What about John?"
Anxiously, Lionel stared at his phone's screen, waiting for a second video to appear. But the screen remained black.
"I'm sorry, Lionel," the Machine said softly.
Finally, the screen switched on, showing a black and white image of a grave, in what looked like a military cemetery. John Tallis it said.
He felt his heart tighten. His vision got blurry, and for a second, he thought he was going to pass out. Closing his eyes, he leaned against the phone booth to catch his breath.
John was dead. Wonderboy. His friend, his partner. The man who saved his life. The man who, in some twisted way, bullied him into becoming a better man.
"Is that… his real name?" Lionel articulated, his voice breaking.
"Yes," The Machine said gently. "John would have said it didn't matter to him, but Harold knew it did. John never felt worthy of wearing his father's name, except maybe at that very last moment, when he went and saved the world. He saved me, too. But I think what really mattered to him at that moment was that he saved Harold. So, as a final gift, Harold made sure John got buried under his true name."
Lionel swept away the tears running down his cheeks with the back of his sleeve.
"Lionel?" The Machine called.
He cleared his voice. "Yes?"
"John would be glad to know you made it. Saving people is what has always driven him. He sacrificed his life so that we could continue to live ours. So go back to your life, to your son, and be a good cop. That's what John would have wanted for you."
Lionel nodded and swept the back of his hand across his nose. It had been more than a week, he should have been prepared for John's death. But he had refused to really picture this possibility. It wasn't just that John had become a true friend and even his partner at the precinct, but their secret mission of saving people, like some kind of heroic vigilantes, had become the center of Lionel's existence. What was he going to become now?
"So… Are we going to continue helping people?"
"If that is your wish, Lionel, I'd be honored to continue working with you. We may have been introduced officially only recently, but I've been watching you for a long time. I know what a valuable member of the team you have been."
Lionel wasn't sure he'd know how to do it all by himself. He was more comfortable with John and Glasses giving him directions.
"Don't worry, Lionel. Shaw will contact you. It won't be the same, but we'll rebuild a team. We'll continue what Harold and John started. We are their legacy."
Lionel nodded. "Thank you," he said with a small voice before hanging up the phone.
He suddenly felt terribly alone. And for the first time in five years, he felt the need to get drunk, to forget.
Don't you do anything stupid, Lionel. Go home.
The voice in his head sounded horribly like John's. Lionel shook his head, but he knew the voice was right. So he walked back to his car and drove to his son's high school. It was still early, and Lee wouldn't come out for another hour, but Lionel just wanted to be with him, so he decided to wait there.
Shortly after five, Lionel spotted Lee, as he came out of the school with a couple of friends. Lionel got out of his car and walked to them. Lee was surprised to see him. It wasn't in his dad's habits to come and get him after school.
"Dad, what are you doing here?" he asked.
Lee was a teenager now, and even though they had reconnected and Lee was now living with him half of the time, Lionel also knew to let his son live his own life. He couldn't catch up with all the years he missed, but he was now doing his best to be the dad Lee needed. Even when it meant Lee would rather spend time with his friends.
But tonight Lionel really needed his son.
He vaguely waved at Lee's friends and looked at his son. "I just thought I'd come and get you. I… I wanted to see you…"
Lee frowned and gave his dad a look over. "Is everything okay, Dad?"
"Yeah… I …." Lionel stuttered, unsure on how to explain. "Everything's fine. I just… I need to tell you something. Can you come with me?"
Lee looked skeptical, but he probably felt it was important, and he didn't argue. He simply said a quick goodbye to his friends and followed his dad to the car.
In silence, Lionel drove them to John and Harold's favorite spot, under the Queensboro Bridge. They left their phones in the car and walked to the lonely bench facing Manhattan. There, far enough from any surveillance camera and or recording device, Lionel started telling his son the incredible story of how a tall and dark stranger forced his way into his life. He left out a few of the less commendable parts, and didn't mention anything regarding The Machine, but he told him everything about how he became part of a secret group helping people, and how, together, they saved the world.
"I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wasn't for John," Lionel concluded. "He was a bonafide hero, and the most loyal friend, even though he had a hard time showing it sometimes…"