Something To Numb The Soul
Tag to In Extremis - spoilers for all of season 2. The events of this episode don't sit right with me, and I don't think it would sit with our team well either. I'm sorry if it's a bit too morose in parts but I promise to give them back slightly better than when I found them. As always, I'd love to hear what you think of it.
Harold Finch has been preoccupied. The Machine has been disconcerting him for a while now, actually, since Kara Stanton released the virus. But lately it had been giving them the numbers far too late to do anything. Bill Szymanski's number, he had been prepared to accept as an anomaly. It was possible that HR moved so fast that the time between the decision that had been made to end his life, thus bringing him up on The Machine's radar, to the moment he was gunned down had been too short to act upon. Cal Beecher's untimely fate too, less likely but possible. Although there had to be some form of planning that went into both, and the machine had spit out numbers before with much less to go on. By the time they'd realised their latest number, the esteemed doctor had also been given to them too late, he had to accept his suspicions confirmed. That this was a part of the glitch. It would not be long before the virus took over, he'd built contingencies of course, but if working with Mr Reese had taught him one thing, it was that nothing could be truly predicted.
He stands up from the computer desk and moves into the kitchen. His hand reaches for the kettle and a packet of loose leaf tea but then he changes his mind and reaches for the top cupboard instead. When he'd first taken over The Library, he'd found a bottle of expensive single malt that Nathan had left. Most of it had already been drunk, Harold imagined his old friend sitting here in the dark ruminating over all those people he'd been unable to save, drinking himself into one of his dark moods night after night.
Harold had been too late to save the first number he'd tried to help. Of course he had, he'd been a cripple in a wheelchair, recovering from his third spinal surgery in as many months, realistically what could he have done? He'd come back to The Library in defeat and had dragged the bottle from the shelf and stared at it a long time, wondering how much of it would be required to take away the pain; the pain of his injuries, the pain of the loss of his best friend and the woman he had been going to marry, and the loss of that poor woman who he'd been unable to help.
In the end he'd poured out one small measure, dashed a drop on the floor for the fallen and sipped it quietly. Once that was done he'd put the bottle away. Drink was a vice of his partner's, not his. He'd been determined not to wallow in despair, no matter how easy it would be to do just that in the circumstances. He needed help, he'd decided, and his thoughts had turned to the dangerous yet tragic looking man he'd seen earlier at the hospital, the one who'd asked after the woman he'd failed, Jessica Arndt. He'd come across the scant information about the man while researching the potential threat to his old flame, and he had to believe that The Machine, in it's way, had given him the solution.
That had been the right decision then, Harold smiles sadly, and it was going to be the right decision again today. He measures out a small amount of the whiskey and puts the rest back. He was surprised that the bottle had lasted since he'd entered into a partnership with Mr Reese, a man who had no issues with stealing the last doughnut or using up the milk and forgetting to replace it. But the ex-operative must have guessed the drink had held some particular relevance and had left it alone, in favour of his own cheaper brand.
His thoughts turn to his deadly employee. He's not sure when he'd come to trust the man with his life, possibly when he was rescued from Root, but likely even before that. Once they'd worked out the murderer and the motive in their latest case, he'd left the other man to finish off, there if needed but otherwise focussing all his attention on finding a work around for this virus so that when the next number up it wouldn't be too late.
He'd realised he'd dropped the ball when he'd received the call from Detective Carter asking to borrow Bear. He and Reese had agreed it was safer for both detectives if they kept their distance for the time being, but obviously they should have been keeping a closer eye on things. When Carter explained she had asked Reese for help with Fusco and had been shot down, Finch knew something was wrong. He'd called John immediately, assuming that the ex-operative was in trouble and that was why he hadn't rushed to assist. The nonchalant answer he'd received instead had been a blow.
He'd known the other man had seemed withdrawn since Rikers and his brush with death on the top of that government building. Even Bear had picked up on it and had been thoroughly miserable as a result. Now Harold could kick himself, he'd looked for ways to fix their dog's depression but not John's. Instead he'd allowed his partner to shut himself away, distance himself from all of them. He was going through the motions at work, doing what he thought was required of him, but without the empathy he'd once had. He'd not spoken to either detective in weeks, not even when Beecher had died, and his casual dismissal of Fusco's problems with IA was colder than he'd ever seen him. When he'd asked John the details of what he'd been doing upstate, the clipped response had made him want to throw up.
Finch sips his whiskey, determined to only allow himself that one, even though he wants to finish the bottle and then go out and buy another. How could things have gone so far? How do you fix a man who believes he's broken? He reaches out to his phone, about to call him, but he can't bring himself to, and instead sits in the dark, his hand hovering over the small device as he sips his whiskey and wonders if he's lost another friend.
Joss Carter wears a mask. It's the one she used in Iraq and Afghanistan, the one she puts on for particularly horrendous crime scenes and the one she wears sometimes when her son casually asks her how her day was at work.
The truth is she hasn't been happy at work for a long time, although she's fairly sure her son and her mother have no idea. Occasionally she looks back at that photo of her in uniform at her graduation from the NYPD academy and wonders how she could have been so naive. She had been so convinced she was doing the right thing, that this would be a way to make a difference. That's all she ever wanted after all, to be able to leave the world in a slightly better way than when she'd been born into it.
The NYPD was supposed to be a lot of things. It was supposed to be that chance to make a difference and a way to get justice for people who couldn't get it for themselves. It was also supposed to be a family. It was a good recruiting tool, be a part of something, a job that was tough and challenging but also one where you looked out for each other. No matter what horrors the day would bring, there was supposed to be this team of people to have your back, buy you a beer when you needed one, a team you could share anything with because you were all in it together.
For a stupidly long time, she'd believed in that, even though her experiences in the army, another institution that prided itself on 'family', had proved it was a fantasy. Along the way though, for every good friend she made, there were others who didn't believe she deserved to be there. She'd heard complete strangers speculate on if she was tough enough because she was a woman, or whether she'd only gotten her promotion to detective because she was black and the department had a quota to fill.
Those things she could shrug off. She knew the best thing was to keep quiet and prove them wrong by being the best damned officer, the best damned detective she could be. But it was much harder to ignore those who didn't share her ideals; those that were lazy, or racist or full on corrupt. Bad cops were thankfully few and far between, but there were still too many for her liking and she hated not knowing who she could trust. If this was a family it was a dysfunctional one, the kind that would earn an hour long special on Jerry Springer.
Once the idea of family had gone from her work, so had everything else. She still enjoys putting bad guys away, but all too often, despite all her best efforts they would be out again all too soon. Too much of the job is tied up in red tape, while offenders bent the rules and the system let them free.
She'd almost completely given up hope with her job. She still did it to the best of her ability, because that was who she was and incapable of doing anything else, but privately she'd wondered if there was not a better way of making that difference she wanted to.
It had been Reese and Finch, and later Fusco, that had reignited the fire in her. They hadn't played by the rules, and Joss Carter had always been a stickler for the rules, but they saved people. It was what she wanted with all her heart and so really she'd jumped into it with both feet.
Somewhere, in her attempts to protect people, and as a result John, the lines had gotten blurred. She'd always felt a sense that she was doing the right thing but she'd crossed the line so many times that by the time she found herself destroying evidence to save him from prison she'd done so much that her moral compass was spinning enough to make her dizzy.
And now she'd done the unthinkable again, only this time it had been so much worse. She'd come home late to find Taylor playing video games in the living room. She'd poured herself a glass of wine and sat beside him, watching him shoot Nazi-zombies and pretending not to notice the encrusted mud on her suit pants. Taylor casually told her about his day and when he asked about hers, she kept that mask firmly fixed.
Eventually she tells him he has to go to bed, there's school in the morning. She makes him kiss her goodnight as he shuffles off to clean his teeth. She pours herself another glass. When she lets the mask slip, there's no one there to see it.
Lionel Fusco's hands are still shaking, even hours after the fact. He'd kept it together all day but now it's as though all that pent up fear has coming crashing down at once, and the shockwaves are still sending tremors through his body. The trembling hands are reminiscent of a drunk going through withdrawal, a misconception that he's not going to dispel any time soon as he's already on his fifth beer. He's been putting them back like the world is ending. In fairness, his world nearly did.
He'd demanded his badge and gun back and sat in his chair, trying to get on with his day as though nothing had phased him. Carter had even given him a case to look over, her way of showing him she still trusted him. He'd been about to call Wonderboy, thank him for getting him out of this latest scrape, when he'd noticed Carter with Bear and the mud they were both covered in.
The realisation of who had actually come to his rescue left him stunned. It was all he could do to make it through the rest of his shift before grabbing his coat and heading to a dingy Irish bar a safe enough distance from the precinct. He'd picked a booth in the back, ordered two beers, drunk the first one in minutes and then sobbed into the second.
The relief was overwhelming. It was something he thought he'd never feel again. Many years ago, the job had destroyed his marriage and soon after, the destruction of his marriage had destroyed his job. It had been a long time since he'd felt anything but anger and disappointment at what he'd become, he was sarcastic and bitter and could only pretend not to be on those rare occasions he got to hang out with his son.
He never would have guessed that trip out to Oyster Bay would have changed his life as much as it did. He'd had to be cajoled, but slowly, John Reese had dragged him down his own road to redemption and he figured they were both becoming better people because of it.
Did John Reese deserve to be redeemed? Fusco didn't know. And if he did, did that mean that Fusco deserves it too?
He sits, staring into his third, fourth and then fifth beer wondering just this question. He didn't think so, he doubts Reese thinks so either, but Carter did. And really that was the reason for the embarrassing display of emotion, because it's been a really long time since anyone believed he was worth anything at all.
He realises that thinking about it is going to set the waterworks going again and it's almost closing time anyway, so he downs the dregs of his last pint and steps out somewhat unsteadily into the street. It's a long walk home and it's snowing again, but he feels he should enjoy his freedom, after all, there's no guarantee it will last. He's been given a reprieve, for now, but there's nothing to say that tomorrow won't turn up a new piece of evidence that can't be spirited away by a determined detective and a borrowed dog. He turns the collar of his coat up against the cold and even begins to sing quietly to himself as he starts the long journey home.
John Reese hates himself. It's not a revelation, he's known for a long time. He suspects he's hated himself since a day in an airport in 2006 when he'd refused to say three little words, perhaps even before that. He wonders if the CIA would have considered recruiting him otherwise. After all, it had suited their needs that he had little sense of self preservation and felt he deserved everything that was thrown at him.
He takes a slug of bourbon, straight from the bottle and when he sets it down again, his clumsy hands almost knock it off the ledge to the ground a long way below. He looks down, past his long legs that are dangling precariously over the edge to the street that is becoming dusted with snow. It's late and freezing cold, cold weather always seeps into all the old injuries, makes him feel a hundred years old. There are very few people about, it would be so easy just to slip off the ledge, he wonders how long it would take for someone to find him. But he knows he doesn't deserve for this agony to be over and Harold doesn't deserve to have to scrape him off the sidewalk.
Harold. The man that had dragged him out of his pit of despair the last time he'd made a concerted effort to drink himself to death. He truly had been saved by that eccentric little man and had found in him a friend, the most unlikely of people. A friend and a mission, it wasn't much but it had been everything he'd needed. And through that he'd found himself collecting even more; he has other friends now too, people who would put their lives on the line for him, he has a dog that adores him and a place that while perhaps he'll never call it home, was a more permanent residence than anywhere since he'd become an adult. He'd never been more truthful when he'd told Harold that he was happy.
But that was the problem, Rikers had been difficult, to pass his interrogation he'd allowed himself to be open and vulnerable, and then Kara had come and dashed him against the rocks. As he was stood on that rooftop, the timer on his bomb vest ticking down the seconds to his destruction, all he'd thought about was how blessed he'd been at the end. But when it was all over and the adrenaline had dissipated he'd realised just how selfish he'd been. He was putting all these people in harms way just by being near them, and the loss of any one of them would be a devastation that he just could not bear.
The only remedy was to close himself off, push them away so that the next time his past caught up with him or the investigation of a number went sideways, there would be no one to throw themselves or their career away in a show of loyalty that he did not deserve. The plan would leave him alone, but he was good at being alone. After all he'd done, it was what he deserved anyway.
So far it hadn't worked, but it would. At the moment Finch still watched him with a sad expression on his face and Carter still called him regularly. At first it had been 'to talk', and when that hadn't worked it had just been to 'run something by him' relating to a case, eventually he knew she'd give up completely. Fusco on the other hand had reacted to being left alone with relief, and who could blame him after the way John had manipulated him.
The gruff detective is part of the reason he is sat up on this roof now, ignoring the cold making past breaks and bullet wounds ache as he watches the snow fall. He's been pretending to himself and everyone else that he doesn't care. Ignoring the requests for help by concentrating on the case in front of him and blocking out the part of him that screams that what is happening to Fusco is all his fault.
The scariest thing about it, is how easy he had slipped back into that old persona, as he assisted the dying doctor with his revenge. The John of a few months ago would have talked him out of it, told him that he was done killing people in cold blood, handed over the information to the police and then gone to rescue his friend. But as soon as he allowed it, the old Mr Reese had come back, like releasing a feral animal from a too small cage. See, he thinks bitterly to himself, he always knew he was a monster.
The only thing to do with monsters is vanquish them. He should have let Carter catch him back before he turned her. She's one of the best people he knows and has been helping people a lot longer than him. She's spent her whole life doing it, and not because she has to, not to atone for anything, but because it's the right thing to do. And yet he's managed to corrupt her too. If he allows things to carry on then she'll lose everything and it'll be his fault. The image of her fighting back the tears as she desperately offered to stay with him and try to defuse that bomb will stay with him forever.
From the moment she'd met him, back when he was just a homeless drunk, Carter had cared about him. He didn't deserve that. It's why he sleeps with Zoe, she's a fun distraction, but also pragmatic and aloof, not looking for anything more, doesn't ask about his feelings or expect him to open up about his past. Carter is something else, she gets into his soul, sees things about him he'd rather keep hidden, if she looks too hard she'll see what he sees and hate him too.
He mumbles a curse at the thought of the fearless detective. She's as tough as they come, but she's been through hell and he's barely spoken to her. There are days when he wants nothing more than to wrap her in his arms and try to take all the hurt away, but he knows if he does that it will be all the harder to put that distance between them. It was a hard decision, but he'd made hard decisions before, now he had to stick it out.
That's worth another swig of bourbon and he almost drains the bottle. He used to be a bit of a lightweight when it came to alcohol, but Kara had made sure that he could operate even under the influence and now it took a vast amount to get him drunk. She'd corrupted him in that way as she'd corrupted him in all others. He has succeeded in his efforts to get wasted this evening though, so when he notices a familiar portly figure shuffle down the street while humming an off-key tune, the bottle slips from his clumsy fingers in surprise.
The bottle falls the five storeys and smashes a few feet in front of Fusco, glass skittering across the sidewalk.
"What the hell?" Fusco looks up, squints as though he's not sure what he's seeing and then shouts, "Hey, Wonderboy! Is that you?"
John really doesn't want to be found in this state, he wishes a black hole would just open up and swallow him.
"Hey, you should come down from there." Fusco calls.
John tries to, draws one long leg up to the ledge he's on, but he's uncoordinated and numb with cold and it unbalances him. For a moment he thinks he is going to end up splattered on the sidewalk after all.
Fusco clearly thinks so too, because he shouts up in a panic, "Hold on! I'll be right there!" And rushes into the block looking for a way to the roof.
John takes a couple of minutes to try and compose himself, and then suddenly Fusco's hands are grabbing him under the arms and rather inelegantly pulling him off the ledge until they're on the roof with their backs to the protective brick barrier that encircles it. John can tell Fusco has been drinking too, he smells of it, but the sight of almost watching John fall has clearly sobered him up very quickly.
They sit together, shoulder to shoulder, leaning against the wall that John has just been sitting on.
"Colder than a witches tit up here. What the hell were you thinkin', you coulda got yerself killed?" Fusco grumbles.
John looks at him, stony faced but his eyes can't hide what he's really thinking and Fusco sees it.
"Aww shit!" Fusco curses. "If you top yerself whose gonna save all those people The Professor tells you about?" He says, in his usual blunt way.
"You. Carter." John replies, "Anyway I wasn't going to do it." John's not sure if that last part is a lie or not.
"Speaking of Carter. She's pissed at you."
"That's the idea." John admits. "I'm no good for any of you. Better to keep my distance."
"Oh right? So this is like a Moulin Rouge thing? Push her away to save her?" Fusco says. John looks at him quizzically and he frowns, "What? My ex-wife loved that movie."
John gives a half smile. "My ex loved that movie too." He remembers having watched it with Jessica at least twice, she'd sing along to the soundtrack in the car. He's not thought about it in years, although one of his fondest memories was of Jessica trying to coax him into singing a duet from it at a karaoke night once. It was hard to imagine now, that he was once the kind of guy that would sing karaoke.
"I thought you were her friend." Fusco says accusatorially. "Thought you cared about her."
"Well this is a funny way of showing it. You know Cal's dead, Szymanski too? Killed while on this crusade against HR you got us all working on."
"I didn't ask them..."
"No. You didn't. But you opened the can of worms in the first place. You need ta call her." Fusco fumbles in his pocket and pulls out his phone, apparently not going to make this optional.
Across town Finch is back to work, the only sounds in The Library are the rhythmic clacking of his fingers on the keyboard and the soft snores of Bear as he sleeps at the small man's feet, until an alert pops up to say that one of his assets is receiving a phone call. Usually he'd let them be as they're not on a job, but tonight he's worried about them all so he clicks a button and listens in.
Carter is on her third glass of wine when her phone rings. It's the early hours of the morning and tomorrow is her day off so her first thought was of concern. Despite that, she almost ignores it until she checks the caller ID and sees that it's Fusco.
"What's wrong?" She asks in greeting, feeling for sure that any call at this hour was bad news.
"Got someone who needs to speak to yer." Fusco says cryptically and then there's a muffled sound as the phone is handed over to someone else.
Carter's heart skips a beat. The voice on the other end of the line sounds raw and unsure, so unlike his usual self.
"John." She smiles despite her concerns. "It's been..."
"I'm sorry Carter." He interrupts, his words coming out in a rush, as though if he doesn't say them now he never will. "You're a good friend and I haven't been there for you when I should have."
"That's okay, I..."
"No. It's not." His voice is firmer now, carrying his usual conviction. "I've been an idiot." He says, echoing his words from the interrogation at Rikers. She's been replaying those conversations over and over in her head, so she knows exactly what he's trying to say. He'd told her he'd lost Jessica for being an idiot and pushing her away, using the same word this time round was no coincidence.
"I can't say it didn't hurt John. After all that happened." She's been telling everyone she's fine, but she's on her third glass of wine now and her guard is a little down. Besides, she reasons, he needs to know.
"I know Joss, and I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about Szymanski and Cal. And that I wasn't there when you needed help today." His voice is breaking ever so slightly and it's breaking her heart just a little bit.
Suddenly, it's Fusco back on the line after muttering something she can't make out. "Batman here is very sorry." He says, "and to make up for it he's going to buy you breakfast. Somewhere with strong coffee, he's going to need it."
That actually gets a genuine smile from Carter and she wipes away a stray tear. "Sounds good. Tell him I'll see him at the Lyric Diner at ten."
She hears a mumble as the message is relayed.
"He says neither wild horses nor Finch are going to keep him away." There was another mumble, "Okay, I'm paraphrasing but you get the gist. Sleep well Carter."
Carter smiles, "You too Fusco." She hangs up the phone and stares at it for a moment, trying to process the myriad of emotions that the phone call has produced. She finishes her glass of wine and goes to bed, realising as she does that the burden on her shoulders feels a little bit lighter.
In the darkness of The Library, Finch looks down at the sleeping dog. "Did you hear that Bear?" He asks him. "Looks like some things might be getting better after all." The dog ignores him, he's too busy dreaming of whatever dogs dream about, but Finch leans over and scratches him behind the ears anyway, taking comfort in the feel of soft fur beneath his fingertips. Bear twitches and makes a little 'wuff' sound but doesn't wake, so satisfied that one problem is on its way to becoming solved, Finch turns his attention back to The Machine.
Once Fusco hangs up the phone the two men sit for a moment in silence.
"I'm sorry to you too." John says eventually.
"Hey, I'm just happy someone bailed me out." Fusco replies, there has been far too much emotion for one night and he's not prepared to do any more 'caring and sharing', least of all with The Bane of his Existence. "I know I don't deserve it, but I was starting to kinda like being one of the good guys again."
John gives him a haunted look but says nothing. Fusco realises his words have hit the cause of all this nonsense on the head.
"Come on. I'm freezing my ass off here. And you need to go sleep if you're gonna be fit to see our girl in the morning."
The pair of them get up, both a little unsteadily to their feet and find their way off the roof.
"You need me to call you a cab?" Fusco asks, studying the taller man for some semblance of sobriety.
John pauses, as though he's weighing up whether or not to divulge this next piece of information. "Nah, I live here." He says eventually.
Fusco is shocked, he thought he'd never get to hear anything so personal as an address from the other man. But then on their slow shuffle down the stairs they stop at a door on the fifth floor and John fumbles in his pocket for the key.
"It's late," John points out, "I have a comfy sofa if you wanted to crash here."
Fusco takes a moment to think about the offer. He's more than a little intrigued, wants to know if John lives the way he imagines, spartan but with a display wall full of guns is what he's guessed, not knowing how close he is to the truth. But he suspects it's taken a lot for the other man to give him as much information as he has tonight and so respects the ex-soldier's need to keep his privacy. "Nah, I'm gonna get back to mine. Got a day with my son tomorrow and I don't want him catching his old man doing the walk of shame from some dude's loft."
John gives him a chuckle, "Suit yourself Lionel." His key is finally in the door, but pauses before going through. "Thanks for tonight. And for everything. I don't say thank you enough."
"Yeah, well maybe you can buy me breakfast some time too." Fusco says as he descends the stairs. He's almost out out of sight when he calls up. "Hey John! You hurt her again an' you'll be dealin' with me, you understand?"
He doesn't wait for an answer, but hears it anyway, softly spoken, not meant for his ears. "If that day ever comes I hope you keep that promise Lionel." Then there's the click of a lock as John enters his fortress of solitude and Fusco makes his way home, satisfied that despite the way it started out, he's managed to do some good today after all.