Joss watched the sedan peel out of the parking garage, nerves thrumming with shock, fury, guilt, and adrenaline overexposure. Her chest ached badly, too – but whether that was from overworking still bruised muscles, or the cocktail of emotion surging through her, she couldn't say.
It'd be easy, she'd told Fusco just that afternoon. If she'd seen his face; if she had the opportunity to thank the guy. I'd arrest him.
She'd told him that, too, back at the beginning: That is how this ends. Sooner or later I lock you up – or I find you bleeding out somewhere.
She had thanked him. And then set him up to be locked away. But the CIA operatives hadn't arrested him; hadn't even tried. They'd gone straight for the bleeding out option, right there in front of her. She'd always thought the bad rap the CIA got was a little exaggerated, having met a few agents in person during her service overseas; she didn't necessarily trust them to have her back over whatever other agenda they were pursuing, but they served the same country. Wherever they got their information, when they shared it with her, she believed it.
She'd forgotten. Deliberately tried to forget, maybe: that sometimes, the ideals people served and called 'their country'? Didn't match up with her definition. Not by a long shot. It had been a long, long time since the death of that insurrectionist in Pakistan, the one she'd sworn to protect – and it wasn't even as though she'd sworn the same to Mr. Suit. But the intangible weight pinning her down afterward sure felt the same: that rock of dismay in her gut, saying maybe I'm in the wrong line of work.
Mr. Suit: John. She had a name for him, finally. And a face, out from under all the grime of beard he'd worn when she'd first met him. And an associate, too, which made her wonder even more about that folder full of photos: that woman Stanton, and the others Snow's preppy friend had said he'd killed. Mr. Burdett, or whoever he was, had known her guy for at least three months if the footage from the evidence lockup was any clue, and he was still alive. Trusted a hell of a lot more than Joss was, too, by their body language when she'd come out of the stairwell. What did that say for Snow's theory?
It hadn't been Burdett's presence that had made her cast her principles to the wind and help John into the car, though. Or the stinging of her own conscience and pride at the way Snow had used her. It had been the look on John's face, when he'd turned his head to see her standing behind him with her weapon. Leaning most of his weight on Burdett, not even trying to move to defend himself – and that same waiting, pained look in his pale eyes that she'd seen on him that first time, at the station.
She'd asked him, back then, if he needed help getting back on his feet, or if he'd started that subway brawl because he felt like he needed punishment. But then she'd run his prints, found out just what caliber of former soldier she had on her hands, and put the moment out of her mind. But it hadn't left his, had it? He'd found someone else to help him, but he'd still been courting his own punishment.
Well, he wasn't going to get it at her hands. That wasn't an option any more, not after what had just happened. Gutshot, falling on the roof, firing back at them – he'd aimed to hit the headlights of the damned SUV. Not Snow. Not Joss. Call it trying to ensure his own escape, but still – that kind of presence of mind, in a situation like that? Most guys with his rep would have taken them out, too, while he had the chance. Whatever it was that motivated him, he didn't want to be a killer.
Joss' hands were starting to shake, and she could hear the sound of sirens in the distance. Now what? The CIA had taken her ride home, there was blood all up and down the stairwell and drying on her jacket where she'd pressed her shoulder under his for a few seconds, and the palm of her left hand was itchy where some of it had started crusting in the ridges and whorls of her skin. She curled her fingers in tight and wished briefly for a sink: Out, damned spot.
She had no time for that kind of drama, though. No time for anything, if she wanted to scrape out of the night's events with her career intact. She didn't know what the procedure was for a cop who'd witnessed a failed CIA assassination on American soil – strangely enough, it had never come up before – but she recalled the way the Captain had treated her around Snow, and the questions the tribunal had asked when all she'd done was lie there while a stranger saved her life.
So the system was even more fucked than she'd thought. She still wasn't ready to give up on her job. Not on their terms, anyway.
First things first: she'd obviously touched her guy. But he'd still gotten away. That clearly pointed to him having help, which meant exposing his friend's existence. But the cameras were out in the building; they had to be, if Snow had set that scene on the roof up in advance. So the Real Time Crime Center wouldn't be able to show what he looked like – or, more importantly, that she'd helped him. Joss shifted her feet, bracing herself, then deliberately sprang backward, almost throwing herself against the asphalt in a controlled fall.
The impact hurt like hell, but the bruises on her elbows and the dirt ground into the fresh scrapes on her hands would back up her story. She pushed herself back up to a sitting position, wincing, as red and blue flashing lights roared in from the direction Burdett had gone. She'd tell them Mr. ex-CIA had had a friend waiting; they'd fill in the rest themselves. And that would give her some room to maneuver.
The incoming car roared to a halt, and Fusco popped out of the passenger side before Olson had even turned off the engine. "Carter!" he called, cheap shoes slapping on the pavement as he rushed over. "You all right?"
She summoned up a wan smile for his benefit as he reached her. For a guy she'd heard such incriminating rumors about from his time at the 51st, he'd been pretty solid as a partner. Maybe not someone she'd ever be on a first name basis with – he was a little too old boy's club to make socializing comfortable, and a little too appreciative of their mutual friend's vigilante tactics for her taste – but a decent cop, and a decent enough guy. "Me? I'm fine."
"But look at you!" he said, dropping to one knee to offer her an arm up. "You're blood, all over. What happened? We just found a connection to the other girls on the video, and were coming to visit their foster mother when we heard the call. Shots fired? I thought you were still stuck at the station."
"The blood isn't mine." She shook her head, sighing as she climbed to her feet with his help. "The CIA had other ideas. They shot him, Fusco. Shot my guy, right in front of me."
"Shot him?" Fusco stilled in shock. "He was here, too?"
"Yeah. He called me directly on this one, no anonymous tip line. And after the way those agents had been palling around with the Captain, and some of the things they told me...."
"You turned him in?" Fusco's eyes went wide; he sounded as much dismayed as surprised. "To the CIA? You didn't even tell me they were poking around."
"What, you thought I was kidding when I said I'd arrest him?" Joss snorted. "Not that they tried to do much arresting. They wanted me to keep the situation quiet; and I guess now I know why. I should have seen it coming, after all that bullshit about wanting to help him before he got himself killed."
"No shit, Carter." Fusco shook his head. "So, what. Is he...?" He glanced around the ground floor of the garage, zeroing in on the blood trail leading to the stairwell; Olson was already edging the door open with a gloved hand, trying to avoid contaminating the evidence. Whatever else he might find between there and the roof, the building was definitely a crime scene on that count alone.
"Dead? What do you think? They got him once center mass, and once in the leg, but it wasn't enough. He took out the lights to stop the shooter, then made for the stairwell. I followed him down, but he had a guy waiting with a car on the ground floor." She gestured with her scraped hands.
"And his friend did that to you." He frowned, narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously.
"Yeah. Caught me off guard," she said, ruefully. Lying was easiest when you didn't lie at all, and it was best to have her story straight from the beginning.
"I just bet," he muttered, glancing away. "Did you at least get a better look at him this time?"
There was something in his tone that made her frown back at him; she didn't know what had happened since their conversation earlier at the station, but he didn't sound like the same guy who'd teased her about getting herself into more trouble and promised to have her back. "Not you, too. Yes, I got a better look at him this time. He's a lot more attractive without all the grease and facial hair, actually, just in case you were wondering. I even got a first name: Snow called him John. Happy now?"
"Whoa, hey." He raised his hands, palms out, and focused on her again. "Wasn't accusing you of anything. Just thinking about all the resources this guy seems to have. Information, supplies, the works. Want to bet he doesn't show up at any of the area hospitals?"
"Sucker bet." She smiled faintly at him. "We'll have to put out an APB, though, all the same."
"For a guy named John." He shook his head. "Seriously, John?"
"That's what the man said," Joss shrugged, then winced. "I suppose I need to call this in, then go down and make a statement. And there's probably more up there than just the scene on the roof; when he called me, he said the people who killed Claire Ryan and Matt Duggan were here."
"Damn. He was here to save those girls, wasn't he? Hope he took care of that before you showed up."
"Fusco," Joss admonished him.
"Just sayin'." He lifted his hands again, then turned and gestured toward the car. "Be my guest."
She nodded to him, then trudged over slowly and eased herself down into the passenger seat with a groan. She hadn't wanted to admit as much to Fusco, but she hoped he'd already finished his job there, too. How much of a hypocrite did that make her?
No more of one than she was already, she supposed. She sighed, then reached for the radio and made the call.
It was a long, anxious week of leave before Joss heard anything else about "her" vigilante.
She spent a lot of time with her mother and her son on her days off. Did a lot of thinking, too, about connections, trust, and actions that spoke louder than words. Not to mention pictures; one of those might be good for a thousand of the other, but that didn't mean some of those thousand words weren't lies. And then there was the way she'd applied possessive pronouns to him since their first encounter; the impulsive radio conversation after the lockup robbery; and the lost girl he'd sent to her wrapped up in his jacket. Just to name a few of the many things running through her mind.
The more she thought about the ripples he'd created in her life, the more she realized she'd been in denial about him long before he'd actually saved her, and she wasn't sure what to do with that information. Or with the ache in her chest that proved not to be the bruises, after all; she'd had every logical reason in the world to do what she'd done, but she felt like she'd broken something special by reporting that conversation.
It was hard to believe she'd let herself get that entangled. Snow might have lied to her about why his former "best friend" had killed the people in that file, but she had no doubt John had actually killed them. He'd broken more laws than she could shake a stick at in just the last three months, fucked up the chain of evidence in at least one case she knew of, gave a helping hand to an up and coming mafia don with her name in his sights, and seemed to get his jollies from stalking people. Including her. None of that was anything she should be able to admire.
But – and she hated that she even needed to say 'but' – he'd also managed to do things she couldn't. Bypassing the red tape, wherever his information came from, had saved lives. He'd brought people in – and exposed others – who never would have talked to the police on their own. And she had to admit: she had a competency kink a mile wide. To top it all off – well, his looks didn't hurt, either. And not just the fit body and attractive features: there was something about his eyes that stuck in her mind.
Snow and his friend, she'd made for CIA right off. But she'd never have fingered John for one of their kind, and not just because he was living on the streets when she'd met him. A guy like Snow? When she looked him in the eye, she saw only her own reflection. Training, or nature; whatever caused it, if the eyes were supposed to be the windows to the soul, his shutters were all down. John, though – for such a self-possessed man, his eyes were too damned expressive for her comfort.
She was thinking about him again, about that tiny bedamned almost-smile he'd given her just before she slammed the car door shut and Burdett drove away, when the phone in her home office rang. She studied the display a minute, frowning at the unknown number that had somehow made it past her call blocking service, then sucked in a sharp breath and grabbed for the receiver.
"Carter," she said curtly, wondering which of them she'd hear on the other end. Fearing it would be Burdett with bad news; fearing, too, that it was John, and that she'd have to explain herself to him.
"Detective," the carefully measured voice of the man himself came over the line, and a knot of tension she hadn't been aware she was carrying abruptly dissolved, relaxing her shoulders.
"John," she said, boldly. "Not a single sighting of a man in a suit reported in the last week; I was starting to think you might have chosen another city to haunt."
"I thought you were on leave. You've been worried about me?" he asked, sounding a little amused – and a little strained, though she might not have noticed that if she weren't listening so closely.
"Man gets himself shot on my watch, of course I worry about him," she said, then bit her lip, unsure how to phrase what she wanted to say next. She couldn't exactly apologize – not for doing what she'd believed, from her available information, to be the right thing – but she was still sorry for the way it had all gone down, and she wanted him to know that.
"Don't," he said, curtly, then softened his tone a little. "Don't worry about it. He got to you; that's what guys like him are trained to do. Guys like me."
"No," she said, the word almost torn out of her before he could say anything else. "Not guys like you."
"You don't get to save my life, and make light of the fact that I almost got you killed, and then pretend to be anything like Snow," she insisted. She wasn't sure where the words were coming from; but the hand balled in her lap, fingernails pressing into her palm, and the tremor in her voice told her there was no use trying to hold it back. "Maybe you used to be. But you aren't any more."
"You sound very sure of that," he replied.
"You better believe I'm sure," she laughed, harshly. "God knows I don't approve of your methods – you're playing God, and I am never, ever going to believe it's right for a single person to decide who lives and who dies – but I think I'm starting to get a handle on the why."
"Don't tell me you're buying into the poor man's Batman theory," he scoffed at that.
She nodded to herself; he did have ears at the precinct. Fusco had used the term just a couple of weeks before, to a knot of his cronies. "No," she said. "Because that would cast me as James Gordon – and while I don't want your blood on my hands, I'm still not about to help you break the law."
"Not even after–?"
"Not even," she snorted.
He chuckled, just loudly enough for her to hear. "It would disappoint me if you did." Then he took a sharp breath. "That's not actually why I called, though."
"Yeah? What, then?" Joss was half convinced he was going to say he was leaving the city; it would only make sense. There was no way Snow wouldn't try for him again.
"I wanted to make sure you knew – if things go south again, I've made arrangements for someone else to keep pressure on Elias. You don't have to worry."
"To – what?" she blurted. "Wait. That – I thought he'd decided he'd scared me enough for now, flipping Bottlecap on me."
John chuckled again, a darker sound this time. "No. I revoked his permission. And it's going to stay revoked, no matter what happens."
Revoked implied that the hit on her had been sanctioned in the first place, and that....
"What are you saying, John?" she asked, deliberately using the name again.
"I'm saying – Merry Christmas, Joss," he replied, his tone almost obnoxiously bright.
She snorted at the shift of topic. "Merry Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve, you mean." That was what Taylor'd said, at lunch that day.
"Merry Christmas Eve, Eve, Eve, then," he said, good-naturedly. And then – hung up.
She sat there, dial tone echoing in her ear for a long moment, then hung up her end, bent over her desk, and pressed her forehead against the cool wood.
Damn him anyway, for making things not easy.
But whatever happened next – she couldn't help it. She was glad he was still alive to do so.