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A fall through time

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When John opened the envelope with his new cover identity in it, when he started reading through it carefully, he was alone in his apartment.

He had given it a cursory glance as he had walked through the streets, but frankly, it had amounted to him searching for his new ID and memorizing his new name, date of birth, and the likes. Reading your cover story in the middle of the street wasn't exactly a good thing to do. One, because it could get you run over since you're not looking; two, because if you let go of your papers for even a second, which wasn't that unlikely when read-walking in a windy street, the wrong person could get a look at it; three, because memorizing the details was always better done in a silent place.

Root had assured him he could keep living at the place Harold had brought him, that it officially appeared as a family legacy in his new identity's background. Just, he'd better not bring his brand new colleagues around, so that they wouldn't begin asking questions – he had the answers, the Machine had made sure of that, but going unnoticed by his superiors was the best way not to attract Samaritan's attention.

Though, Root had added, she was pretty sure he would manage to get unwanted attention eitherway. John didn't know yet what was “John Riley”'s job, but he tended to agree that he was probably going to step on a few toes anyway. He might not be as hammer-minded as Shaw was – he really, really wondered what her official job would be – but, scalpel or not, he still left a lot of blood in his trail. It kind of went with his particular set of skills.

John hoped his new job was one he could at least commiserate with, one where his capacities would actually be useful – he didn't particularly want to be a garbage collector.

The answer to that question was in that envelope – as well as much more information. Who he was now, was in that envelope. He'd have to burn most of its contents, once he'd have memorized it, and hide what he couldn't afford to destroy, for fear of someone finding it.

To anyone concerned, he was John Riley, now. Just like he had become John Reese before that, and John Rykes even earlier on. These three identities, more so than all his other aliases, weren't only for the show... He was supposed to be them, just as much as he had been...

John shook his head, and pulled a chair to him. He sat down, put the envelope on the table, and stared at it for a moment. In it, there was a life. Just in that envelope.

He doubted his whole life would fit in an envelope.

What was official about him, on the other hand...

John opened the envelope again, and let its content pour on the table. There were a lot of papers, a few plastic cards – bank and fidelity cards, driving license... The keys to a storage unit, where he guessed Root had put the things about John Riley that didn't fit into an envelope.

And, his heart clenched at the sight, yet one more thing. It had fallen top down, but even like that, it wasn't hard to tell what it was. A police badge.

John reached out to get the badge... but didn't. Instead, his hand turned away from the badge and went for the stack of info on “John Riley”. He needed to see it written, black upon white, undisputable. He needed to confirm what was Riley's job.

The badge itself hurt too much to look at, for now.

It took him a whole minute to find the right paper, and even with it under his eyes, John needed more time to fully understand the words on the paper. He could read without issue that John Riley was a narcotics detective, who had already spent almost four years on various undercover jobs, but had been recently transferred to New York – too many enemies after his hide in Chicago, it seemed; John supposed that'd work to explain how came no one here could tell a thing about his time as a cop before his sudden apparition. He read it without problem, of course.

It still didn't register all that well.

He... John Riley was a cop.

John Riley was a cop, John was a cop, he was a cop. After so long, after so many years, John was a police detective – again.

He... He wasn't sure he could go back to being a cop. For twenty years, give or take, he had been forced to forget everything about being a police officer. He had relished, in a way, with the lack of rules – or rather, the different rules, the need to always act out of expectations and still obey orders. It had allowed him to keep John Sullivan at bay. To keep what he had lost at bay.

John couldn't believe it. The identity the Machine had given him to stay clear of Samaritan... A detective. It was as if he was finally allowed to be John Sullivan again. As if he was supposed to be himself for once. He... he was going to be John Riley.

And yes, John Riley wasn't John Sullivan – John Sullivan was a former homicide detective living under WITSEC with the name John Rykes; John Sullivan had a non identical twin brother, detective Frank Sullivan, 21st precinct, and a niece, officer Raimy Sullivan, 21st precinct; John Sullivan had sliced the throat of the serial killer who had taken his mother away, the serial killer he had been tracking since he had joined the NYPD, the serial killer who had entered his house and attacked him in the dead of the night because he was getting too close; John Sullivan had had to hide from the mob boss uncle of said serial killer, which was why he wasn't John Sullivan anymore.

John Riley didn't have any family left, he had never killed his mother's killer, and he didn't have a shady past with a now-deceased mob boss. But he was as close to John's first identity as he'd ever get, John surmised.

And he was getting to be a police detective again.

But John wasn't sure – and perhaps that was why he couldn't bring himself to take the badge and look at it – he wasn't sure he could be John Sullivan – or as close to him as possible, John Riley – he didn't think he could be a police detective anymore. He had seen too much, done too much, changed too much. He had forced himself to forget almost everything about being a police officer when he had gone into WITSEC to be John Rykes, and he had broken too many of the rules the police enforced once he had become John Reese.

It wasn't that he didn't know how to investigate anymore, or that he had lost his notion of right and wrong – though, truthfully, his moral compass had become a bit loose over the years. Assassination did that to people, even to good people at heart.

John Sullivan hadn't been sunshine and butterflies either, for the matter – from the very beginning, John had been someone... dangerous, for lack of a better word, at least in potential. His father's death and his mother's murder had made him somber and, Frank would say, ready to snap anytime. He had always been dangerously close to the ones he chased, even if he had never truly crossed the line – not even as John Reese. There always was a sense of shame in him, even if it had been more and more overcome by an understanding of necessity as time passed.

He had been obsessed with the Nightingale killer for a long time, and once the serial killer had been dead, the darkness in him hadn't disappeared for all that. John Rykes had then decided to enlist, to control that anger – even if the Marshals hadn't exactly appreciated his idea, but that was their problem, not his – and John Reese had become a killer for the CIA – supposedly to take care of those who deserved it.

But John Sullivan had still been following a few rules, which John Reese had long since discarded. He also had a different set of priorities, now, and he wasn't sure he could play the part of the usual narcotics detective that easily. He had the skills, the instincts, the memories of a cop – what he didn't have wasn't an issue, because he had it all. But John had also the skills, the instincts, the memories of a soldier, of an operative, of a hitman – and he couldn't just get rid of it, even if his police-self wasn't supposed to be all these things.

Could he really pretend he was John Riley, after all these years?

Did he really want to be John Sullivan again, if not in name, at least in spirit? Did he want to go back to John Sullivan, when he wouldn't be able, for all that, to see Frank and Raimy and Satch and everyone else? Did he want to be this close to being John Sullivan, without actually being John Sullivan?

His hand finally fell onto the police badge, and turned it around, top on top. The number wasn't the same as before, obviously – he was John Riley now, he had to remind himself, not John Sullivan. But it was a detective's badge, and it was something John never thought he'd rightfully have again.

He turned to look at his laptop, open but off on the table, his eyes on the webcam.

“Was it on purpose?”

John didn't get an answer.