Truth be told, he had first contemplated just taking a dip in the Hudson – a final one, that is, but a dip nonetheless – and be done with it. Except that drowning wasn't such a fast way to go – fast enough, but not the fastest; he'd know, with the many lives he had taken.
And just as he had been about to... drop down, he had thought of Frank. The only one who'd care, today, where he was – considering he'd still care, which wasn't sure at all, not after all these years away. The only one who, perhaps, gave a shit about him committing suicide.
Not that thinking of Frank would stop him from jumping, no, really, his brother wouldn't ever be enough for that, not anymore. On the contrary, thinking of Frank, it just hurt even more.
Because he couldn't go back, he couldn't go to Frank and his wife, to their daughter, and just reappear like that, as if – as if nothing had ever happened. As if he hadn't just disappeared from their life with only a goodbye. As if he was still the brother Frank knew. As if he wasn't an assassin – sanctioned, yes, but still a hitman. As if he hadn't committed more crimes than any of the perps Frank had ever arrested. As if he wasn't a complete waste of space, time, and life energy right now.
He couldn't go, and ask Frank to take care of him. It wouldn't be fair.
Besides, Jessica was still dead – and he wouldn't get better, not after that, not after everything else on top of that.
Last reason... Because while he was almost certain the CIA had never gotten his original surname, since he had made sure the Marshals had... lost – misplaced – half of his file, almost wasn't enough. If they had still found out about his remaining family, if one day they heard that John Sullivan had reappeared out of nowhere, they'd come for him... And Frank, Julia and Raimy could be used to get to him – the Agency didn't caution such actions towards innocent civilians, despite all the moral leeway the agents had, but it didn't mean some operative wouldn't make the choice for them.
Or, simply, they could get in the crossfire.
There was no way he was going back to Frank.
But Frank – Frank deserved to at least know, when he'd be dead. Frank had to be told.
He probably didn't even know whether or not his brother was still alive, not after Marshal Patterson's heart attack – the old man had been the only one to know, to care to remember, about John's new identity, and since Patterson hadn't had the occasion to find out what had accidentally happened to the paper file... John hadn't contacted his brother, not once in... eighteen years already.
Frank didn't know if he was still alive, but he definitely deserved to know when John died.
If only to get an answer, to get closure.
Drowning wasn't the best idea for that to happen. First, he wasn't sure when exactly his body would be discovered – no point finding his real identity thanks to his fingerprints, not with his... fiddling with the Marshals' files. The CIA would get the news about John Rykes / Reese, though, but that hardly mattered, since he'd be dead already. Second, the water might take away the few things that could have identified him – not that he had any left, except perhaps the custom lighter in his breast pocket.
If John wanted his brother to know about his death – not that he wanted Frank to suffer, but only, that was better than to wonder what had happened to him for the next thirty years – he needed his body to be recognizable, and...
He needed an ID.
Long before the CIA, long before he had learned to arrange for hidden stashes, John had left his real ID in a box, and Frank and him had buried it behind his brother's house. At the time, he had still thought he'd come back, one day. And Frank and him had been kids together – they knew all about hiding treasure boxes in a backyard.
Which meant he needed to get to Frank's house in Queens, without anyone seeing him – most neighbors had probably moved, now, but his brother and his family woud definitely recognize him, even with the grime, the unkempt beard, the hand-me-down clothes. Even if almost twenty years had passed since they had last seen each other – not that John believed in the whole twins crap-stories, and besides, they weren't identical twins, but John's face hadn't changed much, only his facial hair was grey now, and he knew he looked way too much like their father had. There was no way Frank wouldn't figure his identity out, even if he saw him for only three or four seconds.
He couldn't allow that to happen.
Fortunately, Frank still lived in Queens with his wife, Julia – John had checked. Which meant the stash was quite surely still there.
And, he could now tell for sure, since he was staring at the box, his hands full of dirt, crouching under the living room's window. It seemed like it was yesterday that the brothers had put it there...
But it wasn't. John opened the box, and yes, the contents had remained untouched for the last two decades. He had given back his badge and his credentials, as well as his gun, a long time ago, but his ID was still there, as well as his birth certificate, and a few other documents.
The ID was all he needed, really.
A noise in the house got his attention, and John froze. Footsteps walking down the stairs at one in the morning – either Frank was losing sleep over a case, or him or Julia was thirsty. One way or another, someone was awake, and it meant they could potentially see him – recognize him.
John slowly closed the box without a sound, his old ID – John Sullivan – in his hand, and pushed himself even more into the shadows of the night. The footsteps went away, towards the kitchen, he'd assume, and he started heading for the street, only hoping that whoever was up, wasn't going to look through the window – they wouldn't see anything else than his retreating back, but they might call for help, and if anyone was walking outside at this hour, John might have to incapacitate them.
He didn't fancy explaining to the police why he was robbing his brother's place for his very own ID, after having disappeared into WITSEC for eighteen years, why “Detective John Sullivan, 21st precinct” was dressed and living like a bum, and why it would be way better if they didn't register his arrest at all. No one would believe him if he said the CIA wanted his head, anyway.
Perhaps they'd think his years in WITSEC had made him paranoid.
And he really, really didn't want to explain to Frank – who was the police, remember – why his long lost twin brother was sneaking into his garden to get the ID he had left behind without even saying Hi.
How did you explain to your brother that you wanted to end your days, anyway?
John jumped the fence...
And that was it. He had his real ID again, all he had to do was to head to a bridge – he wasn't going to jump, no, but the thought was still there; he was going to die on that bridge. Perhaps he should... Yeah, he was just going to go back to his usual streets, get a last drink, and then, tomorrow night... Tomorrow night, he'd go and blow his brain up – against the temple, of course, not in the mouth. Where did people get the idea killing yourself with a gun was to be done by putting it in the mouth? – he didn't know, and he didn't care. He wasn't going to hesitate now, anyway, and he wanted his face to be recognizable if Frank decided to come and identify him – gun in the mouth could be a real pain in the ass with that, and when it didn't work... John wanted to die, not to get landed with a blown-up jaw, palate and eyes.
As for procuring himself a gun...
Nothing easier these days. He'd take care of that during the day. Really easy.
Pick out a thug / dealer / whatever after having checked they did actually have gun, wait for them to be alone, teach them a lesson, take the gun, and walk. At least that would be one weapon less in the street – not that the guy wouldn't be able to get a new one easily.
So John rejoined Joan and the other homeless people at their usual squat, the run-down building that had been forever for sale, his ID carefully tucked inside his vest. He arrived around two-thirty in the morning, a bottle of whatever-the-alcohol-as-long-as-it-contains-alcohol in his hand. He made sure not to wake anyone up – or worse, to actually step onto someone; he might not care for life himself, but he tried not to make everyone else's lives even more miserable – and went to sleep.
When he woke up the next morning, around eleven o'clock in the morning if the sunlight was anything to go by, Joan was starring at him from behind her trolley.
He tried just turning back on his side, to stare at the wall instead of at the older woman, but it obviously didn't work.
“You need to stop drinking so much, John.”
For a moment he considered not answering at all, but he had the feeling that wouldn't deter Joan.
“Everyone drinks here. You drink. Why wouldn't I drink?”
“I drink, true, and so does about everyone here, true too. But you, John, you're not drinking. You're drowning yourself in booze. And guys like you always end drowning in another way when they start behaving like that.”
John stared at the wall, silent.
After a moment, he wondered if Joan had left, but even if she could have walked away without him hearing it, she never went anywhere without her trolley. And there was no way he hadn't heard the trolley.
Indeed, one minute later, give or take, Joan spoke again.
“You're planning to kill yourself.”
It wasn't a question.
Therefor it didn't need an answer.
John slowly stood up, his joints creaking unpleasantly. It was only september, and sleeping outside was already becoming a problem. What would it be in the middle of winter? – he didn't really need an answer to that question since, tomorrow, he'd be dead.
He reached down for what little was left of his last bottle of alcohol.
“You can have my blanket. I won't need it again.”
He headed for the street – never looking at Joan, no, not now. She didn't need to see the call of death in his eyes.
But the older, homeless woman grabbed his arm lightly – so lightly, she would break into pieces if he only started twisting, as he'd do were it a stranger, an attacker trying to get a hold on him, John realized. Yet she survived living in the street.
Human beings were weird.
John turned back to look at her – she wanted it, after all.
“Be safe, Joan.”
There was nothing she could do for him, at that point – there was nothing anyone could do for him, really. He wasn't anyone – or perhaps he was too many people, each of them with too horrible a story for him to want to be them, and yet, each of them, so him that he couldn't get rid of them.
John Sullivan – fireman father killed in a fire, nurse mother murdered by a serial killer, couldn't even go and visit his brother and his niece for fear of collateral damages. Ronald Chapman – supposedly dead, and officially a murderer. John Rykes – former lover killed by her husband, years and years of active service, with as much horrors steamying from these years as possible. Tom Kubik – supposedly dead after having attacked his wife, since Kubik needed to go and John didn't want his wife to suffer because of him anymore, as she already had. John Reese – governmental hitman whom the CIA wanted dead because he knew too much.
No one really worth being, in all that – that wasn't true, but in the end, they weren't worth the risk he'd put on the people he loved, if he went back to any of these identities.
When there was even someone left in said lives.
John walked away from the squat.
What he needed, now, was a criminal high enough in the food chain that the guy would walk around with a gun... Or drive around with a gun in his car. John's eyes locked on a white man, around thirty, with freckles and a hard jaw, sitting in a costly car, waiting for something to happen – for someone to come? From the little John could see of the man, he'd say irish mob. Perhaps collecting payoffs.
The man walked out of his car two minutes later, speaking heatedly on the phone, and his right arm leaning over the bump under the pan of his leather jacket, as if to keep it from sight. Could do better, but not all that bad either, John guessed.
He sighed, took a last sip of his drying bottle of booze.
Two minutes and half a street later, the broken bottle was discarded, and the mob collector was groaning in a large public waste bin. He didn't have his gun anymore.
John, on the other hand... He tucked the weapon in his jacket – with his homeless outfit, it wasn't difficult to hide the gun from view – and slowly, discreetly walked away. No one looking at him would guess he had just attacked a gangster in an alley, and that was all the better. He wouldn't appreciate being caught with a stolen gun and put in a cell the very day he wanted to end it.
Either he'd be sent to jail – another fairly sure way to get himself killed, in a sense, but he also knew that, despite his desire to die, he wouldn't let himself be beat to death without reacting – or he'd have to explain what exactly he wanted to do with the gun, after having been identified with his actual ID, and then he could be pretty sure Frank would get there in the blink of an eye.
Which was basically the very opposite of what he needed.
What he needed was a quick, definite end.
This night, on a bridge – one clean, finishing shot at the temple, no time to regret, no nothing. Just, pulling the trigger. Only that. One last motion.
Pulling the trigger. Be done with it.
John wasn't particularly religious, and in a way, that was probably a good thing. Had he been religious, he'd probably end up in Hell, whereas Jessica was surely in Heaven. Religion wasn't kind on people who did what needed to be done – even when it had to be done, for other people to live happily, to get themselves their own future part of paradise. Moreover, John wasn't completely sure everything he had done was actually necessary – he understood the need for compartmentalization, but it made everything more... dubious, as to the necessity of accomplishing a mission.
And anyway, suicide would land him downstairs no matter his other deeds.
He still liked to think he had done a little good in this world... Yet these days it wasn't enough to keep on leaving – thinking that, perhaps, all the blood on his hands hadn't been for nothing.
It didn't suffice.
And anyway, it wasn't as if he had anything left to live for.
No reason to stay.
But – he'd wait for the cover of night. Suicide, like criminal behavior, was usually better done at night – when no one was around to try and stop you.
So for now, all he had to do was to wait. And since he didn't want to think – since one of the reasons he wanted to end it was because he couldn't beat thinking anymore – he'd drink.
Drinking didn't make him happy, but it allowed him to forget. After a few glasses – a few bottles, whatever... – his thoughts weren't taken over by machine guns noises, by the begging of the people he had killed on the battlefield, by the sharp and clear sound of a shot reverberating. When he closed his eyes, no image of the dead came to his mind, no faces of the past, no dreams of a better future that he might have had – had he not become who he was now.
Had he chosen to take another road, for example, when the U.S. Marshals Service put him in WITSEC – or, more accurately, when they gave him a new identity, and he politely told them not to bother keeping an eye on him – what would his life be?
He had been young enough, back then. Only twenty five years old. He might even have gone back to his studies. Perhaps he'd be married, now. Perhaps he'd have kids. A good, steady job.
No need to be worried.
Though, with his luck, it'd probably have turned sour anyway. Maybe he'd be called James Clay, he'd be a doctor, now – but his wife would have been run over by a serial killer, and he'd have done three years for having smashed the guy's every bones with his own car in retaliation, and after that he'd have driven through the country, after what was left of a culprit who kept killing women and taunting him over the radio. Perhaps he'd be a Steve Lambert, a musician happily married and father of a young boy – but his wife and kid would have been killed in a car accident with a truck, and he'd be in complete denial, walking along his life without ever living. Or he could be Nate Seedwell, a real estate agent with a wife and two kids – who'd have had the bad idea of cheating a bit at work to ensure his sons' future studies, which would have landed him in prison for some time, and once out, he'd probably have been used then targeted by a gang, endangering his family and getting him shot several times, his ring finger cut off because reasons.
Yeah, that sounded like the disaster his life would always turn out to be, no matter the alternate timeline.
The low-quality alcohol in his bottle was disappearing fast, and John had to buy another bottle – no issue, he had also taken a few dollars from his friendly mob acquaintance. It wasn't like it'd cost him his life, right?
Around one hour before midnight, John staggered – he was though, alright, but with everything he drank lately, it was a miracle he could even walk straight-ish – to the subway. He wanted to end it on a bridge. First, because he had thought he'd drown himself, and even if in the end he was going to blow up his head, he'd rather do it here. Second, because a bridge was a place between two places – and if there was one thing John was certain of, it was that he didn't belong anywhere anymore. He was stuck in between.
What other place to die than on a bridge?
Eleven and twenty. Almost no one in the subway car – just two young thugs who barely looked at him before going back to their certainly highly dubious conversation. Better that way. John wasn't in any mood to deal with a couple of kids wanting to make fun of a homeless man, of an easy prey – or so they thought. More than one punk had thought they could start beating him up for no reason.
They had been unpleasantly surprised.
John was good at a lot of things – pretending not to care, sacrificing himself, befriending someone he wanted to bring down, if necessary. But taking hits without reacting when he was actually able to do something about it, that he couldn't do. Some guys at the Agency had been resilient that way, if only to appear weak when they weren't – but it wasn't John's case. He could, and would only control himself if someone else's life was on the line.
At the next stop, though, a small group of young men – fools who thought they knew how to be the big terrors of New York, but who, in reality, had never seen the face of Evil; naive idiots who wouldn't ever be the face of Terror, unlike him – came into the subway car. They started getting on the two other guys' nerves, and John could already say they were going to be a problem.
The altercation didn't go to hell, but when the first two guys left for the next car, the fools came over to John. These, he could tell, even if he wasn't even looking at them – listening was enough to guess – these would start something they'd regret.
John didn't even bother listening to the leader's comments – he was just going to ignore them, to wait for them to get tired of their little game.
But the leader saw the bottle of booze, and went for it – stealing from the homeless, so classy...
John caught his arm before the young man could even blink. There was a moment of silence... and he let go. He didn't need to drink more, after all, and the sudden rush of adrenaline had made all the alcoholic effects disappear. If only they could leave him alone...
Yet again, the young idiots wanted a fight, now – or just to ascertain their superiority, to see him ask for forgiveness. The leader came closer to John, probably thinking he was threatening to him...
What a joke.
John wasn't in the mood to joke.
The moment it became clear the guy and his goons was going to try something unpleasant – John went for it first.
It was a matter of seconds, in the end, and the kids were all groaning on the floor of the subway car.
John, standing, had a headache.
The subway stopped again, one of the fools tried to scramble away, and bumped right into a police officer. The cop looked at the thug in surprise for about half a second, then noticed the bleeding lips. Baton in hand, he handcuffed the young man while his partner ran for the scene of crime – a bit bewildered at the show, to be honest.
John didn't particularly resist arrest – but he had made sure to “forget” his borrowed gun under a seat on the other side of the subway car, after having cleansed his fingerprints as he could in this situation. With a little luck, the cops would think one of the thugs had lost it in the fight.
No suicide tonight, it seemed.
John complied, as he always did any time a cop wanted to know who was the suspicious bum hanging around... and froze just after the young beat cop took his ID.
His real, oldest ID.
John Sullivan's ID.
He considered running for it – but he was full of booze, the cops had batons, and it was too late anyway. Running away wouldn't keep them from looking him up in the databases, quite the opposite, actually, and when they'd see...
John was almost certain Frank could get every cop in this town after his ass, and then there would be no way not to get caught. Not to have to explain. Not to expose his family.
So he just let himself be led to the nearest precinct – 8th – to face his destiny, as they said. Small mercy, he wasn't anywhere near the 21st precinct. That would have been awkward.
There he just sat in a corner, waiting. It was the middle of the night, and the detectives still working were all on a case, so the precinct'd have to call someone over. He didn't mind, after all, his night was already wasted, and here, at least, they had heating.
When a black woman entered the room, making a joke about how he could have given them a bit more of a beating, John just played with his cup of water. She seemed nice enough, in a no-nonsense way. He guessed she was around his age, beautiful and all that... Perfect poster cop.
It made him wonder if he'd still be here – well, not exactly here, but you get it – too, if he had taken another road, even sooner. If, for example, he had been able to let go of the Nightingale case. Would he still be a detective at the 21st?
It all seemed so far away, he couldn't even tell if he'd manage to act like a cop today.
But the point was moot; he was here, now, and he wasn't John Sullivan anymore.
The detective looked at him for a moment – thinking of a question, John'd say, but soon enough replacing it with another one, more interesting, perhaps.
More problematic for him, surely. Then again, everything was problematic these days.
“So... John Sullivan?”
He shrugged. It was, after all and before all, his name. It was what was written on his ID. If she believed him, or not, if she thouht the ID was fake, then it was her problem, not his – she'd see he wasn't lying as soon as she'd put the name in the database.
John was still easily recognizable, even with his longer, dirtier hair and with his greying beard – funny how his hair still seemed very dark, but his beard was showing all its greyness already, by the way; he was certain the grey would appear too if he cut his hair, but right now, it was just plain dark. Not that he was planning on getting his hair cut anytime soon.
Wonder what being recognized would get him.
“I'm Joss Carter. Detective, 8th precinct.”
Thanks, but apart from the name, he had guessed as much all on his own.
Other than that? No answer.
“The cops who took you in looked up the name, you know.”
Oh. So they already knew.
Speaking was tiring, and pointless. And John wasn't drunk anymore, but he did have a headache.
“When I looked at the file, before coming in, John... I thought you had perhaps stolen the ID somewhere, a long time ago, since, you know, it belongs to a witness under protection. Who shouldn't have this ID on him. And, more than that, the guy was a cop too. A young detective, who had a price put on his head by an old, local mob boss. Not the kind of man you'd imagine becoming a homeless person.”
John didn't even bother looking away from the detective. He just looked her in the eyes, as if he wasn't even hearing what she was saying. If he didn't show any reaction – it told that he was controlling his emotions, sure, but not only – it meant she couldn't know which way he was taking that last implied question.
Had he stolen the ID? – or was he John Sullivan?
“The only thing, John, is that I've also seen the tape, and it's obvious to anyone who was in the army that you were too, and not just a simple foot soldier. Special Forces, Delta... And that, it works way more with the homeless situation, considering some soldiers have a hard time adapting back to a normal life.”
No, thank you, he wasn't particularly traumatized – not about the army, anyway, even if he did have nightmares from time to time; not even about the CIA, as it was. Violence, death, and blood weren't exactly a problem for him, even if he didn't particularly like them.
“Now, WITSEC and enlisting don't exactly do well together, but I guess someone stubborn enough could get around that. So you could, potentially, be John Sullivan.”
Not so sure about that, Detective – no, really, John knew he was, well, John, and he also knew she knew. The whole I-deduced-so-much-from-so-little game was getting old, considering he had a good idea of where this was leading. He had played the game too, once upon a time.
John Sullivan's fingerprints and the info on his new identity were all under lockdown with the Marshals, but other than that, his old NYPD file was certainly still complete. Which meant, Detective Joss Carter had seen the photo.
“Turns out you do look a lot like our former detective, John Sullivan.”
Couldn't have guessed as much on his own, thanks.
The woman sat on the table and gave him a sympathic – he really didn't deserve it – look.
“John, do you need help?”
He doubted she'd give him the help he needed – a clean bullet in the forehead.
“There is no help you can give me, Detective. This...”
He took a sip of water – cold, and it helped to clear his head.
“... is the price to pay for my choices. And no one will bear it for me.”
Carter tilted her head a bit.
“Not even your brother?”
Ah. So she had given more than a cursory look to his file, then. Which also meant Frank should be here under half an hour, one hour if he was lucky. Which, remember, he wasn't.
“He's a cop too, right? You worked together for what, five years? Did you know he transferred back to the same precinct, the 21st, after getting out of Narcotics in 1996?”
Of course he did. Because he hadn't given his brother any news in eighteen years didn't mean he hadn't kept himself updated as to his brother's life and successes.
“...And my niece works there too, I know.”
The detective arched her eyebrows, high.
“But you didn't consider going to them, not even once, since you've come back to New York?”
John didn't answer that. He finished his water, and put the plastic cup down.
Carter took it away carefully, not to smudge his fingerprints on it.
“I'll just confirm your identity, if you don't mind?”
“Sure, Detective. Do your work.”
Since he was here, since Frank, and perhaps Raimy too, would soon be here too, he could as well let the cat out of the bag. His work for the CIA had gotten his fingerprints on a few crime scenes – times there hadn't been enough time to clean up everything, times the shoot-outs had been unexpected; times you ran for your life, rather than taking the time to be discreet. Discreet could get you killed – the contrary too, of course.
At least, that way, Frank wouldn't want to get involved – hopefully. Or, at worse, he would know who his brother had become – a killer, among other things. He'd know that he wasn't worse saving.
When Joss Carter came back from the lab, completely bewildered at the results of the fingerprints test – seven crime scenes, four countries, no less, and who could say how many more had gone unremarked? – John Sullivan wasn't here anymore. An expensive lawyer had come in and gotten him out.
Before they knew who exactly they were dealing with.
Except they still didn't.
The beat cop who had brought Sullivan in said it out loud, when she resumed the situation.
“... but he's one of ours, isn't he?”