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Fictive Kin

Chapter Text

To love or to have loved, that is enough.

Ask nothing further.

There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.

                   Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

  ***

“I used to work for the government, remember? Being manipulated by a genius is way better than being manipulated by a half-wit.”       John Reese

  ***

The first voice on the recorded phone call was male, tenor, and had a clipped, precise British accent.

“The job is done,” he said. “We’ll secure the hardware by noon on Monday. When would you like to take delivery?”

The second voice was either electronically modulated or entirely computer-generated. “Tuesday,” it said. “Evening. I’ll contact you with an exact time.”

“Why the delay?”

“Because I want to make sure no one it tracking it.”

“We’ve taken precautions.”

“I’ll contact you.”

The call terminated abruptly.

Nick Malone – who had, in another life, been FBI Special Agent Nicholas Donnelly – played the recording one more time. He checked the time stamp while he listened. It was just over three hours old. He ran both telephone numbers, without much enthusiasm. The results came back precisely as expected: Both ends of the call had been made from burner phones.

He considered for a moment, then typed a brief message to the Special Agent in Charge in New York City. Brian Moss would have no idea where the message came from, but he’d been conditioned by now to accept the information as unquestionably valid.

Donnelly wished, for one brief moment, that someone in the Den had been feeding anonymous tips to him while he was pursuing the Man in the Suit. It would have been tremendously helpful. But he understood now that Asena – the Source, the Oracle, the All-Seeing Bitch, or whatever else his co-workers chose to call the all-seeing computer system – was far more interested in protecting John Reese than it was in helping Donnelly apprehend him.

Reese worked for Harold, and Harold was Asena’s creator.

And now, in a very real sense, Donnelly worked for Asena. Which made him and Reese – well, co-conspirators, he supposed. Co-defendants. Unwitting and unwilling cohorts.

Secret brothers in very secret arms.

Donnelly had been aware of the connection for quite some time, but he’d managed to hold it at the periphery of his awareness. He’d pretended that he and his long-time quarry were not now on the same team. He’d ignored the obvious in a studious and careful manner. Ignored reality in a way he almost never allowed himself to do.

That willful ignorance was no longer available to him. They had a common purpose now. The protection of Asena – what Reese called the Machine – superseded all the differences between them.

According to Donnelly’s boss, the Machine was more than capable of hiding itself from the thieves who were trying to trace it. And since Reese hadn’t made any attempt to find them yet, it seemed that Harold the Creator shared that belief. Tracking the thieves to the would-be terrorists was tantamount, of course, but the Machine itself was in no danger.

But Reese didn’t know about this other person, the one who used the electronic voice. The person who had hired the man who had hired the thieves.

Donnelly shook his head. They might not be aware of the third-layer threat, but Asena certainly was. She’d invisibly amended his search terms so that the call was brought directly to his attention, seemingly though normal channels. She knew he’d turn it over to Moss. She was using him to protect herself.

Asena’s programming, he thought, not for the first time, must be unbelievably intricate. She was an independent entity in his mind now. An artificial intelligence, of course, but so seemingly real that he’d fallen into the habit of thinking of her as a person. A real person.

A friend.

And most critically, a friend who helped him do the most important work of his life. The most important work in the world.

Of course he would do everything he could to protect her.

If that put him in uncomfortable alliance with his former quarry – well, things changed. His whole life had changed since he’d arrested John Reese. Nicholas Donnelly was dead, and Nick Malone had a new name, a new face, a new history. A new job. A new purpose.

The only important thing that remained of his old life was the woman.

You might as well admit it, Donnelly finally let himself think. The biggest thing that you and the Man in the Suit have in common is not the Machine, or Harold, or even saving the world. It’s the woman. It’s Christine Fitzgerald.

She thought Donnelly was dead. So did Reese, for that matter. They were Harold’s confidantes, his partners, but apparently he hadn’t seen fit to share the details of Donnelly’s the rescue and relocation with them. It was better that way, anyhow. He couldn’t have gone back to Christine without putting her in more danger than her associations already put her in. And whatever they’d had, friendship or love or something in between, it was over now.

Except it wasn’t. Not for him.

If Donnelly couldn’t be there to protect her, he was grudgingly glad the Reese could be. The Man in the Suit had skills, intelligence, and a ferocious devotion to the people he cared about. He’d take care of Christine, for as long as he lived.

Which, given his chosen profession, might not be very long.

Donnelly shook his head. The woman was safe with Reese for now. He needed to forget about her and save the Machine.

 ***

Joss Carter looked around the command center uneasily. She was early and it was still quiet; only half of the dozen or so agents and officers assigned to the new task force had arrived. Moss had only been there long enough to start the coffee brewing and find some cups.

The last time she’d been in this room, Agent Donnelly had been in charge, and he’d come within about half a minute of arresting his Man in the Suit.

Also, Joss had come within an inch of shooting Lionel Fusco in the men’s room.

A lot had changed since then. Donnelly was dead. His investigation had been concluded, wrongly, and closed. The FBI was no longer pursing the Man in the Suit. She and Fusco had become truly partners, on both sides of the law. Reese had become much less violent than in the first days she’d known him.

She still felt guilty about Donnelly’s death. She hadn’t pulled the trigger and neither had John. But his pursuit of Reese, and her repeated efforts to derail it, had put him directly in Kara Stanton’s gunsites. She had some responsibility, no matter how she looked at it, and it weighed on her.

Now Brian Moss had taken over the dead agent’s command center.

She wasn’t sure she was ready to deal with it.

Moss walked across the too-big space and handed her a mug of coffee. “Thanks for being here, Detective.”

“I was tasked,” she answered, not harshly. “Kinda didn’t have a choice.”

The agent looked mildly unhappy. “If you’d rather not help with this, I can have you assigned back.”

She made a show of looking around. Whatever Moss and his superiors were up to, John and Harold might need her in the middle of it. “No, I don’t mind a chance of pace. Just kinda curious. I’m a Homicide detective. Not sure how I ended up on a theft task force.”

“You’re one of the best cops I know. And I need the best right now.”

Carter nodded and sipped her coffee. Not good enough to join the FBI, though, she thought, rather bitterly. Because I dated the wrong man. Briefly. She made her expression stay even. Moss was clearly trying to make it up to her; she genuinely doubted the final decision had been his. Let it go, Joss. “You want to tell me what this is about?”

Moss glanced around. “When everybody gets here. Shouldn’t be long.” He gestured. “There’s donuts, if you want.”

“I’m good.” She took her coffee to one of the computer stations and sat down. It was the same station, she realized belatedly, where she’d sat the night they had John pinned down in the hotel downtown. She made herself take a deep breath. Well, Donnelly, at least your little fortress of technology’s getting put to good use.

Fusco came in, nodded to her and headed for the coffee pot.

She was ridiculously glad to see him.

 ***

John Reese woke to voices, muffled behind the closed door. For a split second he was in a prison cell in Colombia and they were coming for him again, for another round of ‘interrogation’. His pulse picked up. But he calmed as soon as he was fully awake. He knew where he was. Safe and comfortable in his sister’s spare room.

He let that whole realization lay on him like a heavy quilt for a moment. He’d had partners and teammates and friends. Girlfriends and lovers. But a sister was something brand new. Something he’d never even considered that he might want. It fit, though. Everything he’d felt for Christine Fitzgerald, every moment he’d had with her from the first time they’d met, all fit into that description. Bastard children of despair, she’d called the two of them. She was right, he supposed. It still felt good.

The room was bright. Even with the heavy curtains drawn over the single window, light peeked around the edges. He turned his head and glanced at the clock. It was after nine, way later than he usually woke. But he hadn’t slept much in the past few days, and he’d sat up very late with Christine the night before. Also, he’d been in a fight and lost a little blood. So a late morning was in order.

Once he thought about his arm, it became to ache. Not too bad, maybe a four on the pain scale. He’d had worse. Much worse. But there were pain meds to be had; no point in suffering.

He sat up slowly, listening to the voices. One man, two women, none of them talking loud or too fast. Good. It came to him that he’d half-woken before. That he’d heard voices and he’d hovered on the edge of sleep, waiting for Christine to call his name or knock on his door. She hadn’t, so he’d fallen back asleep. He’d probably heard the door, too, but since there was no threat evident, the part of his brain that always kept watch hadn’t bothered to wake him.

It had left that to his bladder, apparently, which now insisted on reminding him that it currently held most of the three beers he’d drunk the night before. It was definitely time to get out of bed.

The women’s voices resolved a bit. One of them was Christine. The other was the voice of her computer. She called it Zelda and she treated it like her roommate. Reese smiled wryly, remembering Finch’s face the first time he’d encountered it.

The man’s voice was too low to catch his words, but Reese recognized the cadence of Finch’s speech.

He stood up and stretched slowly. Surprising that Harold was here at this hour, since he had pretty obviously assumed that John and Christine had become lovers the night before. Reese had thought he’d do everything he could to leave them alone for the morning. So perhaps there was a new Number. But if that was the case, they would have woken him.  

His phone was on the table beside the bed. The screen flashed, but it made no sound. He picked it up. There was a message from Finch, but it had been sent in silent mode. No urgency, then, so likely not a Number.

He tapped the screen. CALL ME AT YOUR CONVENIENCE, the text read, BUT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE APARTMENT. It had been sent very early in the morning, about the time he and Christine were adopting each other. It had also been sent to her.

So she’d woken up first, seen the message, called Finch and, hopefully, explained the new nature of their relationship to him. He was going to be crushed, Reese guessed. Harold had had such hopes for them.

But aside from Harold’s disappointment, John was satisfied with their decision. It felt altogether right.

Whatever Finch was here about, it wasn’t urgent or he would have made John’s phone chirp.

Unless he’d decided to handle it on his own so he wouldn’t interrupt their evening. Which would be foolish and dangerous, but it was absolutely something Finch would do.

Reese shook his head in annoyance. Whatever it was, Harold was here now and apparently safe.

He needed a piss, and some aspirin, and some coffee.

He opened the bedroom door, waved vaguely toward the living room, and walked across the hall to the bathroom.

 ***

Zoe Morgan crossed her legs at the knee and kicked her foot languidly. It showed off her calf, not too obviously. The man noticed how shapely her leg was. He wasn’t too obvious, either, but she was good at reading the signs.

“I appreciate your position,” the editor said, dragging his eyes up to her face. “But you can’t expect us not to cover news like this.”

“Celebrity gossip,” she said dismissively. “I remember when the New York Journal was an actual newspaper.”

“If the NYPD looks the other way when a man assaults a young woman because he’d very wealthy …”

“That’s not what happened,” Zoe said firmly. She picked up the newspaper from his desk. “And that’s certainly not how you’re covering it.”

Glen sat back. “If Dr. Ingram wants to tell us his side of the story, we’d be glad to print it.”

“Dr. Ingram doesn’t want his picture in the paper. Or his story. Or his friends, or his relationships. He wants to be left alone.”

“He’s young, he’s a billionaire, he’s dating a Carson, and he’s got a tragic backstory. And apparently a violent temper. How can you expect us to pass that up?”

Zoe dropped the paper dismissively. “Wouldn’t you rather write about Logan Pierce? He’s a lot more scandalous.”

The editor shook his head. “He’s old news. And frankly, he’s kind of a drama whore. People are tired of him.”

“Whereas Ingram is fresh meat.”

“Honestly? Yes.”

“Will Ingram works for Doctors Without Borders, providing emergency aid in the worst disaster areas and war zones in the world.”

“I know his story.”

“Then you know he’s a good man.” She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward; Glen’s eyes flicked down to her cleavage, then back up. “And I know that this reporter of yours, this Maxine Angelis, already got at least one other good man killed.”

The editor had the decency to go a little pale. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about Christopher Zambrano. You remember, Angelis outed him as the head of HR? Wrongly?” She tapped her perfect nails on the desktop. “It’s funny. I would have thought a big lawsuit might come out of that mess, but I haven’t heard about one. Yet.”

Glen took a long breath. She had him, thanks to the inside information Harold had provided. At least he had the good sense not to argue with her. “What is it you want, Miss Morgan?”

Zoe nodded in satisfaction and began to lay out her terms.

***

In addition to Carter and Fusco, Moss had requested two detectives from the Burglary Unit of Major Cases, and one from the Computer Crimes Unit. Joss had only met Troy Treo a few times; he was young and very ambitious. His partner, Avery Mason, was a stout African-American man with distinguished gray hair; he was two years from retirement, and he’d forgotten more about the thieves and fences in the city than his young partner would likely ever know.

Her friend Sherri LaBlanca had come from CCU. She and Carter chatted briefly while Moss assembled his own people. In addition to the detectives, he had nine FBI agents.

Donnelly’s command center still looked woefully understaffed.

“We’re all here,” Moss announced. “Let’s begin.”

He clicked his controller and a street map of the city came up. “As you may have heard, the branch of the First National Bank of Manhattan located in the lobby of the Pulaski Building was robbed early Thursday morning. Detectives Treo and Mason were originally assigned to the case. However, it’s now come to our attention that the materials that were stolen from the bank may be significant to national security.”

“How so?” LaBlanca asked.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” Moss answered. “All I can tell you is that it’s important that we recover the computer equipment, but it’s absolutely vital that we identify the people who stole it. And even more importantly, the people who hired them. As quickly as possible.”

“Somebody end up dead?” Mason asked, gesturing to the Homicide detectives.

“No. Not yet, anyhow.” Moss gestured to one of the agents. “This is Adam Aviles. He’s our tech specialist; I’ve asked him to work with Detective LaBlanca.”

Aviles stood up and took the remote. He clicked and a series of red circles appeared on the map, in a rough circle around the bank. “All of these red spots indicate external cameras that were disabled prior to the robbery. Half of these are NYPD cameras, traffic or pedestrian surveillance. The rest are all privately held. Entrance security, ATM cameras, things like that.”

“Multiple platforms,” LaBlanca observed.

“And they all went down within five minutes of each other. Between four-oh-five and four-ten Thursday morning.”

“Which means,” Moss said, “that this robbery was extremely well-planned and well-supported.”

“Four o’clock is bar closing time,” Fusco offered. “Traffic, drunks and fights tying up a lot of the street units.”

Carter nodded. She’d been thinking the same thing. “What’d the inside of the bank look like?”

“Very pro,” Mason said.

Troy Treo stood up. “The perps blew the glass on the side exterior door. It was standard reinforced safety glass; they ran a bead around the perimeter and blew it. Neat and quiet.”

“No alarms?” Fusco asked.

“They’d all been disabled. Phone lines were down. Not cut. Disabled.”

“What about the security cameras inside the bank?” Carter wondered.

“They had two separate feeds,” Mason said. “One to the outside, to a centralized monitoring center. The other fed to a security console inside the lobby of the Pulaski Building. Both went down. The security guard said the screens were fine when he went to make his rounds and they were blank when he got back. He went and made a physical check through the lobby door, then called in the alarm.”

“There was no one in the bank when he looked?” Fusco asked.

“The site was already clear,” Treo confirmed.

“How long was he away from the console?” one of the agents asked.

“Twenty minutes, he says. He says he started at four sharp. The call came in at four-twenty-seven.”

“So they cut the alarms, blew the door, got in, took the computers, and got out, all within twenty or twenty-five minutes?” Carter whistled. “That’s pretty damn efficient. What exactly did they take?”

Treo consulted his notes. “Ten computer towers. Two server boxes. One laptop. Seven cameras. The camera relay. A port array. A tape back-up device. And a stack of back-up tapes.”

“Tracking?” LaBlanca asked.

Aviles shook his head. “Only on the laptop. And that’s been recovered already.”

“Where?” Carter asked.

“Left on a subway in Brooklyn. No prints, no useful surveillance footage.”

Moss took the clicker back and flashed through some slides until he came to a series of the interior of the bank. Except for the empty places where the computer equipment should have been and the glass missing from the door, there was remarkably little damage.

“How’d they get at the cameras?” another agent asked.

“Grappling hooks and lines,” Mason answered. He gestured and Moss clicked forward until he came to a shot of a small grappling hook sunk into the wall. A slender black rope still dangled from it. There were faint footprints on the wall where someone had climbed up. The empty camera bracket hung mutely on the wall.

“We get a brand on the hooks or line?” Carter asked.

“Military issue,” Treo answered. “Might be surplus. Might be someone brought it home with him.”

They batted around ideas for a while. They all agreed that the team had been at least three and probably more men. Mason and Treo knew of some teams to look at, and the FBI had a list of their own. Nothing, of course, said that the team hadn’t been brought in from the outside. Moss was able to tell them that the team had been hired by a middleman who was planning to deliver the computers to an end buyer on Monday. He was very emphatic that they needed to identify that final buyer, but he again declined to say why. Carter knew, of course; Fusco had told her, in confidence, about the Bad Wolf incident he and Moss had witnessed with Christine Fitzgerald. But Moss wasn’t talking, and from the look of it, none of his own agents knew the true reason for the urgency, either.

She listened, but she wandered the room absently. Oddly, she reflected, she missed Donnelly. The scenario Fusco had described – hacked missiles aimed at Manhattan – scared the hell out of her. Moss was competent enough, but she would have been happier to have Donnelly’s firm, obsessive hand on the wheel of this particular investigation. Despite their differences, she had had absolutely confidence in him as an agent.

Joss rested her hand on one of the computer towers. This one was cool; she’d strayed from the center of the room, out to where the stations weren’t being used. She looked around again. Donnelly’s little kingdom, and how he’d reveled in it. She had to smile, remembering how he’d walked into this room that night with just a little strut in his step. There had been some ego behind it, of course. But most of that spring in his step had come from his certainty that he was finally about to catch his elusive the Man in the Suit. 

She and Fusco had helped John escape. And indirectly, their actions that night had led to the agent’s eventual death.

Carter sighed heavily.

“Something to add, Detective?” Moss called.

She started a little. Her mind had been wandering and Moss had caught her. But there was something here. Something useful …

“Computer towers,” she said slowly. “You said they took ten of them.”

“And two servers.”

She measured the top of the tower with her hand. “So twelve boxes, this big or bigger. Maybe only three men. That’s four trips apiece to the car. They had twenty minutes, twenty-five tops. Even if they were parked right outside the door, that’s a big portion of their time.”

Moss frowned at her. “So they had a cart or something.”

Carter nodded. “But a cart, even a little one, plus ten towers, other equipment, three or more men – they had to have a truck. A van, an SUV, something bigger than a sedan.”

“That doesn’t help us any,” Aviles said. “All the cameras on the surrounding streets were disabled. We already said that.”

“But they had to leave the surrounding area,” LaBlanca said slowly. “They had to drive out of the dark zone.”

“There must be two dozen streets.”

“True,” Carter said. “But we know they had a large-capacity vehicle, and that they were gone by four twenty-seven.”

Sherri sat down at one of the consoles. “How much access do we have?” she asked.

“All of it,” Aviles answered. “Anything we need.” He sat down next to her and they set to work.

Carter nodded to herself. As with Donnelly’s manhunt, this operation had access to virtually all the surveillance in the city. It would help.

“We could still be looking at an awful lot of vehicles,” Fusco grumbled.

“Yes,” Moss agreed. “But at least we have something to look for.” He turned to the other detectives. “Let’s get your list of possibilities ready to cross-reference.”

“You got it,” Mason said. He sat down at a keyboard of his own.

 ***