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In Treatment: A Policeman's Lot

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Kissing Carter in public was a new phenomenon; one Reese was not entirely comfortable with yet.

He wasn’t sure what the machine had had in mind when it created the persona of Detective John Riley early in the summer. And things grew even murkier when it had assigned him to the same precinct as Fusco and Carter.

Coincidence wasn’t an acceptable explanation for the move, according to Finch, who was convinced that the machine had an over-arching vision, one which furthered its war aims in the twilight struggle with the other super AI, Samaritan.

Was the machine playing some long-strategy game? Or just tickling its over-active fancy with this corny Riley maneuver? He wondered if the machine was trying to manipulate him psychologically, maybe teach him a personal lesson or deal him a job-related smack down to correct past behaviors. Perhaps it wanted to test his stamina or patience or maybe train him in new skills useful for the battle to come.

No matter what the machine’s mysterious objectives might be, or what it had in store for him, he figured the new assignment opened up avenues which he could explore on his own initiative. If the machine was dissatisfied, it would just have to deal with it.

In his view, working out in the open as a fellow officer in the Eighth Precinct allowed Detective John Riley free rein to court his colleague, Detective Joss Carter. He could launch a focused campaign, characterized by optimism mixed with the right amount of caution; deliberate and confident, but not too cock-eyed pushy either. Riley was brash, even charming, but he couldn’t act as if the outcome was in the bag.

Over the first weeks of their new office collaboration, Riley had asked Carter for a few dates, but only after seeking the advice of his partner Detective Fusco on the etiquette and office politics of such affairs.

Fusco, as it turned out, didn’t need to be instructed on his role in this charade of manners. He was a natural at this kind of thing. Instead, it was the machine’s new-born creation Riley who had to rehearse his lines in advance so that the new persona would appear natural.

Of course his interest in Carter -- either as himself or as Riley or as Reese -- was completely unforced and easy to inject into conversations around the precinct.

So after Riley’s fourth inquiry in three weeks on the same subject, Fusco had chosen a steamy afternoon in early August as the time to bring things to a head.

With exasperation creasing his face, he had pushed aside a stack of case files and settled a well-padded haunch on a corner of his partner’s desk. With much huffing and clearing of throat, he had leaned over to deliver the climactic scene, an admonishing finger pointed at the newcomer.

Although their faces were close together, Fusco had made sure to raise his voice so that the choir of hovering detectives and unis could hear the sermon clearly. Even Captain Moreno had emerged from her office clutching a photo array as a pretext, sauntering with measured indifference across the squad room to witness the unfolding drama.

With the audience assembled, Fusco let rip.

“Look, Riley, I don’t know how you Narcotics boys handle it, but around here, dipping your pen in the company inkwell is frowned upon. Especially pens of newbies like you, Riley. You ain’t been around here near long enough to earn that kinda privilege yet.”

Fusco’s warning was loud and clear; he had a real knack for the theatrical moment.

Reese could see the ears of the men at the other end of the squad room perk up at the supposed confrontation. The tops of his own ears had started to tingle, a sure sign that a flush was rising along the back of his neck. Getting dressed down in public, even for a good cause, was unnerving.

“Makes for messy blow-ups, ya know, the kind I’m not about to clean up after.”

He felt the finger wagging was over the top, but he let Fusco improvise. And his partner was on a roll.

“But seeing as all those hormones crashing around are gonna do what they do, and human nature can’t be chained up for long without it doing some kinda serious damage, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

The shrug and eye-roll were eloquent punctuation to this philosophical observation. When Fusco paused, he had figured it was his cue to speak.

“So, you’re not going to block me if I make my play for Carter. Is that how I read it, Fusco?”

He had kept his voice cool, but several notes higher than his normal whisper so that it would carry all the way to the cheap seats.

Then Fusco had risen from the desk to return to his own.

“Like I said, Riley, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

But he had tossed a final dramatic caution over his shoulder:

“Just don’t come crying to me when she gives you the heave-ho, get it?”

Warning delivered, threat received, markers laid, lines drawn.

At that moment, as if cued by an unseen prompter, Carter had entered the scene, her lunch break over. She strolled to her desk with a raised eyebrow and a sardonic smile, flipping her dark gray blazer over the chair back as she sat down.

“Hey, fellas, how’s it going? Did I miss anything?”

Suddenly busy, every man in the squad room averted his eyes as she scanned the crowd. Captain Moreno skated back to her office, amusement twitching on her lips.

Rifling through a sheaf of papers on her blotter, Carter zapped a bolt in his direction.

“Any news from the M.E. on that Bronkowski autopsy, Riley? You know, you gotta ride ‘em hard or they’ll keep you waiting for weeks on a simple stabbing.”

“So I’ve heard, Detective Carter, so I’ve heard.”

With their cover story thus established as a precinct-wide certainty, Fusco seemed satisfied, his fretting dialed down to an occasional whine. Finch remained watchful, composed and withdrawn. Shaw had started with a trickle of discreet teasing, but then when she thought Finch couldn’t hear, she unleashed a torrent of dirty jokes straight from the school yard.

And as the weeks went by, the machine gave assent through inaction; despite his fears, it didn’t intervene by transferring Detective Riley to a new job.




So now they could kiss in public: Riley could kiss Detective Carter, Reese could kiss Joss, he could kiss his own true love.

They didn’t do it often; she was reserved, which suited his own natural modesty and the reticence drilled into them by more than two years of a risky and fugitive affair.

But here on this dreary late October afternoon, he wanted to kiss her in public and, Samaritan be damned, he would.

Rain pelted down on the windshield of her sedan, and hurrying pedestrians cowered under their black umbrellas. She hadn’t turned off the motor; they were just idling at the curb as she dropped him off for his appointment, a banal moment for most couples, but one that tingled with newness for him.

Of course, as always, even the most commonplace phrases took on an uncommon quality whenever they spoke in private.

“If it keeps raining like this, and temperatures drop, roads are going to turn tricky tonight, so be careful on the way home.”

He knew he sounded like a cliché suburban husband with that trivial warning, even though his concern was genuine.
But then her next comment turned the ordinariness of his remark inside out.

“Yeah, that’s just what it said: ‘Be Careful.’

Joss tapped her earpiece to indicate the machine was in touch with her.

“You heard from it recently? I thought it had gone radio silent.”

The machine had first contacted Joss six months prior, sending an erratic but compelling stream of messages, instructions, and questions over the summer. A mercurial intelligence with boundless curiosity, the machine seemed to want to learn as much about her as it wanted to tell her what to do.

He wondered once again how she juggled it all –- son, job, super computer, him -- but Joss seemed to adjust to this new complication in her life with poise.

“This morning was the first time in six days I’ve heard a peep.”

“What do you think it means by that?”

She shrugged, vexation quirking her mouth.

“I don’t know, just a variation on what it’s been saying to me for weeks now.”

Responding to his raised eyebrow, she elaborated.

“Sometimes it’s the full phrase like that: ‘Be Careful.’ Other times it’s just a single word: ‘Careful’, or ‘Care.’ Twice all I could catch was a sound: ‘Keh.’ Still in my dad’s low voice like always, but squeaked out through lots of static like it was being smothered or something.

“Short or long, always the same warning.”

She paused, teeth worrying her lower lip.

“Trouble ahead?” Although it was a question, he tried to make his voice as firm as he could.

Her fingers flexed on the steering wheel.

“Yeah, maybe. Don’t know for sure yet.”

He reached for her hand, squeezing to transmit a certainty he wasn’t sure he possessed. And then she smiled at him and, though her eyes retained a wistful hesitation, everything seemed to brighten around him.

His heart pounded with an unfamiliar pride when she tilted her cheek to him, the movement easy and nonchalant; she didn’t resist when instead he tipped her chin to angle her mouth toward him.

A peck was all he needed now, a quick burst of passion pressed against her warm lips, answering her unspoken question with a pledge: Yes. His answers to her could always be yes now. Not maybe. Or I don’t know. Or no. Just yes. Forever yes.

“Verona’s at seven tonight, you know.” She sounded chipper, confident again.

“They get crowded on Thursday’s so they won’t hold the reservation for more than fifteen minutes.”

“Even for friends of Fusco?”

He smiled at the thought of the restaurant outing, a normal date for two normal people, buffeted by extraordinary dangers, but ordinary all the same.

“John Riley isn’t all that close a friend of Fusco, not from what I hear.”

Laughing, she squeezed his hand in hers and then brought it to her mouth for a different kind of kiss. Pursing her lips, she slid his index finger inside, letting it play with her tongue for a moment. She lowered her lids, lashes fluttering with the thickening excitement, but then her eyes flashed open again.

“Speaking of being on time, you need to get going, Mr. Detective. NYPD is paying big bucks for this session with Dr. Campbell, so you’d better not blow it by arriving late. They’ll garnish Detective Riley’s paycheck to cover the loss, you can count on it!”

At that, he sprang from the car, a loopy grin plastered on his face, undimmed by the rain. Trotting for the office tower’s revolving door, he caught the movement of Joss’s car as it pulled away from the curb.

He marveled that this drab vehicle could carry such singular and precious cargo: Riley’s date, Reese’s confidante, his own heart’s desire.

In this new dispensation, tonight didn’t seem so far away at all.




As he had before each of the three previous sessions, he used the elevator ride to the nineteenth floor to review what Riley would and would not say to the police department psychiatrist, Iris Campbell.

The outline was clear: Friends -- only Fusco and a few drinking buddies from the precinct. Captain -- Moreno seemed fair enough. Parents -- long dead, their troubles buried with them. Sex -- none to speak of. Shootings -- unhappy inevitabilities of a policeman’s lot.

On this point Riley and he agreed: he didn’t like shooting people, but he was good at it. If he could save somebody by winging a perp, he was going to do it. If he had to kill someone to save another’s life, he was going to do that too. The violence and the trauma came with the badge no matter how much it hurt.

For a company shrink, Campbell was good, better than most of the incompetents he had seen in the past, far better than he had first thought. In their initial session, she had read his ploys with ease, seeing right through all the little gestures designed to establish familiarity. She seemed immune to his physical presence, not shifting in fear from his crowding or preening to create a sexual vibe between them.

Campbell seemed to know when he was lying, which turned out to be comforting, a real surprise to him.

Her skill at discerning many of his thoughts, and deciphering most of his moods eased the pressure he had felt going into that first mandatory session. Now in this fourth encounter, he sensed he could safely talk to her about things that were churning around in his mind without unmasking all of the secrets he had to guard to ensure the survival of Finch’s mission.

A paradox to be sure, but one he was glad to exploit.

As he rose through the skyscraper, he shed all the personas he usually crammed into his mental rucksack every day. He dropped Riley first because the policeman was the newest and easiest to lose. Then Rooney, Randall, Warren, Wiley, and all the other guises jostling around him like phantoms.

Last went Reese, an older identity he had grown comfortable with over a decade of use. Badge, black suit –- these were external trappings of roles he could discard at least for this hour.

In treatment with Campbell, he would keep Riley’s eager humor, some of Warren’s sophistication, and Reese’s wary distrust too. But for the most part he could be his true self with her, even if she didn’t actually realize it.

Although he was alone in the elevator car, he was mindful of the staring eye of the camera over the key panel. Whether Samaritan or the machine, something was always watching, so he kept his left hand relaxed on his coat button and his right in his pocket, gripping the cell phone there.

The erotic heat from his brush with Joss still pulsed through his body, a current of passion to comfort him through the session. But these warm sentiments were private and he intended to keep them that way. This relationship with Joss -- whether covert or open –- was a cherished thing whose boundaries he would defend against all challenges. And it didn’t figure into his job difficulties, he was sure of that. Joss was irrelevant to his department eval and he didn’t plan on sharing anything about her with Campbell.

Although he was running late, he stopped in the men’s room between the elevator bay and the doctor’s suite, taking several minutes to compose himself in this hushed masculine retreat of deep blue tiles and stainless steel surfaces. There he washed his hands and splashed water on his face; he wanted to cool off before presenting himself to Campbell’s scrutiny.

Glimpsing his face in the mirror, he thought he looked rested, without the harried hyper-alertness that often pinched his expression. As he patted his cheeks with paper towels, he noted that the lines around his mouth were relaxed and even the charcoal at the inner corners of his eye sockets seemed brighter than in past days.

Refusing to date an unkempt man, Joss had insisted Riley shave the stubble and the shiny cheeks thus exposed knocked a few years off his age, he felt.

He didn’t know if this was how happy looked -- superstition made him dodge the label just as he avoided speaking the word love -- but he thought he looked well.

Slipping into a stall, he removed the battery from the phone and pried the device from his ear. He didn’t want anyone listening in on these sessions.

Before each weekly meeting he went through these little acts of personal security. Dismantling the surveillance was a way of breaking from his everyday world, unlatching those ties for an hour of unfettered reflection.

As he performed the task, he thought of the little quips his friends had launched when Moreno first confined him to desk duty, assigned a narc from Internal Affairs to tail him, and required him to get a formal psych evaluation.

Fusco had ragged on him about the rat’s nest the shrink would surely find tangled inside his head. Shaw had mocked him with a warning not to cry in the counselor’s office. And Finch had coolly hoped that the treatment would bring him some much needed balance.

Each dart was different, stinging him in a distinct way. Sure, maybe these jabs said more about his friends’ issues than about his own. He knew their comments were careless and casual, not designed to wound. But all the same, these quips nettled and he felt raw whenever he thought about them.

So removing the ear piece and disabling the cell was a comforting ritual, soothing his nerves and settling his mind before he joined Iris Campbell.

When Reese finally entered the psychiatrist’s office, she was already in place behind her desk, a red mug clasped in her right hand as she wrote on a note pad with her left. Like him she was a southpaw, adapting awkwardly to the world’s constant petty challenges every day.

Against a backdrop of rain-streaked windows and columns of clouds framing her head and shoulders, Campbell seemed powerful, like she had somehow conquered this space of storm and light.

She looked up at him with a grin that seemed open and inviting; she appeared genuinely happy to see him, although Reese was sure she had perfected that technique through years of training. He liked the soft shade of pink lipstick she used; not sexy, it seemed feminine and polished.

He had noted with some surprise that she did not keep a computer or laptop on her desk only a blotter covered with several file sleeves and a stack of pads of white paper. She kept a bouquet of ballpoints in a blue-and-white Penn State tumbler; this Nittany Lion was a working class kid like him.

He wondered again if she transferred her notes about him to a hidden data base once the session was over. The silver-framed photo of her Burmese cat was gone now, he supposed she hid it after his clumsy early efforts at forced familiarity. He figured she returned the picture to its place on her desk after each session with him.

He had no doubt that Iris Campbell was a master manipulator, as skillful as he was in other, more deadly, contexts.

She might look fragile with her porcelain skin, pointy chin, and wispy rose-gold hair. But he thought she had a mind of steel and nerves to match. He didn’t fear her skills now; if she could read him, it was because he let her in, not because she had duped him or beaten it out of him.

He liked her style and felt a swell of confidence as he sank into the deep arm chair in front of her desk. Irrational perhaps, but he felt she was on his side, looking out for his interests, not just those of Internal Affairs or his ambitious captain. She sat opposite him in an identical chair, smoothing the skirt of her narrow navy dress until it reached her knees.

No greeting apart from the grin, no softening chit chat, just business, respecting his time and hers, which he appreciated.

“Detective Riley, looking over your service record, I see that you’ve been wounded several times on duty.”

She opened a manila folder on her lap, but then crossed her legs to make it slant away from him so that he couldn’t see the papers she was studying.

He didn’t know what the machine had put into this file on Riley, so he hesitated to volunteer too much detail at the outset. He assumed Campbell was used to his clipped speech by now. His pattern was to keep to short answers at the beginning of each session, expanding as they went along, so he would stick with that for now.

“Yes, more than once. Never seriously.”

She was going to pursue something, he could see it in the way her eyes sharpened as she formed her next comment.

“The most recent time was eleven months ago. Can you tell me about that?”

Still unsure of how much she knew, he hedged his answer, despite her raised eyebrow.

“It’s all right there in the file. I don’t really like going over it again.”

He shifted in the chair, his discomfort real. So he released a breath when she took up the story for him.

“Yes, I have the official account: you and Detective Joss Carter were ambushed. She fired on the assailant who escaped capture. Both of you were injured. Carter recovered in Saint Seraphia Martyr Hospital. But the file is unclear on where you were treated.”

Relief flooded through him. The machine had gone with an approximation of the truth, so he could too.

“My injuries were pretty superficial. I got some quick medical attention and then recovered at home.”

“Is that your usual pattern, John? Go to ground, lick your wounds, and get back to the job as soon as you can?”

“I guess so… why? Is that a bad thing?”

He liked it when he got to ask the questions, steer the conversation a little.

“If you rush it, maybe. Do you think you came back to work too soon, John?”

“No, I’m fine.”

He knew that brusque answer was just begging to be shot down.

“No lingering physical symptoms?”

“Like I said, I’m fine. I got cleared and everything.”

He wondered if the machine had thought to include a medical clearance report but he decided to risk the assertion anyway.

“After the shooting last fall, your record of multiple uses of your weapon suggests that may not be completely accurate.”

“So you keep telling me, Doc. I know I’ve fired my weapon more times in one year than most cops do in a career. But what can I say, I got unlucky.”

“So you don’t think you deserve to rest, take a break, even just a little?”

He leaned back into the cushion, spreading his legs in opposition to her dainty pose.

“I’m not going to take a break, not sideline myself voluntarily, if that’s what you mean.”

“Not break, John, but just bend a bit? Your injuries weren’t trivial, from what I can see here.”

“Bending is worse than breaking, in my experience.”

“How so?”

“If you break, then that’s something definite. Clear. People who count on you for protection know you’re out of commission and they can adjust. Put up new defenses until you rejoin the battle.”

He paused to look her dead in the eye. He wanted Campbell to get this next part.

“But if you just bend, fold under pressure, then they have no way of figuring how long before you crack completely. Will you break today? Or tomorrow? Or next month? The danger is doubled for them because it’s unpredictable. People who need you don’t know if they can trust you to stay upright. Or if you’re going to collapse all of a sudden, without warning.”

Breathing heavily at the end of that speech, he felt he had sprinted against a strong head wind. So her next question fit into his mind’s landscape seamlessly.

“Like an oak tree going down in a violent squall?”

She looked out the window then, directing his attention to the punishing rain thrashing the glass.

“Yes, like that, I guess.”

“And you have people who count on you, John?”

“Yes, some. Colleagues on the job. Partners. Innocents who can’t protect themselves.”

“And can you get there in time to help them all?”

“Not all, but as many as I can. Until I can’t anymore.”

If she was going to hint again that he had a death wish, like she did in their first session, he was ready with a rejoinder this time. He wasn’t suicidal, not any more. Not since the transit cop brought him to Joss. Not since he found his purpose, his real job.

If Campbell wanted to hear about some long ago symptoms, he could dig up a few for her to chew on.

He would give her a story or two from his days before Joss: Leaning over the railing of a bridge peering into the choppy water racing below. Running his finger around the blunt nose of a revolver, probing the barrel for an answer in its oily silence.

Those images would be hair-raising enough to reassure Campbell that her intuition about his darker moods was not entirely unfounded. If pressed, he would tell her this part of his story, revealing how he’d changed, but leaving Joss’s name out of it.

He felt his heart tumbling in his chest, tossed in this storm of grim memories. He tried to school his expression to hide the emotions, but something flitting across his face must have tipped her off, because Campbell’s next question came at him like she was reading his mind.

“In your observation, how is Detective Carter doing these days?”

“After the shooting, you mean? She’s fine, I guess.”

“Just like you.”


“Do you see her often?”

“She’s assigned to the Homicide Task Force, same as me, so she’s sort of hard to miss around the precinct.”

“And after hours?”

“Heh, your sources are pretty good, Doc.”

That drew a smile from Campbell, the second one of the session. She remained silent but nodded at him to continue.

“Yes, we’ve gone out a few times. Nothing serious.”

“Do I detect a ‘yet’ following that assessment, John?”

He knew Campbell was teasing him a bit, playing to see which way he would go as she delved further. She hadn’t breached his undeclared border yet, so he didn’t feel the need to warn her off.

And it felt good, real good, to speak Joss’s name out loud.

“Detective Carter is a tough nut to crack, but yeah, I’m keeping hope alive. You got any dating tips for me?”

He let Warren’s bravado creep into the question, along with a smarmy half-smile he hadn’t used since the interrogation at Rikers.

“I don’t know her, so I’m going to have to rely on your insights, John. Do you think she’s interested?”

“In me? Hard to read her… But she hasn’t said no yet.”

He knew the brag sounded punk, but he had to channel Riley’s frat brother persona to keep a few steps ahead of Campbell.

As if rising to that challenge, the shrink’s eyes turned a cooler shade of their native green and her voice seemed to take on a lower, more intimate, tone.

“Is getting shot together a binding experience, do you think? Can you build a solid relationship on a trauma like that?”

She was pushing hard now, but he tossed out the quip he had formed already, trying to dodge her probe.

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But, yeah, bleeding out together does give you something to talk about when dinner conversation starts to lag.”

Though he thought her eyes sparked a little in amusement at that, Campbell wasn’t distracted or diverted at all.

“So, you share a lot with Detective Carter, do you?”

Like a scythe, this simple question split him open.

He wanted to give up this long fight against self-disclosure. He was exhausted by the effort of hiding, the battle to keep so much inside. This struggle to stay undetected -- from Campbell, from Samaritan, from the machine, from everybody he knew or cared about -- had worn him down until all that was holding him together was a frayed ribbon of nerves twitching unprotected in the wind.

It felt important that this woman understand him, not Riley or Warren or Reese, but him. That she see inside of him when he exhaled, that she know something true about Joss too.

“Same military background and training and instincts, same sense of purpose. She’s committed to saving people, same as me. She has a stronger sense of right and wrong than I’ll ever have. I trust her and I learn something from her every day I’m with her.”

He ducked his head, wanting to hide his eyes from Campbell’s searching gaze just this once. Riley couldn’t look like he was totally in love after only a few dates, could he?

“But then I’ve got a better sense of humor than Carter, so that sort of evens things out, doesn’t it, Doc?”

No smile, but she nodded her acceptance.

Campbell leaned back in her soft chair and he did the same. She was giving him space to drift a bit, time to compose himself while he lowered his lashes to capture the tears threatening to fall in front of her again.

It was Okay to cry in front of her. John Riley would do that. So would John Reese. He felt a hot tear steal down his cheek, but resisted brushing it away. So would he.

Then, without voicing the truce they had reached, Campbell steered the conversation to other topics. A spiraling string of questions led him through insights about his job, about violence and death, about friends, about the inevitability of all those enemies he got up every morning to battle.

He lost track of the passing minutes, his voice tumbling through the hushed room in a soft torrent of emotions. Riley’s words blended with Reese’s melancholic tone, but he was talking, telling true things about himself, things that mattered, events that changed him and people who kept him moored in this turbulent life.

So when a discreet bell chimed at last it seemed to spring on him from a great distance. He shook his head to whisk away the fog of confession.

“Have we gone over the hour, Doc?”

She smiled for the third time in the session, the movement of her lips indulgent like a mother’s and comforting. If she had been at all touched by their exchange he thought it showed in the chewed flakes of pink color left on her thin lips.

“You came in a little late, John, so I let us run over. I hope you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind.”

He was dismissed, he knew. So he put both hands on his knees to leverage his weight from the depths of the chair’s enveloping cushion.

But as he leaned forward, she stopped his departure with a brusque change of tone.

“I’m going to write up my final evaluation for the department when we’re done here. I wanted you to know that I see no reason you should not be returned to full duties immediately. And the IAB tail gets lifted tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

He wanted to say more. To make his gratitude rich and comprehensive, to expand on what he hadn’t been able to say during these hours they had shared. But she shrugged, and he damped down the words sliding up from his throat.

“No, John, thank you. For your service. For your commitment.”

He stood still in front of her, head down, chin tucked, the toes of his shoes touching one another. This was more than he could accept. So he said nothing.

“But you know, since we won’t be having another session, there is just one important point I want to bring up.”

Campbell’s voice sounded sly, a new coloration to her tone that intrigued him. So he raised his eyes until they met hers.

“You didn’t fool me with that casual act, you know. Not one tiny bit. I think that you and Detective Carter have progressed a little farther along than just a few random dates.”

Her laughter, when she finally shared it, was fair and bright and his heart contracted to the thrill of it.

“Doesn’t matter to the eval, of course, and I won’t write Carter into my report. But I just wanted you to know you were not getting away with even a little lie with me.”

She held her stare for a moment before her eyes narrowed in mirth.

“I see all, John. Exactly everything.”

He smiled, but without his teeth showing, to cover the gulp that clogged his speech. Then, as she turned her face up to him, he leaned forward into her personal space. He lowered his face to hers and whispered:

“Do you mind? Now that we’re off the clock?”

He kissed her cheek without waiting for permission, the dry coolness there surprising him, soothing him.

“Don’t mind at all, Detective.”

As she walked him to the door, a gentle hand pressed against his back. And when she closed it after him he thought the sound less a final thump than a sighing murmur.

On the ride down, Riley, Warren, Reese, and all the other ghostly personas crowding the elevator car took up their places inside him once more, but their burden seemed just a bit lighter than before.

In this new dispensation, tonight -- and Joss -- didn’t seem far away at all.