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They brought him in with the last car. Fire Marshall Boone dragged Jake out of the basement, where he'd been checking the last cells to make sure that everyone was out. Boone was sending someone for a tank of oxygen when the Sarge came by to cuff him.

 

To his credit, Boone looked properly shocked to see Jake arrested. It was only a moment before the Marshall's face contorted into familiar disgust.

Marco and the Iannuccis at the scene were swearing up a storm, outraged at being charged with a crime when their building had been attacked. As soon as Jake could stop coughing long enough to talk, his voice was right there among them.

He was pretty worked up by the time they reached the Nine Nine. All his pent-up frustration came pouring out in a tirade of vitrol. His squad had seen him fake-mad, but this was unpolished rage. This was four months of isolation and one funeral too many.

He bucked and wrestled in Terry's grip until his mostly-healed ribs protested. They passed Boyle in the hall, escorting Tony Vongola to Interrogation One. Trying to get himself sent to the drunk tank to cool down, Jake barely paused in his struggle. Boyle, on the other hand, went pale.

That was fair. Today wasn't one of Jake's handsomest days. He'd caught his shoulder on a chain link fence in the basement and it was still sluggishly oozing blood. Besides the streaks of soot and the heavy smell of smoke overpowering his shitty cologne, the right side of his face was still covered in a massive bruise from a run-in he'd had with Paulie. Paulie'd hit him so hard he'd burst a blood vessel in Jake's eye. He thought that most of the red had cleared up, but the smoke must have aggravated it again. Damn it. Then there was the piercing that Derek had convinced him to get in his bad ear (he had a bad ear now, god, he was so old). Derek had been gunning for matching tattoos after his bullet wound healed up, but Jake talked him down to the ear piercing that he knew his mom would hate.

And that thought set him off again.

He yanked at his cuffs afresh, snarling at Boyle to mind his fucking business. His best friend flinched and scooted down the hall.

Finally he was alone.

Alone in Interrogation Two, but alone nonetheless.

Sagging against the steel table, Jake told himself he was conserving his energy for the coming confrontation. Really, he was just exhausted. His throat was raw from shouting; his head pounded from the carbon monoxide exposure and he felt like he hadn't slept in days (had he ever really slept?), but some deep part of him felt vindicated. Even if today was his last day on the case, it would be worth it.

They let him stew in the interrogation room for two hours. He would have almost been insulted, had he not known that Tony was keeping them busy. He'd fallen into a light doze when the door slammed shut, waking him with a start. Marx crossed the room swiftly, his face set in a firm scowl.

"Afternoon, Agent. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Jake said, slouching in his chair over his bruised ribs. He spat Marx' title like it was a curse, his voice sounding like he'd taken a cheese grater to his vocal chords.

"Is this a joke to you, Peralta?" Marx sneered. 

Jake leaned back in his chair, lifting his chin slightly. "I think you're a joke, but that's nothing new."

Marx glanced over his bruised face and soot-stained clothes. "You look like shit, but that's not new, either."

His handler held up a stack of files and started dropping pictures on the table - high quality photos of the exterior of the old Studebaker factory that had just been raided. Shots of several members of the Iannucci family, shots of scared-looking kids through the factory window, shots of kids being put into unmarked gray trucks. Vongola's credit card statements with purchases from the last few days highlighted. A detailed diagram of the firebombs that brought half the NYFD screaming across town. And finally, a signed confession.

"Tony Vongola is a florist." Marx announced, sitting down in the chair across from him and folding his hands. "Somehow a florist conducts delicate surveillance on the crime syndicate that got his brother killed, teaches himself to make an incendiary device, firebombs the building that just so happens to be the headquarters of the Iannucci's human trafficking operation, calls to tip off the cops in advance, and I'm supposed to believe you have nothing to do with this?"

Jake shrugged, smirking darkly. "You gotta watch those florists, man. They work with fertilizer all day, might start getting ideas. You ever hear of a demolitions expert called Vincenzo Santorini?"

Marx slammed his hand down on the table. "Peralta, I know you had a part in this. There's no way a civilian would have the know-how to pull off this kind of job without killing everyone inside."

"Well, it's a good thing I was in there, wasn't it?" Jake snapped back, his eyes flashing.

The FBI agent's calm demeanor flickered. "Don't fuck with me, Peralta. I know you provoked Vongola into doing your dirty work."

"Cool story, bro, but you're gonna have to prove it." He gestured to the pile of documents, scanning Vongola's statement with apparent casualness. It looked like it was all in order. "Everything you've got is circumstantial. Looks to me like Tony Vongola confessed to the whole plot."

"Only because you coached him into confessing in exchange for witness protection. You revealed your identity to an unstable civilian and turned him into a criminal to spare yourself a little discomfort." Marx' face was a stone mask. His hands, clutched into fists on the table, were his only outward sign of distress.

"Fuck you." Jake lurched forward, his steel chair scraping against the concrete. The handcuffs prevented him from rising too far, but the look in his eye was nothing short of deadly. "I kept my head down. I took all their shit. This isn't about my fucking comfort. This is about you not having the balls to stop kids from being sold to the sickest bastards on the planet."

His handler appeared neither intimidated nor impressed. "You short-sighted dumbass. You didn't stop anything - you just slowed them down. The only way to stop it for good is to arrest every last one of the Iannucci bosses. There's a cost, Peralta, a cost to making sure this operation doesn't start up again somewhere else as soon as the smoke settles. These things take time."

Jake's nostrils flared. He sorted through the photos on the table and found an image of a wide-eyed girl with long brown braids being escorted into a truck. His voice growing and louder as he went on. "I counted sixty-three kids just like her pass through that door and onto the trucks. Does that cost seem right to you? By the time the trial comes around, those kids could be anywhere on the-" He stopped as his ragged vocal chords protested the abuse. He grimaced, tilting head away from Marx and scoffing. "Forget it. I'm not doing this again."

Marx squinted. "What's your problem, Peralta? Is this personal? Is this about the funeral?"

Jake sank back into his chair, crossing his arms at the wrists. He looked away. "No, it's not about the fucking funeral. Why would I be pissed that you made me keep my mom's death a secret? Why would something like that bother me?" 

"Did you do what I told you?"

He shrugged lightly, his gaze drifting to the floor.

Marx leaned in closer. "Did you do it?"

"Look, Paulie had it coming. He was making Holocaust jokes while I sat shiva. He deserved more than a punch in the face." Jake clenched his hands, his lip curling in disgust. He raised his chin and glared up at Marx. "But I did it. I apologized to that son of a bitch, and now he thinks I hung the moon."

"He had better." Marx folded his arms across his chest, setting his shoulders back. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shut this whole operation down right now."

"Because I didn't start the fire."

"Bullshit. A good reason."

His face twitched. Jake mirrored his handler's pose as best he could, lifting his chin and summoning all the Mafia arrogance he'd learned to affect. "Because I'm expensive. You wanna take the Iannuccis down? Good luck finding anyone else who can take my place. I'm a soldier now. You think they'll let anybody else get as close as I am once they know I'm a cop?"

"What if I don't out you as a cop - what if I just dump you in the Hudson?" Marx replied in a dangerously soft voice, his expression returning to stone.

Like that would ever happen. Jake chuckled, a harsh sound like gravel crunching underneath a boot. He shook his head. "Get fucked."

"Listen Peralta, I'm not pulling you out of a fire again. Look at me - look at my face." Marx leaned to the side, gesturing vaguely at the one-way mirror behind him. "You think I give a flying fuck that your captain's watching? One more stunt like this - just one - and I will let you swing in the wind."

The blood drained from his face. Holt was here? Jake tried to straighten up, but his fight with the arresting officers made it hard to sit up properly. He masked a wince (badly) and settled for a slightly stiffer position, looking anywhere besides the glass.

Marx continued. "So do us all a favor. Keep your goddamn head down and your fat fucking mouth shut. Are we clear?"

Jake bristled, shifting in his chair. "Yes." 

"Yes what?" Marx pressed.

His lip curled. A half dozen vile responses flickered through his mind, but none that he'd willingly repeat in front of his CO. Instead, Jake ground out, "Yes. Sir."

Marx nodded curtly. He put Vongola's files back in order, sweeping out of the room - but not forgetting to slam the door behind himself.

Jake flinched again, tilting his bad ear away from the concussive force. His jaw tensed and his breath came in angry bursts. He shut his eyes and fought the urge to pound his fist on the table, uncomfortably exposed now that he knew his superior officer was right on the other side of the glass.

A soft click as the intercom came on. He heard the faint hum of computers in the observation room. Then came a low breath. "Don't mess this up, Peralta." Holt's words were chastening, but his monotone was as gentle as Jake had ever heard it.

Jake sighed and shook the tension from his shoulders, resting his bruised face on the cool metal of the table in front of him.

"I'm trying." He replied, his throat hoarse.

The intercom clicked again. A longer pause. Then, Holt. "I'm sorry to hear about your mother."

Half-healed scars tore open from the first condolences offered by someone who mattered to him. Jake was glad that his expression was hidden by the table. Raw fingers of grief squeezed at his stomach, contorting his face into something twisted and painful. His shoulders trembled as he fought for composure. 

"Thanks."


In an entirely unsurprising twist of fate, none of the evidence incriminated Jake - only the lower level thugs who directly ran the human trafficking operation. Jake swaggered out of the precinct surrounded by Iannuccis, trying not to make eye contact with anyone he knew. 

Too stiff to make it up the ladder to his loft bedroom, Jake crashed on his couch again that night, wondering how much sleep he'd get before the nightmares struck. Halfway through his second glass of whiskey, Jake realized something hilarious. The safest place he'd felt in a months was sitting in an interrogation room in the Nine Nine. That was why he'd fallen asleep so quickly.

No other place was safe for him anymore. The Iannuccis had stolen that from him.

Shit. Two Drink Jake was getting dark these days.

His phone pinged as he poured another glass.

3 UNREAD MESSAGES

contact. not claire
rcvd: 2:39 pm

Haven't heard from you in a few days.  Are you okay, Matt? 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 4:46 pm

How did that thing with your mom go? Want to grab a drink?

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 8:50 pm

I'm out with some friends if you'd like to meet up.

She'd been doing that recently. Offering to meet. Jake wondered if she suspected something about him and was trying to smoke out a rat. 

Maybe she really was concerned. True to his word, Jake had kept her informed of the wacky misadventures of Matt and Claire. Those crazy kids just kept missing each other, so of course he had to keep texting Santiago with updates when another scheme went awry. He consulted her on fake date plans, keeping his questions abstract so she never felt pressured to share concrete details with a mysterious stranger. While laid up from a job gone bad, he'd decided it was time for his fictional star-crossed-lovers to get together. He texted her the story of their first real date and Santiago's responding glee had been tangible.

Lately, though, pretending to be happy-go-lucky Matt had become more difficult. His handler had no pity for the mornings that Jake woke up too stiff to move. Consequently, he'd had a lot of practice pushing through his aches and pains with a wide smile on his face. Long days of lying to or avoiding everyone he knew took their toll; at the end of the day, Jake craved something that was real. When he got the news, Jake had left Santiago a vague message about his mom being in the hospital and dropped off the face of the earth while he plotted admittedly elaborate revenge on both Marx and the Iannuccis.

 

contact. not claire
sent: 8:55 pm

no thx. drinkin alonee tonigt. haha

Laugh riot. Three Drink Jake wasn't much funner than Two Drink Jake. Maybe Four Drink Jake would be better.

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:02 pm

Are you alright?

 

contact. not claire
sent: 9:06 pm

no

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:06 pm

What happened?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:11 pm

mom sdead

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:12 pm

Oh my God.

 

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:13 pm

I'm so sorry.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:14 pm

What do you need?

He laughed. So many things. His friends. His freedom. A good night's sleep. To not feel compelled to look over his shoulder every ten seconds.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:16 pm

a time machine. got ona those hangign around?

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:17 pm

Sorry, I'm fresh out.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:20 pm

sokay. no hard feelingz

He froze, looking down at his outbox. Shit. Shit. He'd typed that with a 'z'. She was going to figure him out. He should delete the app and turn himself in right now. Amy would never talk to him again.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:22 pm

fukc im sorry for botherin u

contact. not claire
sent: 9:23 pm

u got friends and whatevs i shuld leave u alone

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:23 pm

You're not bothering me.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:24 pm

But, if you're not comfortable talking to me, is there someone in your family you can talk to about this?

Four Drink Jake was even worse than his predecessors. At least he was honest, though.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:29 pm

no family. just me

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:30 pm

Could you talk to Claire, at least? I'm sure she'd want to know how you're doing.

He snorted. He was awesome at this undercover thing. Everyone believed the act. Way to fucking go, Jake.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:33 pm

ya mabye

If she existed. If his loneliness weren't such a complete and crushing thing that he put on every morning, overtop the gaudy mafia clothes he wore to remind himself how much he hated the persona he was portraying.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:43 pm

listen u were rlly nice to a totals tranger so ty for that

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:44 pm

You're welcome. I thought we might have graduated from strangers to weird texting acquaintances by now, though.

Jake's smile broke. He'd strung her along for too many nights, stolen too much of her sleep. It wasn't fair to anyone. Time to push delete on this app for realsies and let Santiago get back to her life.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:46 pm

ya well i gotta get my shit togehter

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:47 pm

What are you going to do?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:49 pm

goin away for a while. dont worry about me

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:50 pm

Of course I'm going to worry if you put it like that.

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:52 pm

Matt?

contact. not claire
sent: 9:54 pm

plz dont worry im really not worht tha t much

contact. not claire
sent: 9:55 pm

Shut up, you absolutely are. Pick up your damn phone already.

contact. not claire
sent: 9:56 pm

bye not claire

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:56 pm

MATT YOU ASSHOLE PICK UP YOUR PHONE

Six Drink Jake was indeed an asshole and didn't explain that the app wouldn't let him take incoming calls.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DELETE "TXT TIME" AND ALL ITS DATA?

contact. not claire
rcvd: 9:57 pm

MATT!

Six Drink Jake was an asshole. 

CONFIRM.