It’s a very simple process. Linear. Clean. It has instructions and that’s the most important part about any task to Reese. Stripping an asset down to its bare bones and rebuilding it, ensuring that its efficiency will be as reliable as it was beforehand is a duty he’ll gladly take up. He finds it relaxing, reassuring. Even if it’s washing dishes, the same mindless logicality exists as much as it would were he cleaning a weapon.
He knows Carter by her tread as she enters the kitchen, hands full of crockery and a dismayed look on her face. “Oh, you didn’t have to-” she says, hesitating, before setting the mugs down on the countertop next to him with the gentle resignation of someone who knows that battle has already been lost.
Reese moves along to the draining board without a word, picking up a dishtowel and continuing the task as if the new motion were just an extension of his arm.
“I can do that,” Carter says from his left, rolling up her sleeves, but Reese glances over and his features soften, a smile.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it.”
“Okaay,” she says in response, with an exhale that smoothes out into a smile of her own. “Anything else I can do for you, mister I’m-okay?”
“Thanks for the offer, Detective, but I’m pretty good with the dishes.”
Carter huffs a laugh. “Can do anything in a suit, huh.”
His smile quirks. “Something like that.”
For that, he gets a swat on the back with a dishtowel, and instructions to rinse the soap suds off before he dries them thank you very much.
Three weeks earlier.
She asks him while they’re nursing drinks at the counter of a bar, where the requirement to face forward takes away some of the gravity of the question, “So, why did you leave the agency?”
He seems to think over her question for a moment, turning the tumbler round and around with his fingers, then says, “Do you believe in god, Carter?”
Joss splutters a little, shoots him a look. “Yes. Yes, John. That’s how my mom raised me.”
“So you’ve never looked deeply into a religion enough to dismiss it?”
It presses a nerve. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but I could never stop believing in Him. That’s not how it works.”
While the bartender passes them by Carter goes quiet, pressing her lips together in a line while Reese looks impassive, and then shoots back at him: “Why’re you asking anyway?”
“When I was in highschool,” Reese says, “Bible classes were mandatory. Couldn’t skip one- you’d get in trouble. So I learned about rules.”
He rests his elbow on the counter and raises his drink in one hand, circulating the contents in slow, repeated rotations of his wrist. “They had us recite passages, remember the laws they upheld, but it didn’t stop there. It might’ve. That could’ve worked.”
“Once you learn something is fundamentally weak, it becomes an itch you can’t help scratch. So I went further. I looked deeper. And the longer I looked the more I saw people - soldiers, supposedly, followers of their creed - flouting them, breaking their own rules.”
“And the more I-” and here he takes a pause, like it's to collect himself, to keep that murmuring voice as steady as it has always been. “The more attention I paid those lessons only served to teach me that “lower” rules contradicted “higher” rules, and we’re supposed to obey which, exactly?”
“As a child, how are you supposed to know which is right? And which is wrong? That was the burden they were placing on us, but at the same time demonstrating that neither choice mattered, because even they were debauching, drinking, indulging.”
Reese brings the tumbler closer and glances into its contents, as if the drink itself might quail beneath the storm building itself between them. “They build their whole world on these rules, as if they were foundations, when they’re really as weak as their word.”
Carter has been quiet, but surely by now he must feel her gaze on him. She's not measuring him with this new information, or changing the opinion she holds of him into something lesser - really, any moral discussion of what outrages her about him should have already occurred by now. Reese is speaking like it's so simple to name lower and higher people in the world, like such compartmentalisation can be determined purely by one's personal beliefs. It's not an world she wants to be in.
“John.” She's got to try to explain this.
He doesn’t answer. It’s a form of answering.
“I- Let me- I’ll explain what it’s like for me, okay?”
“Sure,” Reese says, taking a sip of the whiskey, finally.
“Well,” she begins, hands up in front of her ready to talk, and eyeing him like he might just up and walk away. “For me, God is important because he’s always there. Wherever you are. In this bar right now, he’s right there, watching over us. And he’ll never leave.”
Reese glances towards her, some of the bitterness sunken into gauntness, eating deep shadows in the hollows of his cheekbones, and the sockets of his eyes, which are slightly red.
“The bible? Classes?” Carter flapped her hands down, fingertips brushing the bar counter. “They’re just interpretation. Meant to help kids along, deal with some of the difficulty in their lives. Not make them think.. harder.”
Her brows pull together and she pauses to look at him, leaning one arm on the counter to turn towards him. “It’s not usually my jurisdiction, but some kids we pick up - ten, twelve - are already jaded. Seems to me that when you see holes, it’s usually because you go looking for them.”
Reese returns her gaze a moment longer, then exhales, shaking his head as he looks away again.
“I know-” Carter says, just before he starts to speak again, “It’s different from you. We were raised different people. But I tell you, it’s all the same. You see it everywhere. Convicts on their knees, prayers, families all together after a tragedy.”
“Some of us have never had that comfort, Carter.”
“Well,” she says.
“Well,” and that’s all that can be said between foes, after all.
Reese is drunk and Reese is dangerous; neither of these are a good combination.
He refuses to lean on her but he does eventually put an arm around Carter’s shoulders after a bit of coaxing, and they head outside at his slow yet steady, shuffling pace.
He smells a little like he used to when she first picked him up off the street; just as silent as he was then too. For a moment, Carter wonders whether he’s allowed to drink, and then who might hold that permission.
“Where’s your place?” she asks him when he’s staggered into the car, “Near here?”
“Couple blocks,” Reese says (slurs), “Centre street ‘til Worth.”
“Come on,” Carter says in response, “Come on then.”
She gets calls from Mr Finch; directions from Fusco. Cases are solved and reopened, her shadow remains stubbornly forgotten, and she doesn’t hear from the man in a suit.
In her spare time, she has a lot less to focus on, and she doesn’t like it. She calls Cal and he sounds surprised by her asking him out to eat. Perhaps that’s what finally tips the balance and defrosts the cold, chilly fingers holding Reese’s reins.
Or maybe it’s entirely John’s decision to show up at her apartment, leaning on her doorframe like wet rot and saying nothing but a short gesture of his head. Inside.
“Why’re you here, John?” she asks him as she fumbles for her keys, twists the lock open and lets herself in. “You following me?”
“No,” comes the succinct reply, as Reese slides past her into the apartment. “Just finishing a conversation.”
Carter drops her bag down onto the coffee table, gesturing towards the couch when he doesn’t move. “Taylor isn’t home, though I guess you know that. So you have plenty of time.”
“Thanks,” comes the whisper, and then the shadow she lost is shutting the door and coming to sit over on her couch like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
Carter just exhales and shakes her head a little, as she sinks into the chair opposite. “Well, go ahead.”
The thing is - the thing that should be weird - is that Reese doesn’t fidget. He’s not uncomfortable in any overt way that she can see, but at the same time, there’s something off about tonight. He doesn’t seem like he’s been drinking, but maybe some combination of spending too long out of pocket and too many years as the CIA’s dog have made him into a result of both. An experiment, returned to bite them in the back, if he didn’t kill himself first.
“You remember,” Reese says, all quiet, like he does, “When I asked you about moving on? When we were in the car?”
It takes a moment, but: “Yeah, with the Drakes. I remember.”
“You said.. “marriage is a whole different animal”. And I’ve been thinking about that. Thinking that maybe, quitting the agency isn’t that different at all.” He smiles. “Except your wife doesn’t usually try to kill you.”
“If you keep giving them reasons they aren’t ever going to stop, John.”
“No, not that. Before.” Reese raises his eyes to the mantlepiece over past Carter’s shoulder, still wearing that toothy smile. The one that Carter understands as his bitter smile, like blood, or maybe gunpowder, is settling between his teeth. “I never left the agency. They made me leave.”
Carter’s eyes widen, and the hands that had wrung themselves together now clench. Her voice lowers to a coarse whisper as she leans forward. “They tried to kill you? Before you broke any laws?”
“Technically, we were operating outside of our jurisdiction,” Reese says, and then adds, “Enemy soil. But the laws we were breaking were… justifiable to our superiors. Easy to pass off; barely a second thought.”
“So you see, like I said Carter, there are a lot of people in this world who teach us which rules to follow and which to break, and when you’re no longer the pure, useful soldier to them, you’re out on your neck. No forgiveness. No absolution.”
“And the difference between the prophets out there and the ones right here is that we’re not writing the rules. We’re only choosing which ones to break, in the name of giving people second chances. Something I think all of us deserve.”
“Sometimes when you buck against us and say you don’t want to bend the law.. I get it Carter, I really do. But when you see those men, out there, flouting them as if they were no more than just numbers?” Reese leans back into the couch, tilting his head back and pushing his hands over his temples. “I wish you could see what I see. And at the same time, I hope you never will.”
The room settles, and the cold wind blowing outside rattles the ducts like it always does on its way past.
“Why are you here?” Carter asks him, tone soft, concerned. “You don’t owe me a conversation, or an explanation - I didn’t need to know.”
“Because everyone needs someone to talk to,” Reese says. “Everyone. Even me.”
This time Carter shuts herself in an office and calls first, the line picking up with barely a blip.
“You know what happened last night?”
“I keep a close eye on Mr. Reese’s whereabouts, so yes I know he came to see you.”
“Well I just wanted you to know that if that happens again, I might have to call it in.” She opens the blinds a little, peering out at the bustle of the bullpen just beyond. “He was… different. Dangerous. Moreso than usual, and I wasn’t under the impression that I was his enemy.”
There’s a momentary pause on the other end of the line, before Finch continues. “Not at all, Detective. I’ll look into it.”
It’s too much of a pause for comfort, and Carter lets the blind snap back down. “If you know something I don’t, I recommend you get on that. Or next time you might be too late to bring him back.”
She hangs up. It’s a fleeting feeling of control.
The day concludes without issue and Carter picks her son up from school, nervously checking the apartment block for hangers-on. If any are home, she can’t see any sign of them, and she tries to put her mind off it for the rest of the evening.
Of course, it doesn’t help that she jumps at Taylor’s touch, nor that he brings it up halfway through dinner. If she’d found it difficult to quantify what the relationship between her and Reese is before, now is a whole different story.
“Just something at work,” she says, to explain the mental absence with an unvoiced apology, “Keeps coming back up; I’m trying to get it off my mind.”
“Is that the guy in the suit?” Taylor asks, and Carter freezes. He picks up on her reaction and that unknowing smile grows wider. “Oh, for real, mom?”
“What do you know about him?” she says, eyes dropping to the table and busying herself with her meal, trying to shake herself out of it. How could he possibly know? Reese’s case was under lock and key - had she said something, let it slip out by accident?
“The guy,” Taylor repeats, one eyebrow quirking like when she’d say something about one of his video games and get the words completely wrong. “You know - the one going around, saving everybody?”
Carter stays quiet, which Taylor takes as more ignorance to correct. “He doesn’t have a name, doesn’t care about the law, doesn’t even seem to sleep, just turns up out of nowhere like— Batman or something. Tell me you haven’t heard of him.”
Her heart’s beating a little slower with the realisation that it hadn’t been her he’d heard it from, so she can reply. “Oh, no, we have. Just, same as you really, don’t know much about him. ‘Cept he’s a crook.“
“A vigilante, mom.”
And so what if she smiles, so what if maybe Finch is listening and Reese is being rather wayward lately. She’s got time to have fun with her son, whatever her job actually is nowadays. She’s still got that.
Her phone starts ringing.
While Taylor goes to scarf down the last bit of food she looks up from digging into her bag for her cell, long enough to say: “Hey, make sure you wash up, okay?” Taylor’s grimace is returned with a smile, before she gets the button pressed and the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Detective,” begins the voice, and Carter instinctively turns away from the door her son’s just left through.
“Why are you calling this number? I’m in the middle of a conversation with my son,” she says, and immediately afterward she half-expects a cool reply that they call this number all the time without any problem, Detective Carter.
“We should meet,” Finch says, his voice as measured as ever, “Tonight.”
A stone drops through Joss’s stomach. “Is this about John?”
The slight hesitation gives her an answer. “I hear the 169 bar is quite the social climber these days. Shall we say eight?”
“Nine,” Carter says, “I need to drop Taylor off; I’m not leaving him here alone.”
“Nine,” Finch agrees. “I’ll see you then.”
The bar is dark, the tables separated from each other, patrons murmuring or drinking and laughing. It's a good choice: on the edge of being unknown while still populated enough for privacy.
Finch is sitting at a corner table with lights reflecting off his glasses.
When Carter slides into the booth opposite him, she notices the lack of drinks. "We leaving soon?"
"I have a predetermined arrangement," Finch says, looking steadily at her. "I'll be brief, Detective, our mutual friend has been rather unoccupied as of late and it has been… an experience, to say the least."
"What's he been doing?" Carter asks, because if Reese is this unpredictable when he's with her, Finch seems rather vulnerable. "Is he threatening you?"
Harold looks at her like she's just asked him the name of his first cat. "Nothing of the sort, but as I say, he can be difficult to keep-"
"Look." Carter sets her hands on the table, gently, imploring. "Whatever he's doing.. if it's dangerous - to you, or me, or to anyone else, I know you aren't interested in the authorities but we've gotta do something. Act, for him, before he does."
There's a little pause, and Finch drops eye contact as he responds. "It's Detective Fusco, actually."
Finch shakes his head - two jerking lines that don't move very far. "I shouldn't say more, not here." His eyes flick back up to hers. "But I would very much like to know what Reese does when he visits you."
Carter shrugs one shoulder and hooks one leg over the other beneath the table. "Talks about rules, mostly. His past. Religion. Told me why he quit the agency--" At that, Finch's eyes widen. "But didn't seem to expect me to understand. Figures."
"And he left of his own accord?"
"Both times," Carter nods, but then her lips pull back in a pained smile. "Although, the first time, he drank so much I had to haul him out. Took him home."
Finch sort of winces but turns it into an inhale.
"I know. He won't do that again." She shakes her head. "Not with me, anyway. What's he doing with Fusco?"
She's not certain she'll get a response, but Finch looks at her, then says: "Mostly? Same thing he's doing to you."
"Being an asshole," Carter says, and is about to laugh before she catches sight of Finch's expression in the half-light. Then it just turns into a rough exhale and she tucks her lower lip beneath her teeth, thinking.
Finch is looking at her; still looking. That penetrative gaze of his scours every inch of her psyche like a - not an animal, more like a human staring at one to see how it behaves. The image is abruptly broken by Finch shifting and also placing his own (gloved) hands on the table. They're woollen, maybe new, or only lightly worn.
"If he comes at you again," he says, "I'll ensure that he never interacts with you again. Would you like me to provide bodyguards? Someone to watch Taylor at school?"
Carter doesn't smile, but her voice is soft, thankful, when she replies. "Thank you, but that's okay. I prefer to take care of myself, and Taylor can hold his own."
"Are you sure?" Finch asks, "You were voicing your concern just a minute ago."
"I am," says Carter, and she looks off into the bar, at the patrons trickling in with the late-night crowd. "I think I know why he's doing it."
"And why is that?"
She glances back at him, still with his gloved hands and thick coat and the glasses reflecting so many things right back at him. "What did Fusco say to your offer?"
Finch blinks, then pushes his glasses up his nose. "As his was the first incidence of Mr Reese acting… out of hand, I treated it somewhat casually. If I had acted earlier, perhaps he would not have sought out you, too."
"You never gave it to him."
"No, Detective, I didn't."
"Then maybe hindsight will help us both this time, huh."
It feels like she spends the whole day complaining that it's going far too slowly.
After the talk, she had left the bar and called Reese on her way home, asking him if he would want to meet at her place tomorrow. Reese, curious and evasively smart as ever had tried to weasel an explanation out of her, but she had stuck firmly to her guns and said not a word she didn't mean to. He would have had to try a lot harder to get around an ex-interrogator he didn't want to end up offending.
Because that was the interesting thing - he didn't want to offend her. She can tell, even with his usual back and forth, during the call there was never any menace (of course) and he never pushed over the line. No, even by his usual stellar standards, John Reese had been… easy-going, courteous. Carter would go so far as to even say downright polite.
Now, naturally, she's nervous and unsure which to expect: the Reese who spoke to her on the phone, or the scotch-drinking anarchist in the bar. She hopes it's the former, but John always seemed more like a mix of the two.
Taylor is over at a friend's house to do homework, supposedly, but Carter knows that's code for doing whatever the hell he likes. She's okay with that; she doesn't need Reese to run into him. It gives them time together alone, and that's what she needs.
Reese knocks at the door, so at least he's bringing the polite John with him. Carter opens it and lets him in, aware as he enters as she always is of how tall he is, how he carries simultaneously the weight of the world and the strength to hold it on his shoulders. And, of course, the ability to let it loose if any situation ever needs it.
"Sit down, John. Coffee?"
"Yes," he says. Yes. Alright then.
Carter leaves him there to get comfy in whatever way he sees fit, heading out to the kitchen to pour two cups out. "How do you take it?"
"Black, two sugars."
The knowledge amuses her faintly in some far-off corner of her mind that isn't paying close attention to every corner she shows her back to, every sound that tells her where Reese is and what he's doing.
She re-enters the room to find Reese exactly where he was sitting two days ago. If he didn't take the coffee she handed him, she would've said it was the exact same day. He's even wearing the same damn suit.
"Alright," she says, as she sinks into the chair opposite and rests her mug on her knee. "I suppose you want to know what this is all about."
There's no answer from the man in a suit, just the whites of his eyes.
So Joss continues. "I was thinking about what you said. About moving on?" She gestures to the empty air. "I figured it must be important, if you still remembered that. So I started to think: why would a man like John Reese remember what I said, about marriage?"
She crosses her legs and circles both hands around her coffee mug. "I thought maybe you were trying to teach me a lesson." She smiles. "Like I needed to know there were bad people in the world, and I should be more careful about who I trust."
"Or maybe, you thought you were trying to protect me. That I was one of the people you're so obsessed with, needing to know which way is right and which is wrong. Yeah, I can see that. I can believe that's what you were doing."
Joss leans forward. "But then I remembered what you came to me for. And back at the bar, when you were so doubtful about what I could believe."
She looks at him, and there's no smiling now; no submission, no gentle coaxing, but neither is there menace choking up her voice, nor immovable, factual reason. "I know why you're here, John. Now, and all those other times."
"Then tell me," says Reese, all hard eyes and mouth like a knife.
It takes a beat, but she stands up, leaving her mug on the coffee table between them as she comes towards him. Carter stops at his knees, feeling the strangeness of being taller than Reese, of perhaps being the one responsible for the world while he rests.
She places one hand on his knee, leans forward, then sets the other one on his shoulder and kisses him. Just for a moment, her weight presses them closer together than she intended, before she regains stability and breaks away.
He's looking at her like she surprised him; like out of all the possibilities Reese is trained to expect, John never anticipated her.
"You're lonely," Carter says, from this strange position. "You need people."
In that moment she feels a sudden surge of rage against Finch for not seeing it, or for seeing the potential and then throwing up walls because he'd forgotten how to treat mankind without owning it.
"Not taking it seriously my ass," she murmurs, and when Reese's brow-line pulls together she kisses it, then runs a hand along his jawline and up into his hair, through dark strikes, and ever so often, something grey.
"Is this what you wanted to tell me?" Reese murmur-whispers, and she smiles somewhere deep where she figures she'll always end up smiling as the Suit blows up a garage door or saves another pair of lives.
"Sure," Carter says, with a laugh, "You gonna even listen?"
"I might," he says. "Depends on what you want me to do with that information."
"Keep it to yourself, share it with the world, I don't know. Whatever you want to do." She slides her hand down to sit alongside of his jaw, thumb in the indent between neck and ear. "But we should go out sometime. Get to know each other. Oh, and don't torture Fusco. He does that well enough himself already."
"Okay," Reese says, as easy as that. Blinking up at her. "Okay."
"You should close those eyes, white boy," she says, as she pulls away, "Someone could fall for those."
It’s a very simple process. Linear. Clean. It has instructions and that’s the most important part about any task to Reese. Stripping an asset down to its bare bones and rebuilding it, ensuring that its efficiency will be as reliable as it was beforehand is a duty he’ll gladly take up.
He finds it relaxing, reassuring. Even if it’s washing dishes, the same mindless logicality exists as much as it would were he cleaning a weapon.