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Bullied

Author’s Note: I wrote this during the winter hiatus between Number Crunch and Super. It’s more of a case-fic than my usual stuff, no porn and only a vague hint of slash.

 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Reese stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk, only vaguely aware of the dirty looks he was given by those who had nearly walked into him. Something had to be wrong with his earpiece. Static? Interference? Had he imagined Finch’s voice in his ear?

“Finch?” he said, hesitant. “Is everything okay?”

“No, Mr. Reese, it most certainly is not,” Finch said, sounding much more like himself. “The Machine just gave us a new number. Detective Carter’s son, Taylor.”

“Oh, shit,” Reese muttered, his hand unconsciously resting over the nearly healed bullet wound in his left abdomen. “I told Elias to leave Carter alone; does he really think I’ll let him do anything to that kid?”

“John, I think you should leave-”

“Don’t say it, Finch,” Reese said, his voice hard. “He’s just a kid. He didn’t shoot me. And neither did she.” Finch’s only response was the clicking of his fingers on the keyboard. “What do we know about him?”

“He’s a freshman at Roosevelt High School, gets good grades, hasn’t been in any serious trouble, and spends a lot of time at his grandmother’s house.”

“Still think we should let him get killed?” Finch didn’t answer. “Send me the address of the school and his grandmother’s house. I’ll find him, clone his phone, and keep an eye on him.”

“I could go set up surveillance on the grandmother’s house,” Finch offered and Reese felt a tightness in his gut.

“No, I need you to dig deeper, find out everything you can about this kid, and see if there’s anyone else who might want to hurt him. We don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

“All right. Be careful, Mr. Reese,” Finch said. “You’re still not at one hundred percent.”

“I’m fine, Harold; quit worrying about me.” They could pretend that nothing had changed, but Reese knew how much Finch cared. He’d almost forgotten what that felt like, to matter to someone. He checked the address in the text Finch sent him and set out for Taylor’s high school.

~*~*~*~

Reese stood across the street from the front entrance of Roosevelt High, watching swarms of reporters trying to get quotes and sound-bytes from distraught-looking teenagers. Reese pressed the switch on his earpiece and opened the link to Finch.

“Finch, something has happened at the high school. I don’t see any police, just reporters. See what you can find out.” He crossed the street, walking behind one of the unattended news vans, and snatched a microphone out of the back. Insinuating himself into the mob, he listened for clues.

“How well did you know the deceased?” one woman shouted at a pair of girls who were trying to get away from the press. “Were there any signs that he would do something like this?”

One of the girls stopped, her mascara streaked down her cheeks by tears. “Andrew was a sweet guy,” she said. “He didn’t deserve this, but after the way they all treated him, what else could he do?”

“Mr. Reese?” Finch said in his ear.

“It sounds like some kid’s dead, Finch. Tell me we’re not too late.” Reese said, extricating himself from the crowd.

“Andrew Weston, age seventeen, committed suicide this morning by jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge. It looks like he left a suicide note on YouTube…Hang on a minute while I-” He broke off suddenly as the audio began streaming and Reese listened intently to the soft voice of a desperate young man.

“I keep hearing that it’ll get better, that’s what everyone says, but I don’t see how it can. People don’t change, and the assholes that I go to school with today are the same assholes I’ll work with in the future. I can’t…I just…I’m sorry, T. This isn’t your fault; I don’t blame you. You did the smart thing. It’s not too late for you…but it is for me. I don’t have any other choice. Good-bye.”

Silence echoed over the earpiece and Reese stood, staring at the sidewalk, Andrew’s words weighing heavily upon his heart.

“He’s right, you know,” Finch said after a moment, his tone bitter, “people don’t change. Society as a whole doesn’t change. They like to think they do; they talk about tolerance and acceptance, but it always comes back to some lonely, dead gay kid, only instead of murdering with fists, they do it with words.” He fell silent, and Reese had a feeling he’d said more than he’d intended.

“Did you find out anything more about Taylor?” Reese asked after a moment.

“I hacked into the school attendance records,” Finch said. “He wasn’t in any of his classes this morning.”

Reese had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I’m heading for Grandma’s house,” he said. “I’ll call Fusco and see if he can find out where the kid is. Maybe he’s just home with the flu.”

“And I’m going to see what sort of online presence he has. Teenagers these days will post just about anything on Facebook and Twitter.”

“Have fun,” Reese said, hanging up so he could call Fusco.

“Yeah,” came the gruff greeting.

“Is Carter with you?” Reese asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Leave the line open and find out where her son is.”

“Oh, hell no,” Fusco said, his voice ground down to a fierce whisper. “Look, I know what she did, but you leave her kid-”

“Really, Lionel?” Reese asked, not having to fake the indignation and anger in his tone. “You think this is about vengeance? Her son is in danger, now find out where he is or you’ll find out what vengeance looks like.” He heard the rustle of cloth as Fusco put the phone back in his pocket.

“Sorry about that,” he said a minute later, the sound muffled. “My son. He’s, uh, sick with the flu. His mom’s taking care of him. Hey, you got a son, right?”

Reese rolled his eyes. Real subtle, Detective.

“How do you know that?” Carter asked, her voice almost inaudible.

“Must’ve heard it somewhere,” Fusco said. “Is he doing okay? I mean, I heard this flu is hitting all the schools.”

“He’s fine, Detective Fusco,” Carter said. “I dropped him off at school this morning. Now, can I get back to my paperwork, or do you want to know how my cat is, too?”

Reese started to hang up, but then Fusco spoke again.

“Geeze, Carter, you’ve been in a pissy mood ever since your Guy in a Suit got killed. What’s the matter, you miss chasing him?”

“You’re on thin ice, Detective.”

“You know what I think, I think you need to quit blaming yourself. The guy was asking for it-”

“He saved my life. And then I turn around and betray him. How am I supposed to just let that go? He didn’t deserve that. He deserved to go to jail, not to be shot like a dog…” She trailed off, then said, “What is this? You working with IA now, wearing a wire and trying to get me to confess to something?”

“You need a vacation, Carter,” Fusco said and Reese heard him get up and walk away. “Did you get that?” Fusco said into the phone a moment later.

“Yeah,” Reese said. “Thanks.”

“Whoa, an actual thank you – I think I may die from shock.” There was a pause. “I have to admit, I’m kinda glad you’re not dead.”

“That’s sweet, Lionel, but you’re really not my type,” Reese said and hung up. He immediately called Finch. “Carter said she dropped Taylor of at school this morning. So why didn’t he make it to his first class?”

“I’ll see what I can find on surveillance,” Finch said, the staccato tapping of his fingers upon the keyboard in the background. “As to the reason for the truancy, I have a theory. I went back through his social network over the past few weeks. The things these kids deem newsworthy…” He sighed. “Anyway, it would appear that he was in a relationship, a secret relationship, one that he was afraid his mother would not approve of. He also mentions several people by their initials – I’m cross-referencing the school’s enrollment data to see if they are his peers – whom he accuses of bigotry, bullying, and hate-mongering, if I may paraphrase. Then, just a few days ago, he starts making derogatory and homophobic comments about ‘AW‘.”

“Andrew Weston,” Reese said.

“Yes, I believe they were friends, or perhaps something more, but he was pressured into denouncing his friend in order to save his own reputation and escape the ridicule of these people he mentions.”

“Didn’t Andrew say something in that video like, ‘I’m sorry, T. I don’t blame you’? Could T be Taylor?”

“Possibly,” Finch said. “All right, I’ve got the footage from this morning. It shows Detective Carter dropping the boy off at the front entrance. He heads for the school as she drives away. As soon as she’s out of sight, he doubles back and heads north down the street.”

Reese stopped walking. “His grandmother lives west of the school. Where’s he going?”

“I’ll see what other cameras I can find and get back to you.” Reese turned around and jogged back to the school, ignoring the ache in his leg and the pain in his side, then headed north, looking around for a likely hangout for a distraught teenage boy. After a few blocks, he realized he was in familiar territory. The diner where he’d spied upon Carter and her son was just around the corner. Finch hadn’t called back yet, so he decided to check it out.

Stepping inside, he glanced around, spying the young man hunched over a cup of coffee in a back corner booth, away from the windows and all by himself. “Found him, Finch,” Reese reported and then sat down at the counter, ordering a cup of coffee as he spent a moment just observing. Looking at him, it was easy to think Finch’s theory might be right. He looked devastated, haunted, utterly alone.

Picking up his coffee, Reese made his way back to the boy’s booth. “Hey, Taylor,” he said with a smile. “Does your mom know you’re skipping school?”

Taylor stiffened, looking up at him with a mixture of alarm and suspicion. “Excuse me? Do I know you?”

Luckily, Reese was carrying Stills’ badge, which he pulled out. “Sorry, I’m John. I work with your mother. I think we met a couple of years ago.”

“Oh…right,” Taylor said.

“Are you okay?” Reese asked, setting his coffee down and slipping in across the table from him.

“Yeah; fine.” He looked down into his cup again.

“You go to Roosevelt, right? Did you know Andrew Weston?” Under the table, he cloned the boy’s cell, then slipped his phone back in his pocket.

“What is this, an interrogation?”

Reese couldn’t stop a hint of a smile from reaching his lips. He had his mother’s attitude.

“No, it’s not. I just noticed you over here scowling into your coffee and wondered if you needed to talk to someone about the sudden death of your classmate.”

“I don’t even know you.”

Reese shrugged. “Sometimes that makes it easier.”

Taylor’s gaze darted around the room, everywhere but at Reese. “Yeah, I knew him,” he said finally.

“Were the two of you friends?”

“I’m not queer.”

Defensive. “I never said you were. Was Andrew gay?”

Taylor nodded. “That’s why he killed himself. He couldn’t take it anymore, the things they said, what they did to him. They killed him.”

“Who did?”

“Just some guys at school,” Taylor said, shaking his head. He dropped a couple of wrinkled bills on the table and grabbed his backpack off the bench beside him. “I gotta go before my grandma starts worrying. Don’t tell my mom I was here, okay?”

“No problem,” Reese said with a smile. “I’ll see you around, T.”

Taylor flinched as though struck, pain and confusion evident in his dark eyes as he hurried away. Reese watched him leave the diner, then paid for his own coffee and began to follow. Once outside, he contacted Finch again.

“There was definitely something going on between Andrew and Taylor,” he said. “What did you find out about those initials?”

“They match five students at Roosevelt who had a history of confrontations with Andrew, the most recent occurring two weeks ago when they ambushed him in the gym locker room, beat him, and wrote a filthy word across his buttocks with a permanent marker. They were suspended for a week.”

“That’s it? They should have gone to jail for assault.”

“His parents refused to press charges,” Finch said, sounding disgusted, “and Andrew recanted his statement, claiming it was just a prank that got out of hand. His father is a small-time politician – I think they’d rather have their son beaten to death than draw attention the fact that he was gay.”

Reese hesitated. “What word was it?”

“I won’t say it, but it starts with a C.”

“Oh.” He was silent for a moment, feeling sickened. “Taylor said ‘they‘ were to blame for Andrew’s death. Do you suppose the threat to Taylor’s life could be from one or all of these young men? If he witnessed the bullying, if he’s willing to testify, these boys could go to jail.”

“I think that might be our new leading theory,” Finch said. “I was unable to find any evidence that Elias or anyone else is planning a move against the boy.”

“All right, we’re going with that then. He’s on his way to his grandmother’s house now. The most likely place for an incident is at school tomorrow, but I’ll maintain surveillance on him tonight, just in case. Let me know if you find anything else.”

“Mr. Reese, you need to get some rest-”

Reese hung up and hurried across the street, wincing at the pain in his side. He could rest once Taylor was safe.

~*~*~*~

Crouched on a rooftop across the street from Carter’s brownstone, he watched them from behind the lens of his camera, his collar turned up against the chill wind that ruffled his hair. Seeing Carter again left a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He wasn’t sure if he was angry at her or if he felt sorry for her. All she had wanted to do was the right thing, but in the murky depths of the real world, the ‘right thing’ was often hard to distinguish, especially with someone like Mark feeding her terrible lies and even worse truths. He didn’t blame her, but he was disappointed.

It was interesting to see her at home with her son. She seemed…softer, more relaxed. While he did his homework at the kitchen table, she fixed dinner – one of those frozen stir-fry in a bag meals. They didn’t talk much and if she was aware of Andrew’s death or Taylor’s relationship with him, she made no mention.

When the food was ready, he cleared the table, carrying his books – and his cell phone – upstairs to his room, putting an end to Reese’s eavesdropping. Between sweeps of the neighborhood to make sure he was the only one keeping an eye on them, he watched them enjoy a quiet meal, both of them bearing such heavy burdens that they hardly noticed each other.

After dinner, Taylor went up to his room and got onto his laptop while Carter did the dishes and spread the contents of a case file across her kitchen table. Some of his sympathy for her faded as he watched her burying herself in her work while her son suffered in silence, until he realized which file she was looking at. She was holding the subway surveillance photo of him, looking like little more than a wild animal.

Part of him wanted to let her know that he was alive so she could stop tormenting herself, but the rational part held him back. If she thought he was dead, she wouldn’t be looking for him. That made his life a lot easier. And the less she knew, the less likely Mark was to try and use her again. Reese had no doubt his old friend was still looking for him – without a body and DNA confirmation, they would never stop – and he didn’t trust Carter’s particular interpretation of right and wrong.

Turning his attention back to Taylor, Reese contacted Finch. “He’s on his computer. Any chance of you taking a peek at what he’s doing?”

“Give me a second. And Mr. Reese,” Finch said as his fingers clicked over the keyboard in the background, “I do not appreciate being hung up upon.”

“Yeah? Well, I don’t appreciate you mothering me like an old hen, Finch. I’m fine. Now, what’s Taylor up to?” The silence that echoed through the earpiece made him shift uneasily, but he didn’t take back what he’d said. He didn’t want Finch worrying about him all the time. It didn’t make any sense. He was the expendable one, not Finch, and Finch could never risk his life and his freedom like that again. Not for Reese.

“It looks like he’s been checking his email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts,” Finch said after a moment, his tone icy. “He hasn’t made any posts or sent any messages, but he’s been looking at Andrew Weston’s Facebook page for a while. Let me take a look at it…” Reese heard more typing, then silence. “Those little bastards,” Finch hissed, his voice filled with cold, hard anger.

“What is it, Finch?”

“People have been leaving messages on Andrew’s wall, prayers and condolences to the family, and those five boys who assaulted him in the locker room, along with a few other people, have been replying with lewd and hateful comments. One of them even posted a picture of the assault, taken with a cell phone camera.”

“Is there anything you can do about it?”

“Assuming Facebook hasn’t wised up since the last time I breached their security, it shouldn’t be a problem, but deleting their comments and suspending their accounts isn’t going to stop them for long. I’m going to go to their houses and install a few cameras so I can keep an eye on them.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Finch,” Reese said, feeling that now familiar pressure inside his chest again.

“Now who’s the old hen, Mr. Reese?” Finch asked. The line went dead. Reese thought about dialing him back, but he didn’t know what he’d say. Finch just didn’t understand how important he was, how indispensable. Some people the world couldn’t do without.

~*~*~*~

“Mr. Reese?”

“Yeah, Finch.” It had been hours since they had last spoken, now well after two in the morning, and he was a little surprised to discover that Finch was still awake. Carter’s brownstone was dark and quiet – had been since about ten – but he couldn’t justify leaving. He’d been resting and recuperating for weeks; he could survive one sleepless night on a roof.

“I just discovered a post Taylor made on Facebook this evening that has me rather unsettled. He writes, ‘I made a mistake and now my friend is dead, and they still won’t leave him alone. I can’t let them keep doing this. I have no other choice. Mom, please forgive me.‘ I don’t like the sound of that, Mr. Reese.”

“Neither do I,” Reese said. “Maybe Taylor’s not the one in danger. I’ll have to have a talk with him before he gets to school.”

“That might be difficult if Carter drives him again.”

“I’ll figure something out, Finch.” He started to hang up.

“At the risk of clucking in your ear,” Finch said bitterly, “may I inquire as to how you’re doing?”

Reese didn’t answer for a moment. He’d had time to reconsider his earlier words, and he’d found them needlessly cruel. Irrational and illogical as it was, Finch clearly cared for him, an outcome he had not foreseen happening. The man was too paranoid, too secretive, but somehow, almost without either of them realizing it, they had come to mean something to each other.

“I’m cold,” Reese said. “I’m tired and hungry and my wounds ache. I’ll be all right, though.”

Finch seemed to hesitate. “You really should consider getting some rest. There’s a hotel eight blocks away.”

“Too far. Besides, I spent the last three weeks resting. I’ve used up all my sick days.” He heard Finch sigh.

“As you wish, Mr. Reese.” He hung up and Reese settled down to wait for dawn. Half an hour later, though, he was roused from his almost-dozing state by the unmistakable sound of a car on the street below. Grimacing at the stiffness in his thigh, he leaned away from the meager warmth of the exhaust vent from the building heating system and peered over the edge of the roof. A long, expensive black car was creeping down the street. It pulled over in front of his building and turned off the headlights. He was not the least surprised by the voice in his ear a moment later.

“Mr. Reese?”

“Yeah, Finch?”

“I take it you’ve noticed the car parked on the street. I figured if you wouldn’t go to a hotel, I’d bring the hotel to you. There’s cheeseburgers and heated leather seats in the back. You’re getting a few hours’ sleep if I have to sedate you myself.”

“Oh, Harold, you had me at cheeseburgers,” Reese said with smirk. “Thanks.” He ended the call before heaving himself to his feet, not wanting Finch to hear the cry of pain he had to choke back, his jaw clenched as he limped toward the roof access. He’d worked the stiffness out of his damaged muscles by the time he reached the street, but it didn’t stop the throbbing. As he walked toward the car, the driver’s door opened and Reese drew up short. “Finch? What are you doing here?”

“It’s three in the morning, Mr. Reese – do you know how annoyed my driver’s wife would be if I called at this hour? Besides, I wanted to talk to you about Taylor.” He opened the back door and motioned for Reese to get in. There was a large bag from a fast food restaurant sitting in the middle of the back seat and Reese grabbed it as he slid across the warm leather. Climbing in behind him, Finch pulled the door shut before sinking into the seat opposite, facing toward the rear of the car.

Pulling a hot burger out of the bag, he offered one to Finch.

“No, thank you,” Finch said with a grimace. “There’s bottled water under the seat beside you.”

“What, no coffee?”

“I told you, you’re going to take a nap after you eat, so no. No coffee.”

“Fine,” Reese said, taking a big bite out of his burger. “So what about Taylor?” he asked around the mouthful.

Finch rolled his eyes. “I was wondering how you planned to solve this problem. Your usual tactic of shooting everyone in the kneecaps isn’t going to work.”

“Why not?” He grinned at the dirty look Finch gave him. “I figured I’d just talk to him. He’s a smart kid, he’s just…upset, frustrated. He’s not thinking clearly and he doesn’t know what else to do. If I can convince him that we’ll take care of those boys, then I don’t think he’ll go through with it.”

“And will we? Take care of them, I mean.”

“I’d like to,” Reese said. “What they did cannot go unpunished.”

“Kneecaps?” Finch asked, and Reese was sure he must have imagined the hopeful tone in Finch’s voice.

“No, we don’t want to turn them into victims. They need to be exposed and reviled for the scum that they are. I was actually hoping you might have some ideas.”

“Perhaps,” Finch said, staring thoughtfully out the window. “I was able to determine which of their phones was used to take the picture that appeared on Facebook. If I had that phone, there might be evidence of other crimes on it.”

“I’ll get it for you. Anything else?”

“I might ask you to break into their houses and download the contents of their hard drives.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem.” They lapsed into silence as Reese polished off two more burgers and downed a bottle of water. Warm and full, he leaned back and groaned softly, his eyelids heavy. Pulling out his phone, he set the alarm to wake him in three hours. He needed to be back up on the roof before the sun rose. He glanced across the car at Finch, still staring out into the dark. “You should get some rest, too.”

Finch jumped, startled from his thoughts. “Hm? Oh, yes; you’re right. Good night, Mr. Reese.” He reached up and switched off the dome light, plunging the inside of the car into darkness.

“Good night, Finch,” Reese replied, shifting his long body into a moderately comfortable position. He’d slept in worse places than the backseat of a limousine. It wasn’t discomfort that kept him falling asleep, though. It was knowing Finch was in there with him, just a few feet away. He wasn’t sure why – he could think of no reason for Finch to try to harm him, and honestly, even if he had reason, Reese couldn’t see him succeeding. Finch didn’t like guns, and physically he was no match for Reese. Armed with this knowledge, it still took too long for him to drift off.

~*~*~*~

Only semi-conscious, drifting beneath a thin layer of sleep, Reese was vaguely aware of something tickling his cheek and brushing over his hair, but it didn’t seem that important, that threatening, and he didn’t wake. It wasn’t until he felt a hand on his shoulder that he jerked awake, grabbing the arm attached to that hand and pulling its owner off balance. With a surprised cry, Finch fell into the space between the seats, his knees hitting the floor and his other hand bracing against Reese’s leg to keep himself from falling into Reese’s lap.

“Are you all right?” Reese asked, reaching for his shoulders to help him back into his seat, but Finch stiffened, pulling away and holding up a hand to stop him.

“I’m fine, Mr. Reese. I just wanted to tell you that Carter is awake already.”

Reese glanced out the tinted windows, at the light on behind Carter’s curtains, and then turned back to Finch. “I’m sorry, Finch, I–”

“It’s quite all right,” Finch said, but his entire body was tight, his movements slow and cautious. “It was my fault. Next time, I’ll remember to poke you with a very long stick. Now, I should get this car out of here before she notices.” He took another moment, though, to adjust his tie. Reese watched him brace himself, taking a deep breath before heaving himself up off the floor, his body hunched as he moved to the door, opened it, and stepped out into the chill pre-dawn air.

Reese followed a moment later, turning up his collar against the wind. He watched Finch climb back into the driver’s seat and pull away from the curb, not turning on the car’s lights until he was some distance down the street. Then Reese headed back to the roof as the alarm on the phone began to beep.

An hour later, the sun had risen over another cold, gray New York winter’s day and Reese crouched on the roof, watching as Taylor got ready for school. Reese took pictures of everything that went into the boy’s backpack, listened to every sound that came over the microphone on his cell. There was nothing suspicious about him as he carried his bag and his jacket downstairs and tossed them on the sofa. Carter made eggs and toast and they ate a quick breakfast together, making small talk about his classes and whether he had studied for his finals.

“Are you okay?” she asked finally, the honest concern in her voice softening Reese’s scorn for her not noticing sooner.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Taylor said. “Just tired, I guess. Ready for Winter Break to get here.”

“Just a few more days. Sorry I have to work so much.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mom.” They lapsed into silence. After a minute, Carter got up, put her plate in the sink, and headed upstairs.

“Hurry up, we’re leaving in fifteen,” she called back to him. He waited until he heard a door close upstairs, then left the table and hurried into the living room. Reese watched through the front window as Taylor opened one of the drawers in the old, roll-top desk against the wall and pulled out a Browning semi-automatic pistol. It had a gun-lock on it, but he stepped over to the painting that hung beside the desk and felt behind the edge of the frame until the found the key. He put the lock back into the drawer, shut it, and slipped the gun into his backpack. Reese hesitated only a moment before heading for the stairs.

Glancing up and down the street, he climbed the steps to Carter’s front door, pulling his lock-picking tools out of his back pocket. A moment later, he slipped inside, his heart beating fast as he quietly closed the door behind him. He could hear the sounds of dishes clanking and water running in the kitchen as he moved to Taylor’s backpack and removed the pistol. Glancing toward the stairs, Reese turned to face the kitchen, waiting. A moment later, the water shut off and footsteps crossed the room. Taylor stepped into the doorway and stopped short at the sight of him.

“What-?”

Reese held up his hand, motioning toward the stairs. “Let’s not alarm your mother, all right?” he said quietly.

“What are you doing here?” Taylor whispered, crossing the room toward him. He froze again as he noticed his open backpack and the gun in Reese’s hand.

“I know about you and Andrew,” Reese said, “and I know what you’re planning to do to those boys who drove him to kill himself. I can’t let you do that.”

“But they killed him,” Taylor said, his eyes bright as he fought back tears. “I killed him. I turned my back on him. I have to do this for him. I can’t let them get away with it.”

“They won’t,” Reese said. “I’m going to deal with them. They’re going to jail.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“It’ll have to be, because if you take this gun to school, if you kill them, if the police don’t shoot you dead, you’ll go to prison for a very long time. Do you know what that will do to your mother and your grandmother?” He took a step toward the boy and reached out, placing his hand on the trembling shoulder. “Trust me, Taylor, Andrew would not want you to throw your life away.”

With a sob, Taylor fell against Reese, burying his face in Reese’s chest as he cried, his hands clutching at Reese’s coat. Awkwardly, Reese held him, the Browning resting against Taylor’s back.

“I hope you rinsed those plates before you put them in the dishwasher,” Carter called, her footsteps coming quick down the stairs. Reese stiffened and Taylor pulled away, wiping at the tears on his face. Reese glanced at the front door, but it was already too late to make a run for it. Carter appeared on the stairs and stopped dead. Their eyes met and Reese watched the fear bleed into her face, a deep and profound terror. Her hands shook as she drew her sidearm and pointed it at him.

“Get away from him,” she said, the panic in her voice making his chest hurt. As Taylor turned to face his mother, Reese shifted sideways, keeping the boy between them. Taylor froze at the sight of his mother pointing her gun at them, and Reese did not hesitate to take advantage of that.

“Take it easy, Joss,” he said, slowly placing his hands – including the one holding the Browning – on Taylor’s shoulders. “I’m not going to hurt him. Now, drop your weapon.” She hesitated. “Detective Carter, unless you’re willing to kill me in front of your son – and you had better be sure you do it in one shot – your best bet right now is to do what I say. You know what I’m capable of.” At least, she thought she did.

She put the safety back on and tossed the gun to the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

“Thank you. Now your backup weapon, too.”

Not taking her eyes off of him, she crouched and removed the gun from her ankle holster, tossing it down beside the other. “Please,” she said, “this is between you and me. Let my son go.”

“Carter, this isn’t about you at all,” Reese said, stepping past Taylor and walking slowly to the stairs, his finger on the trigger, but not pointing the gun at either of them. “Toss me your cell.” She stared down at him, looking like she was seriously regretting her decision to let him and Finch escape, then pulled her phone out of her pocket and threw it to him. He checked to make sure she hadn’t called for backup already before slipping it in his coat pocket. Keeping his eyes on her, he crouched, wincing at the sharp pain in his thigh, and picked up the two guns. He straightened up and backed away, crossing the room to a tall bookcase and placing all three firearms on the top shelf. Cautiously, she finished descending the stairs and hurried to Taylor, placing herself between them like any good mother would.

“Then why are you here?” she demanded.

Reese nodded at Taylor. “Ask him. Ask him about Andrew Weston.”

Frowning, Carter glanced back at her son. “That boy who committed suicide yesterday? You knew him?”

Taylor nodded slowly, his gaze fearful as he looked to Reese for help.

“Tell her,” Reese said softly. “She loves you. She’ll understand.”

His gaze downcast, Taylor started at the beginning, how he’d witnessed Andrew being bullied in the first few weeks of school, how he’d wanted to stop it but had been too afraid to intervene, how he’d started helping him pick up his books and wash the graffiti off his locker, how they’d become friends, how Andrew had jokingly asked him to the Homecoming dance, and how Taylor had really asked him a few days later.

Reese kept a close eye on Carter, watching her body language as she realized what her son was telling her. When she stepped back, drawing away from her son, Reese struggled to hide his anger and disappointment. For an instant, he wondered if Taylor would want to join him and Finch in their little vigilante enterprise, but then Carter redeemed herself, embracing her son as he started to cry again. Mission accomplished, Reese headed for the door.

“Wait,” Carter said and Reese hesitated, glancing back at her. “What does this have to do with you?”

“Taylor needs to tell you that himself,” Reese said. “He suffered a momentary lapse in judgment and almost made a terrible mistake, but he knows better now. Don’t you, Taylor?”

“Yes,” Taylor said. “Thank you.”

Reese nodded, met Carter’s eyes one more time, and walked out, closing the door behind him. As he headed down the front steps, he reached up and activated his earpiece. “Did you hear that, Finch?”

“Yes, Mr. Reese. Good job. You know she’s going to come after you, don’t you?”

“I’d be surprised if she didn’t.” He headed down the street, casually strolling down the sidewalk.

“Do you want me to send a car out for you?”

“No, I need the exercise.” Behind him, he heard the sound of a door closing. “And here she comes,” Reese said, unable to hide the weariness in his voice.

“Are you sure you can handle this, John?”

“You’ll be the first to know if I can’t.”

“Hold it,” Carter said and Reese stopped, turning slowly with his hands in plain sight as she stalked toward him, holding her weapon down at her side. She stopped a few feet from him, a scowl darkening her features. “I want my phone back,” she said finally. A little surprised that she hadn’t immediately tried to slap the cuffs on him, he allowed himself a small, crooked smile as he reached into his coat pocket. She tensed, raising her weapon, and he slowly pulled out her cell.

“Relax, Detective,” he said, “if I wanted to hurt you, I wouldn’t need to pull a weapon. I’d shoot you with your own gun.”

“You think so?” She looked like she wanted to put a bullet in him just because.

“Yeah, I do. Here’s your phone back.” He tossed it to her, her attention wavering for just a second as her eyes followed the flying phone. He reached out, grabbing her wrist in one hand and pinching a nerve that caused her fingers to straighten, his other hand snatching the gun away. Then the cell hit the sidewalk and broke apart.

“You bastard,” she said, rubbing her wrist.

“Sorry about the phone.” He released the clip, letting it fall to the sidewalk, and kicked it into the street under a parked car. He ejected the round that was still in the chamber and handed the empty weapon back to her. “I’ll contact your carrier and have a replacement sent to you ASAP.” In his earpiece, he heard the staccato ticking of Finch’s hands on the keyboard, probably doing just that.

She sighed and shook her head. “Why do you keep doing this?”

“Because I can. Because I can help the people you can’t, by doing the things you can’t.”

“You’re playing God–”

“I’m acting on information, just like you would, if you knew. Tell me you wouldn’t. If you knew for a fact that…” He glanced around, spying an older gentleman stepping out onto his porch to pick up his newspaper. “If that man over there was going to be murdered and you knew it, wouldn’t you try to save him?”

“Are you threatening him?”

“Damn it, Joss, you’re not listening!” He ran a hand back through his hair and let out an exasperated breath. “Forget it. Go home and be with your son. I’m not letting you arrest me today.” He turned and walked away. He expected to hear her coming after him, or for her to retrieve her clip and put a bullet in him, but neither of those things happened. He reached the corner of the block and glanced back to find her still standing there, watching him. Then he turned the corner and lost sight of her.

“She should have a new phone by this afternoon,” Finch said into his ear. “Do you want the addresses for those boys now?”

Reese drew a long, slow breath and let it out in a quiet groan. “I assume that means there’s no new number yet.”

“Correct.”

“Not right now,” Reese said finally. “I need breakfast and a shower and a nap. And maybe some aspirin. Are you at the library?”

“Yes.”

“Are you hungry? We could meet at that little diner you like-”

“I’m busy, Mr. Reese. Perhaps some other time.” Finch disconnected the call and Reese sighed. Then, with a determined set to his shoulders, he stepped into the street and hailed a taxi. He made one stop before having the taxi drop him off two blocks from the library. As he walked down the long hall toward the center of their operation, Finch didn’t look surprised to see him, just annoyed. “I don’t recall this being on your to-do list, Mr. Reese,” he said dryly.

“Top of the list, Finch: breakfast.” He walked over to Finch’s table and set down the drink carrier, wordlessly handing Finch his green tea, one sugar. “I figured if you wouldn’t go to the diner, I’d bring the diner to you. Eggs Benedict?” He placed one of the Styrofoam to-go containers on the table in front of Finch.

“Mr. Reese,” Finch began, but then just sighed. Reese grinned in victory and pulled over a second chair, sitting down with his coffee and his own breakfast, and stretching his long legs out under the table.

“So, what are we working on?” Reese asked, taking a sip of his coffee as his gaze roved over the monitors before him.

“I’ve been searching the ISP records of those five boys,” Finch said. “So far, nothing more criminal than illegal music downloads and a few porn websites. I’m hoping their cell phones and hard-drives will give me something more incriminating.”

Reese glanced at his watch. “It’s almost eight; they’ll be in school until three. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to gather the information. I can lift the cell when the kid comes home.” Reese hesitated. “Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you this morning, did I?”

“I’m fine, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, his tone putting an end to that conversation. They finished their meal in relative silence. Reese was the first to stack his plastic silverware, paper napkin, and empty cup in the to-go box and toss it all into the trash. He sat for a moment, feeling his eyelids grow heavy, before pushing himself up out of the chair with a groan.

“All right, text me those addresses and call if you haven’t heard from me by one. I think I’m going to skip the shower and just go to bed, assuming I don’t fall asleep in the back of the cab and wind up in Jersey.”

“Fine, you can sleep here,” Finch said, gathering up his trash. “There are clean sheets on the bed and I’ll try to keep quiet out here.”

Reese just stared at him for a moment, completely taken aback. “Thank you, Harold,” he said finally.

“No need for thanks, Mr. Reese. I’m just trying to be practical.”

“Still…thanks.”

Finch didn’t respond, his attention fixed on his monitors. Reese regarded him for a long moment, so secretive, so paranoid, so alone. He said he had his reasons; perhaps he did. Reese started to head for the crash room, then stopped, turned around, and came back to stand beside Finch’s chair, resting the edge of his butt against the table. Finch glanced up at him, a warning in his eyes, but Reese ignored it.

“When did you know?” Reese asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“That you were gay. How old were you?”

Finch stiffened, his mouth becoming tight and small as he looked away. Placing both hands on the table, he started to push himself to his feet, but Reese reached out, laying a hand on his shoulder, not a physical restraint, but it stopped him just the same. After a moment, Finch took a deep breath and sank back into his chair.

“I was about Taylor’s age.”

“And when did you finally feel safe telling someone?”

“I believe I was nearly your age.”

“That’s a long time to have to hide such an important part of yourself.”

“Perhaps for other people,” Finch said, trying to go back to his work, but his hands just hovered over the keyboard, “but for me, it wasn’t that important. I’ve never had much desire for any sort of social interaction. And that includes this conversation.”

“Understood, Finch.” He straightened up and placed his hand Finch’s shoulder again, a brief, light touch. “Thank you.” As he walked away, he shrugged out of his coat and hung it on Finch’s coat rack before heading down the hall.

“Just what do you intend to do with this new information, Mr. Reese?” Finch called after him. “You won’t find any ex-boyfriends, scorned lovers, or illicit affairs in my past.”

“I won’t find any, or there aren’t any to find? Because if it’s the latter, you really need to get out more.” When Finch didn’t respond, Reese said, “I don’t intend on doing anything with it, except to perhaps tease you about it. Like, I might buy you a calendar full of half-naked firemen. Or find excuses to take my shirt off to see if I can catch you looking. But I certainly would never use it to hurt you, Finch. Sometimes, people just like getting to know the ones they care about. Wake me around noon, all right?” Again, he got no response, but he didn’t really expect one.

Making his way into the small office turned stark bedroom, Reese set the alarm on his phone, just in case. Setting it down on a small cabinet beside the bed, he kicked off his shoes, drew back the blankets, turned off the light, and collapsed into the soft flannel sheets.

~*~*~*~

Cold sweat clung to his body, chilling his skin as he stumbled down the stairs, a fire in his gut, his leg throbbing. He wasn’t going to make it. He’d faced death so many times, it was like meeting an old friend again. He wasn’t afraid, just…regretful. Finch still needed him. He’d find someone else, but still…

“I wanted to say thank you, Harold, for giving me a second chance…” Anyone else would have written him off as a lost cause, or put a bullet in him for the things he had done, but not Finch. He had seen what even Reese couldn’t anymore.

“It’s not over, John. I’m close. Just get to the ground floor.”

“No. You stay away. Don’t even risk it.” He wasn’t worth it. If Finch was caught, if Mark got his hands on him… “Do you hear me, Harold? Stay away. Stay away…”

“Shhh, it’s all right, John. That’s all over now.” The stairwell faded into darkness, the pain in his wounds easing as the warmth of a hand ghosted through his hair.

Reese jumped awake as something thumped against his chest, one arm shooting out to grab his attacker, but he found only empty air.

“Time to wake up, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, and Reese blinked hard as he glanced across the room, where Finch stood in the doorway. His heart still thumping after his rude awakening, Reese sat up, frowning down at the book that slid from his chest into his lap.

“Did you…Did you throw a book at me?” he asked, picking it up.

“I couldn’t find a sufficiently long enough stick,” Finch replied before walking away. Reese sighed and ran a hand back through his hair, his chest constricting as he remembered the dream, that same horrible dream, bleeding in the stairwell with Finch racing to reach him, Finch putting himself in danger…He stopped, closing his eyes as he tried to remember how it ended. He hadn’t woken up in a cold sweat like usual. There was something, almost like…He brushed his fingers back through his hair again, then shook his head and got up.

Grabbing his phone, he cancelled the alarm and slipped it back into his pocket. He put his shoes on, ducked into the bathroom, and then retrieved his coat. Finch just sat at his table, reading something on one of the monitors. “Did you send me those addresses?”

“Yes, Mr. Reese.”

“All right, I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“I’ll be here.”

Already walking down the hall, Reese stopped and glanced back. “You know, this is pretty routine. I’m sure I could manage if you wanted to get some rest while I’m gone. I won’t call unless it’s an emergency.”

Bawk bawk bawk,” Finch deadpanned, his face lit by the light of his monitors. Reese regarded him for a long moment, trying to determine if he was really still so sore that he needed an apology. Finally, Finch glanced at him, the corner of his mouth quirking in an almost imperceptible smirk, which was about as close as Finch ever got to smiling.

“Get some sleep,” Reese said and walked out.

The first three residences on the list were pieces of cake – no security systems, no dogs, no housekeepers, and the parents either worked or were out. Reese was in and out in under fifteen minutes. It would have been faster, but he did some looking around while he was there, turning up a flash drive tucked behind some books in one kid’s bedroom and a baggie of pot in another. He took the drive and left the pot.

The fourth apartment was a little trickier. The kid’s mother was home, but her attention was divided between housework and daytime talk shows. Reese scaled the fire escape and slipped in through an unlocked window. While he downloaded the contents of the boy’s laptop, he peeked under the mattress and in the drawers of the desk. Glancing around for other likely hiding places, his gaze fell upon an old, hardback book sitting on a shelf crowded with DVDs and Playstation games. What was a seventeen year old boy doing with an Agatha Christie mystery?

Reese pulled the book off the shelf, unsurprised by the weight of it. He flipped open the cover to find that the pages had been crudely hollowed to make room for a revolver. Grabbing his phone, he took a quick picture before putting the book back on the shelf. As he climbed back out onto the fire escape, he almost called Finch to see if there had been any unsolved shootings involving gay kids and .38s, but he’d said he wouldn’t call unless it was an emergency. He doubted Finch was actually sleeping, but it was important to keep his word, regardless.

The last house was empty and he found nothing worse than a moldy slice of pizza under the bed. Pulling his flash drive out of the USB port, he tucked it into his pocket, slipped out the back door, and crossed the street to wait for the boy to come home. Standing in the shadows of an alley, he checked the information Finch had given him, studying the boy’s picture.

Keith Jenkins was an average-looking kid with average grades and average prospects, living with his divorced father who worked for a delivery company. Long hours meant Keith spent his afternoons alone. Or maybe not so alone. Reese tucked his cell away as three teenage boys made their way up the street, Keith among them. Reese recognized one of the other two from photographs in one of the apartments he’d recently visited.

Glancing up and down the street looking for witnesses, he allowed himself a grim smile as he crossed the street. He was going to enjoy this.

“Excuse me,” he said as he approached, making his voice a bit softer than usual. “Could you direct me to the nearest gay bar?”

The three looked him over. “Fuck you, faggot,” Keith said, emboldened by their apparent numbers advantage, even though Reese stood nearly a head taller than all of them. They moved toward him.

“C’mon, guys, I’m not looking for trouble,” Reese said with a disarming smile.

“You found it anyway, cocksucker,” said the one Reese didn’t recognize.

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

The boy took a swing at him. Reese broke his elbow and dropped him to the ground. Keith threw a wild punch. A moment later, he was gasping on the sidewalk, the breath knocked out of him and blood gushing from his nose. The third one hesitated, then turned to run. The hesitation cost him. Reese grabbed him by the back of his shirt and flung him into the side of a parked car, his head making a dent in the door.

Barely even breathing hard, Reese bent over Keith and searched his pockets until he found the phone. Then, just for good measure, he took the cells from the other two.

“Man, that’s my fuckin’ phone!” Keith said, wiping the blood off his face with the back of his hand.

Reese leaned down into his face. “You’re lucky I don’t put you in the ground after what you did to Andrew Weston, but I think it’s more fitting to send you to jail. I hear pretty boys like you are very popular in prison.”

He straightened up, stepped over the kid he’d slammed against the car, and walked away. Hopefully, Finch would be able to find something useful on the phones.

He caught a cab to his hotel, took a quick shower, shaved, and changed into clean clothes. He had started feeling reminiscent of the day he and Finch had met, except without the hangover. Sometimes, he wondered where he’d be without his mysterious benefactor. Most of the time, he had a pretty good idea.

Feeling considerably more human, Reese made his way back to the library, surprised to find Finch’s chair at the table empty, his monitors dark. He wasn’t in his office, either, or the bathroom. Frowning, Reese reached for his phone to give Finch a call, but hesitated. There was one place he hadn’t looked.

Walking softly, he traversed the long hallway and stopped outside the second door on the left. He eased the door open and peered inside, smiling to himself as the light from the hall fell upon the sleeping man, stretched out on the bed sans jacket and shoes. Closing the door again, Reese went back out into the main room and sank into Finch’s chair, digging the flash drive that he’d found out of his pocket. He jiggled the mouse to bring the system out of sleep mode, arching an eyebrow as he was prompted for a password.

Reese pulled the keyboard closer, his fingers hovering over the keys for a moment before pushing it away again. He’d never be able to guess Finch’s password, and Finch would probably never forgive him for even trying. Placing the drive and the three cell phones upon the table, Reese rose from the chair, shrugged out of his coat, and hung it on the rack. He wandered around the library for a while – up and down the corridors, looking at the books, standing before Finch’s list, staring out the grimy windows – until he just couldn’t take it any longer. He hated to disturb Finch when he so obviously need the rest, but he couldn’t do anything until Finch checked the drives and cell phones.

He returned to the crash room and turned on the light, walking slowly toward the bed. With his eyes closed, his face relaxed, his glasses resting on the cabinet, Finch looked like a different man, younger, more peaceful, without the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Stopping beside the bed, Reese stared down at him, at the man who had saved his life in so many ways, and he wished it were possible to take Finch’s burden from him, to grant him this peace every day.

Reese reached down to wake him and, on a whim, brushed his knuckles along Finch’s cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin. It stirred a faint memory, like an almost forgotten dream, a warm touch in the darkness, but then Finch shifted in his sleep, a soft grunt escaping him. Reese placed his hand on Finch’s shoulder and gave him a gentle shake.

“Wake up, Finch.”

Finch stiffened, his muscles tensing, and he opened his eyes, squinting up at Reese as his brow furrowed in a frown. “You really need to learn how to knock.”

“Hey, at least I didn’t throw a book at you,” Reese replied, turning away and heading out of the room. “I have the items you requested.” Behind him, he heard Finch groan as he sat up.

“Did you have any trouble?”

“There was a minor altercation outside Keith Jenkins’ house — two of the young men in question and a third that I didn’t recognize. I took all three phones, just in case.”

“I thought we didn’t want them to be the victims,” Finch said as he limped, somewhat more stiffly than usual, out into the main room.

“They threw the first punch,” Reese said. “What was I supposed to do?”

Finch didn’t answer, he just sat down at his table and got to work. Reese stood back near the window, watching silently as Finch worked his magic, pulling numbers, GPS locations, images, and video from the three phones. “This is good,” he said, his fingers dancing over the keyboard. “Any decent prosecutor should be able to build a case for intimidation and harassment. Now, let’s see what we have here…”

He plugged the flash drive that Reese had found into his USB port, his hands growing still as he watched the information fill his screen. “Gotcha,” he whispered. He turned his chair so he look back at Reese. “We got them. Involuntary manslaughter, maybe even second degree murder. This-” He gestured to the screens. “This looks like a record of every hateful email he’s sent, every gloating conversation they’ve had. It proves intent and–” He turned back to the screen. “It looks like there are a lot of victims in here. It won’t be easy to get them to testify, but once one comes forward, it should give the others courage.”

“You know, they’re looking at six or eight years, max,” Reese said. “Less if they’re tried as juveniles.”

“I know, but maybe exposing them as the bullies and cowards that they are will make other kids like them think twice about driving their classmates to suicide.”

Reese stood and watched him for a minute, scrolling through lists of email addresses. Both of them knew this couldn’t change the past, but maybe it could help make a better future. He walked over and grabbed his coat off the rack. “Let me know if you need anything else,” he said as he headed for the hall.

Suddenly, Finch gasped and Reese glanced back as he surged up out of his chair and hobbled across the room. Mildly alarmed, Reese hurried back to find Finch standing in front of his list.

“What is it?” Reese asked.

“A year ago, a sixteen year old boy was shot to death on his way home from school. The police attributed it to random gang activity, but there was nothing random about it, not if the Machine had his number.” He returned to his chair and began clicking through emails. “I just hope they were stupid enough to incriminate themselves.”

Loitering in the hallway, Reese suddenly pulled out his phone. “Do you know, was he shot with a .38?”

“I believe so, yes,” Finch said, glancing over at him. “How did you know?”

“I found a .38 hidden in the bedroom of one of our young friends.” He sent the pictures he had taken to Finch.

Finch made a disgusted sound and shook his head. “Look at what he did to that book. Heathen.”

Reese chuckled as he put his phone away and started to leave again.

“Thank you, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, “for taking care of all of this.”

“It’s my job.”

“No…Taylor was your job. This was…more. And I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Finch,” Reese said with a crooked grin. “I couldn’t have done it without you. In fact, I think you deserve something special for all your help. Tell me, do you prefer men in uniform or cowboys?”

5 Comments
  1. Penemuel permalink

    This is so, so good – I hear their voices as I read the dialogue. You really have them down well! I also very much liked the plot of this story – liked seeing the bullies get what’s coming to them.

    (This is g_shadowslayer from LJ, by the way.)

    • Thank you! I’ve watched some of the episodes so many times I have most of the dialogue memorized, so that probably helps me get their speech patterns right, lol.
      It’d be nice if more bullies were held accountable, but I guess that’s what fiction is for.

      Thanks for checking out my site! ^_^

  2. managerie76 permalink

    Good story. Solid. Really enjoyed the delicate treatment of Finch’s orientation and Reese’s teasing.

  3. This was good, and in some parts funny, You have Reese and Finch down.. I can hear Finch’s breath being let out after Reese’s final remark, and see Reese’s smirk.

    • Thank you. This was my first (and so far only) attempt at more of a case-fic than a romance, though I still couldn’t keep the slash out of it, lol!

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