Six months after meeting Morgan, John Reese is getting his life back together after some intervention from a reclusive billionaire with a job offer. However, things get complicated for the ex-operative when he learns of events that transpired the day before he had been forced to tell the little girl goodbye. He only wanted to check up on her from afar – but this time, keeping his distance; both emotionally and physically, may not be enough. Tag for the Pilot Episode.
Contains Spoilers for: 1x01 ‘Pilot’; 1x21 ‘Many Happy Returns’
Chapter Two: Meetings and Revelations
Location: New York City, March 2011
The loud banging of the front door, and then the porch door, caused Morgan to jump in her bed ; causing the springs to squeak in protest. Jacob Sweeney, after yet another row with his wife, Regina, had left the house in another rage – more than likely heading toward the nearest bar in order to get even more wasted than he already was. The past few days, the couple had been rowing a lot more and the children in the house had been taking the brunt of both adults frustration; Morgan being the youngest and notoriously, the quietest, had always been the most easiest target when things became really bad – when not even Joshua could step in to take some of the blows meant for the younger kids in the house: three in total, including Morgan.
Swallowing, the nine year old turned wide eyes to the bed across from her, where eleven year old Alison lay; her face turned toward Morgan. Alison had been in care since she was four, and had been known for running away since she was seven; unlike most of her previous foster sisters, Alison didn’t question Morgan’s silence – she tended to ignore Morgan when they were all together – but when things became bad, the older girl normally offered small snatches of comfort. However, tonight, there was no indication of comfort – as she had been the one on the receiving end of Regina’s anger; Morgan hoped the older girl would be okay in the morning, after her tumble down the stairs.
The Sweeney’s tended to have amnesia when it came to the acts of violence they brought upon their adolescent charges – and in turn, the kids were meant to do the same.
Bringing her hand up to grasp the silver chain she refused to take off – the only thing left of her biological parents, whoever they had been- Morgan squeezed the trinket that was the focus of the necklace, and closed her eyes. Letting out small breaths in the hopes of calming her racing heart, the anxious nine year old thought back to earlier in the day, when she had encountered John in the park again.
She had met him two weeks ago, after a not so good day at school and a pretty bad night; at first she thought he had been nothing more than a drunk business man, but after he had dropped the bottle and had apologized to her for scaring her – Morgan’s thoughts had changed. She wasn’t sure in what moment she had trusted him.
After all, he had lied to her face – which she was used to, as every adult she had met had lied to her in some degree. But there had been something about him that was different. He had been genuinely concerned about her, and he also seemed to understand her – he had tried to reassure her, that things would get better; she hadn’t thought so, but whereas she probably would have been hit for speaking out of turn he had merely shrugged and instead told her that she wouldn’t be alone, even if he couldn’t promise that things would look up sometime soon.
Since their first meeting, Morgan had noted his slightly different approach to interacting with her. While most adults would try and force her to talk, he didn’t mind her silence and when she did speak he would give her all his attention and partake in small conversations that often involved long pauses. She appreciated it, even if she hadn’t told him as much; for all she knew, he could be a criminal on the run from the gangs and left living on the streets, as they offered anonymity to those who did not wish to be found.
It was why she let her mind wonder back to those afternoons to help her descend into slumber – the bench was a haven, and John was an unlikely companion during her time in her sanctuary. She missed Tasha a lot though – her friend had been at her placement for over a month now and seemed to be enjoying the break away from the city, but the girls would still keep in touch. A part of Morgan’s mind wondered if Tasha and John would get along; she thought they would – after Tasha pushed his buttons to see his reactions. She always did that to learn the personality and behaviour of the individual her younger friend had stumbled upon; Morgan just hoped that if they did ever meet, Tasha wouldn’t tear John or her, a new one.
Location: New York City, October 2011
Two days later, John Reese found himself leaning under a tree in a small Brooklyn Park, near to the school he had found Tasha Reynolds attending. Observing the kid, Reese noted that the two girls couldn’t have been more polar opposite if they had tried. Whereas Morgan was a shy individual by nature- Tasha was a natural fighter, who had appeared to be able to take care of herself just fine from what he had witnessed. It had been easy to pick up her routine, which was why he had decided to try and speak to the kid after school.
Dressed in a pair of dark jeans, biker boots and a brown biker jacket left open to reveal a dark t-shirt (a different persona to the man-in-the-suit he would soon be referred to as) – Reese found himself uncharacteristically nervous at the prospect of reuniting with Morgan again; even if reuniting meant watching her without the kid knowing.
While he hoped she was doing okay, and that nothing had happened to her after their parting – Reese hoped that she had forgiven him for what occurred during their last exchange; he hadn’t meant to hurt her – the kid had an aversion to touch as it was – but the way he had seen her curl her arm to her chest after he had grabbed her shoulder, had seemingly led to the only promise he had made to her, being broken.
Spying eleven year old Tasha Reynolds, Reese straightened up from the tree and kept his hands in his jean pockets when he began to move.
Tasha appeared to have gone for the slightly gothic approach in her dress sense, Reese mused, as he noticed the small spikes on the front of her black jeans; the kid’s straight hair was held by the hat she currently wore, and was tucked into the collar of her dark jacket.
Catching up to the girl five minutes later, after she had left the park and had starting walking down one of the quieter streets leading to the group home she was currently residing in, Reese was trying to find an opening of some kind to strike up a conversation with the girl.
However, when the girl took him by surprise by turning to face him – the play was taken out of the former CIA Operative’s hands.
“Look creep, I don’t know what your game is – but one scream, and the cops will be all over you.” Tasha Reynolds spoke boldly, her stance challenging as she stared defiantly up at the taller man.
Reese raised his hand slowly to show he meant no harm. It appeared that his initial analysis on the kids personality had been spot on – he had even caught a bit of Morgan’s rare spunk in the kid; making him wonder who had influenced who.
“I don’t want any trouble,” he said softly. “I was just hoping you could help me find a friend of mine.”
“Yeah? And what makes you think that I’d know anything about your friend, huh?” the eleven year old asked, crossing her arms and not wavering in her eye contact.
“Because she spoke about you quite a bit,” he shrugged. “She said you were her best friend – ever since you had fallen on top of her while jumping on a bunk bed when you were six years old.”
Tasha’s eyes narrowed at the stranger’s explanation. That was how she and Morgan had first become friends; she had ended up with a broken arm after falling from the top bunk, and had given Morgan the mother of all headaches on top of the cold she had been suffering from at the time of the bunk bed escapade. But the incident had been worth it, Tasha mused, despite the fact the whole thing had been an accident; the two complimented each other with their conflicting personalities and respective strengths and weaknesses.
However, if the man before her was telling her the truth, why hadn’t Morgan told her about him?
“Really? What’s your friend’s name?”
“Morgan. Her name is Morgan.” John answered, with only a slight hesitation.
Tasha took a step back upon hearing her friend’s name. Shaking her head, her expression became unreadable. “How come I’ve never heard of you? I’m sure if you and this Morgan were f-friends, that she would have told her other friend about the tall guy she had started talking to.”
John licked his lips as a bad feeling began to rise in the pit of his stomach. “Is she alright?-“ he began.
“Answer the question,” Tasha interrupted, as her stance remained the same. They were standing in a relatively quiet street, but Reese knew that if Tasha felt threatened and called out, that people would come.
“I was in a bad way the last time she saw me, a-and I just wanted to make sure that she was okay,” he answered honestly. “My name is J-“
“John,” Tasha finished quietly, as she closed her eyes. “Your name is John.”
“That’s right,” Reese nodded, wondering how Tasha knew his name if Morgan had never talked about him. “Is she alright?”
“I-I didn’t believe her, when she told me about you,” the eleven year old spoke quietly as she swallowed audibly. “S-she used to have an imaginary friend, for all the good it did, and I thought you might have been one as well,” she admitted with a small amount of shame leaking into her voice. “Morgan had trouble making friends since before we met – she trusted adults a lot less; so I didn’t believe her when she said that she had made a friend in the park..” the eleven year old rambled.
Reese crouched down and placed a gentle hand on Tasha’s arm to stop her in mid-ramble. Unlike Morgan, she didn’t flinch – another difference between the two friends, he noted absentmindedly. When Tasha looked at him after a moment, he offered her a weak smile. He needed the kid to get to the point, so he spoke gently.
“It’s okay. I don’t think Morgan expected to see me again after what happened the last time she saw me. I’d told her goodbye... in my own way, before I told her to go.” He explained as pain flashed through his blue/grey coloured eyes. “Tasha... Is Morgan okay?”
Tasha bit her lip. “Morgan had nightmares.. for weeks after what she had said happened to you – they had started while she was still living at the Sweeney’s house.” She began, taking a deep breath. “The Sweeney’s weren’t very nice people, but they had been fostering for years. He’d drink a lot and She was a mean lady – whenever they had tiffs they would take their frustration out on the kids.”
Reese led them to a nearby set of steps and guided Tasha to sit down before he did while she spoke.
He kept his hand resting lightly on Tasha’s shoulder throughout in reassurance, as he urged her gently to continue; while he felt a small bubble of anger forming the more the youngster spoke of their mutual friends living arrangements around the time John had first met Morgan.
Tasha swallowed. “I only know bits and pieces,” she admitted softly. “I’d just come back from my last placement, and had asked our case worker if Morgan was back at the group home or still with the family she had been assigned to.” She let out a small sound at the back of her throat, before continuing. “I found out that she had been taken to hospital the night before after a ‘punishment’ had gone too far days before.”
Before I had been shot, Reese noted as Tasha had been due back into the city the next day. That must have been the reason for her reaction, he thought as he removed his hand from Tasha’s shoulder as the day of his shooting replayed in his mind.
The day he’d been shot – or maybe a day or so before – he had felt something was off with Morgan, even while she acted as if everything was fine; his bad feeling, he realized, must have been confirmed after he had removed his hand from her shoulder.
He should have found a way to get her away from the home as soon as she trusted him enough; but like most abuse victims, she had just waved her injuries off and hid the pain from public view – and with his own choice in lifestyle after Jessica’s death, the ex-operative knew he probably wouldn’t have been able to help her as well as he could of if they had met under slightly different circumstances.
Tasha turned to the man as soon as he removed his hand from her shoulder. The eleven year old admitted that she had indulged her friend when she had first spoke brokenly of the kind – but lonely- man she had met in central park.
After all, Morgan didn’t tend to speak to strangers – especially men; especially when by herself.
The nine year old hadn’t been able to explain it when Tasha had asked what had made her stay after he had frightened her instead of running away- she had said there was something about him that she trusted, something that had made him different from the people she had known before.
“Did she- I mean, is she?-“Reese began, as he turned to her with pain filled eyes.
His voice was quieter than Tasha had heard before, but his eyes were the things that caught her attention.
The emotion held within the older man’s blue-grey depths was hard to truly decipher, but the eleven year old knew now, why this man – after so many she and Morgan had come into contact with over the years – had managed to get through to Tasha’s withdrawn friend, when others could not.
Despite his confident exterior, the man reminded Tasha of Morgan in many regards; the pain in his eyes was something she had seen in Morgan’s many times before- that was how she had connected to him; he was just as much an outsider as she was.
“She’s okay,” Tasha nodded quietly. “Well, getting there,” she added in a softer tone.
At the older man’s questioning look, the eleven year old elaborated. “She ended up in hospital because her shoulder became infected.” She explained.
“Morgan didn’t tell me everything about the parents- only that they’d take their anger out on the placement kids. She’d been on the receiving end of the wife who couldn’t hold her liquor.” She looked down. “I heard the doctor tell the case worker the injury looked like it had come from a belt buckle or something similar – it had gone to the bone and so had become infected because she hadn’t been able to take care of it properly.”
If she hadn’t been watching him closely, the eleven year old would have missed the flash of fire in Reese’s eyes, as his gaze darkened.
Swallowing, Tasha had to lower her gaze from the older man’s’ face as it became a blank mask.
Morgan had told her that the only time John had ever scared her, after their initial interaction, was when he had seen the bruises on her wrists- the look in his eyes in that moment had been indescribable while scary at the same time, and so it was why she wouldn’t tell him about some of the things that happened at the house.
Reese listened closely as the eleven year old spoke of the events surrounding their mutual friend’s hospital admission; his anger rising with each passing moment.
It had been years since his anger had slipped from his normally tedious emotional control – not since before joining the CIA, where his training conditioned him to bury every emotion and put them into compartments in his mind, had he felt the tendrils of raw fury grow until the emotion set his eyes alight.
He wanted to make these ‘people’ suffer; these two individuals whose job it had been to protect the children in their care, had turned out to be the monsters the system and state as a whole tried to keep the kids away from.
It was no wonder the system had traumatized kids who couldn’t wholly connect with people after they left the care system; some of the kids entered the system in the first place because of being victims of abuse in some shape or form – yet somehow, those same kids could easily end up back in a similar environment depending of the placements they were given.
Reese had respect for the people who worked with these kids; but those few workers who allowed ‘parents’ like the Sweeney’s to continue their practice over the years they had probably been committing such acts – those were the people Reese could not forgive.
Not after witnessing some of the backlash first hand with Morgan who – despite living with the violence for the length of time she had done- still cared enough to ask a total stranger if they were okay, when she had her own problems.
“What happened to them; the parents?” Reese asked, after closing his eyes for a few moments until he felt his anger get pushed back enough so that his voice could remain steady, and turning his gaze toward Tasha; whose gaze was averted - much like Morgan’s had been when they had met during the first week or so.
“Arrested, was the last I heard.” Tasha replied in a low voice, as she slowly raised her head and turned her brown eyes to meet the older man’s much calmer ones. “All three placement kids – Morgan included- had been admitted into hospital when the Sweeney’s were taken into custody.”
Reese nodded solemnly. I’ll ask Fusco on the status of their case, he thought absentmindedly; thinking of the corrupt cop now in his pocket.
“Were there complications with the shoulder?” Reese asked after a pause, bringing the conversation back to the subject at hand.
His voice was calmer now, and he noticed Tasha’s shoulders slump slightly in relief as she continued to watch him; she seemed to take particular interest in his eyes – much like Morgan used to do, Reese noted with interest.
Tasha bit her lip, as she gave a small nod. “After they’d cleaned it and stuff – the infection gave her a fever that took forever to let up. The muscle and shoulder ligament had been torn so she needed surgery, but the doctors hadn’t been able to do it until she was stable enough.” The eleven year old played with a frayed string attached to her sleeve. “Her shoulder is still strapped now, because of how long it had been between the initial injury and the hospital- but it’s healing and her motion is getting better. The physio lady she’s under said that her muscles are getting stronger and she won’t need to wear the strap soon.”
That was a long recovery, longer than Reese had expected for that kind of injury.
But then again, Morgan had been small for her age; he hadn’t believed her to be nine years old based on his estimations of her height and weight.
Her health before her admittance no doubt influenced the recovery period- and if she was under nourished, and going out in the cold without proper dress, those factors certainly influenced things.
“She misses you, you know?” Tasha whispered, pulling the man from his thoughts. The jealousy she was feeling confused her, upon saying the words aloud – but they had been the truth nevertheless.
Perhaps it was because John had come back – he had sought her out in order find Morgan, something none of their previous foster placements – or any adults they interacted with- had ever really done. Even though John hadn’t been anything to do with the care system; he had managed to do something many others had failed in – connecting with her friend, whose personality made it hard for people to truly ‘get’ her. Perhaps that was the reason for her jealousy; it had taken her months to do what this man had done in weeks.
Reese turned to the girl and saw the flash of emotions cross her face as she told him.
It seemed that Morgan wasn’t the only one who had trouble making some friends, he thought, as he detected the edge of something – jealousy perhaps- in her voice.
“I miss her too,” he answered truthfully. “But she seems to be in good hands having you as a friend.” He added, offering a small smile which the kid beside him returned with a small nod in thanks.
“She doesn’t really talk much anymore,” Tasha admitted. “She was quiet before... but now? You’re lucky if you can pull her into a conversation lasting longer than a few simple questions.” She turned to Reese. “I’m worried about her.”
“Hasn’t your social worker been able to help?” Reese asked, as he moved the hand that had previously been on Tasha’s shoulder, to rest it on his slightly bent knee that was close to his broad chest from its position on the step just below the one he had sat down on.
Tasha shook her head. “She thinks Morgan’s just one of those awkward types who consciously avoids having to be involved in conversations – not even the shrink they sent her to could help.”
Seems checking in on her from afar isn’t going to work out, Reese thought as he rubbed a thumb across his forehead absentmindedly; brushing some of his short hair back slightly.
It sounded like the kid had taken one step forward, before jumping ten steps back. She was falling into that pit again, and while she had helped pull him back, he feared that she was in a much more precarious position in regards to the pit than she had been upon their initial meeting. And if Tasha hadn’t been able to pull her back alone – it meant that things for the nine year old were bad.