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100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #14

THEME: 14. "Judgement"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, untitled/unwritten story
RATING: R (adult language, adult themes, mild violence)
WORD COUNT: 9600+ words
SUMMARY: Wow. Did THIS scene end up running long. o_o; Well...in order to get to the "Judgement" in question, I had to include what led up to it, at least a description, and in the case of former NYPD detective Justin Reichert, there is a LOT that led up to it. You previously met Reichert in Scenes 3 ("Making History"), 7 ("Eternity"), 12 ("Dead Wrong"), and 13 ("Running Away"). Boy, are we learning a lot about him or what?? Anyway, as you'll discover in this piece, Reichert, having transferred from New York City to Minot, North Dakota (following barely surviving 9/11, outing himself to his family with disastrous results, and amicably breaking up with boyfriend Matt), tries to start life anew, which includes hooking up with new boyfriend Doug Nyrkkanen. After he witnesses a small plane crash, however, he begins a downward spiral that starts with him getting drunk and heading home with a one-night stand named Roy Bennet. He dumps Doug in a histrionic fit and starts hopping from sex partner to sex partner and eventually ends up with tribal officer Joe Silvertree; the two mesh at first, until Reichert's masochistic tendencies start bringing out more of the sadist in Silvertree, and the relationship turns TRULY nasty. (For his part, Reichert isn't faithful to Silvertree for long.) The turning point comes when one of Reichert's pickups stabs him repeatedly and leaves him for dead; Reichert just barely manages to summon help by crawling to neighbor Tina's apartment. Coworker Det. Kristeva, who's in Missing Persons, then undertakes a strenuous search for Matt, whose name he finds in Reichert's apartment, since he has no idea who else might be able to convince Reich to change his ways. Matt is located, and travels to Minot; things are bumpy at first, but after some time Reichert finally gets himself into a twelve-step program for sex addicts and starts to turn himself around, renewing his relationship with Matt in the process. This is the fragile but happy enough state of things...until a chance encounter yet again in a bar. (BTW, everything I know about court trials I learned from true-crime forensics shows and Law & Order. Lots and lots of Law & Order. Hence potential inaccuracies. *blush*)
DISCLAIMER: I am not seeking grammar/style/publication critique for this item; I'm not trying to get published, and am content with my writing style, and just wish to entertain others. Feel free to point out errors that aren't just a matter of style preference (e. g., typos). Comments and questions on characters, plot, etc. are more than welcome. All characters, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © tehuti/tehuti_88. If you wish to share this item with others please send them a link.

The jury came filtering back into the hushed courtroom. Reichert was sitting in the gallery now, Matt beside him, Kristeva, Devetko, Brooks, several others behind and nearby as "moral support," though he wasn't sure how useful their presence was. He tried to make out the looks on the jury members' faces as they entered, but none of them looked his way, and he couldn't read their expressions. He felt Matt take his hand and squeeze it surreptitiously, but didn't squeeze his in return. Everyone fell silent as the members of the jury filed into the jury box and resumed their seats. The jury forewoman handed a folded paper to the bailiff, who carried it to the judge, who unfolded it, read it, and folded it up again.

"Madam forewoman, has the jury reached a verdict?"

"We have, Your Honor," the forewoman said.

One day. That was all the time they'd spent deliberating. Not even a full day. Reichert bit the inside of his mouth and tried to relax his muscles, stop sitting so stiffly, and felt Matt squeeze his hand harder, so his tension must have been palpable. A day wasn't very long at all for a jury to deliberate. A day was a whole lot of time to mentally go over what exactly had led to this point.

Going to a bar with several of the others from the police station, Matt invited along, because it had felt good to go out as a group and do something mindless. Inane chatter about stupid subjects that just grew funnier as the night went on. He'd gotten a slight buzz, but hadn't had the chance to get all-out drunk, not that he cared--getting drunk had never been his thing, and with him had been known to lead to unpleasant outcomes. So his vision hadn't been that impaired when he'd happened to glance somewhere off toward the tables and had spotted a familiar face, a man chatting with another small group of people as they awaited their drinks. The bottle he'd been holding slipped from his hand and, anticlimactically, struck the counter with a loud clink; fortunately, he'd only had a chance to lift it an inch or so, so it didn't break or fall to the floor. Still, the reaction had been enough; the others turned from their respective parts of the meandering conversation and looked at him, curious.

Matt had looked concerned; he could evidently read something wrong in Reichert's expression, even if he wasn't sure what. Kristeva seemed to pick up on something almost immediately; he was always the quickest to figure such things out, and he began scanning the room in the direction Reichert was staring in. He'd apparently managed to pick out the man Reichert was staring at, then looked to Reichert again as if for confirmation. Reichert hadn't said anything, but neither had he protested when Kristeva pushed his stool away from the bar and got down, turning and heading toward the table.

Reichert hadn't even been aware that his breathing had changed until he felt Matt's hand on his arm. "Justin," he murmured so only he could hear, and the sound of his name brought him back somewhat to the present. He found his heart beating hard in his throat, his lungs struggling to take in air. His breath was coming staccato as if he'd just been running; inside his gloves his hands felt damp. "Are you okay?"

Kristeva reached the table and leaned over it, addressing the small group of people. They turned to look at him, puzzlement on their faces, then perplexity when he withdrew his badge and showed it to them. From here, Reichert couldn't hear what he was saying, couldn't see his face as his back was to them. He seemed to be speaking to the man Reichert had been staring at. This man furrowed his brow, then offered a vaguely confused smile and shook his head, and said something that from this distance looked like Don't know what you're talking about. Then the conversation seemed to grow a bit more animated, and the amusement faded from his face and the two of them appeared to be arguing back and forth. The man and then his companions got up, and he reached for his jacket, still talking back to Kristeva, looking to be saying more than a few choice words; Kristeva's arm went behind his back and he flicked his hand in the direction of the bar, at the others watching, a distinctive Come here gesture. But Reichert was already on his feet, gently pulling his arm free from Matt's grasp and making his way to the table.

"...leave us alone, you might start to seriously consider finding yourself a new job," the man was saying as Reichert, with Matt behind him, approached. "This is a public bar and last I knew people were allowed to just sit and talk without being harassed by the police."

"Just a little talking, is all," Kristeva replied. "I don't know where you get this idea of harassing, but if you want to be a jackass about it and not answer a few simple questions, I can make it a lot more complicated for you."

"I don't have to answer anything since like you just said, I'm not under arrest. And also like you said I have no reason to be. What was your name again? Because on my way out I think I'd like to file a complaint with your department."

"It's Kristeva. K-R-I-S-T-E-V-A. Don't worry, I'm the only Kristeva on the force so they'll know me. Oh. And by the way, before you go, just one question, I wondered if maybe you know my friend."

"What...?" And since that was the same moment at which Reichert reached the table, the man turned to look at him and their eyes met. His eyes widened; seeing this reaction, his friends looked at the other detective as well. Kristeva did so too, peering over his shoulder at him. Reichert, for his part, just stared the other man in the eyes, saying nothing, trying to keep his breathing and heartbeat steady, though he was unable to stop himself from swallowing hard several times.

"So...Reich." Kristeva's voice seemed disembodied, now that Reichert's vision had blacked off to both sides and he saw only the strange man staring back. "You recognize this guy at all?"

"Walt, what's this about...?" one of the women, her voice also disembodied, murmured, but he didn't turn to reply to her, seeming transfixed by Reichert's stare. Reichert ignored her as well, merely gave a short nod, just once.

"This a friend of yours, Walt--?"

"Where d'you recognize him from, Reich?"

Reichert opened his mouth to speak and it felt like an eternity passed between then and the time the words came out, though he knew it was just his imagination, and his voice was far steadier than he'd ever thought it would be, were this moment to ever come.

"This's the guy who tried to kill me."

Like something out of a movie or TV show. Things had gone on from then as they tended to--the arrest, the questioning, the taking of statements, gathering of evidence--which had been gathered a long time before, being primarily the bloody sheets from Reichert's bed, and photos of the scene, and the renewed questioning of his neighbor across the hall, to whose door he'd barely managed to drag himself after the attack. They wouldn't let Reichert in on any of the investigation, so he didn't get to see how Tina handled being questioned a second time, but she did come to see him afterward, eyes wider than usual in her thin face.

"So...they caught the guy? Really? You're sure it's him...?"

He'd been frustrated that he hadn't been able to tell her much, as they were keeping him out of the loop, but she'd sympathized--"You can always, y'know, call me or come over to talk if you need anything, anything at all," and, "If they want me in a courtroom I'll be there, just you ask!" Way back when, not long after she'd moved into the building, he'd scared off her overbearing ex-boyfriend, and she'd always seemed to feel she owed him a huge favor ever since; in his mind, the fact that she called 911, and then sat in her doorway cradling his head and trying to keep him conscious until help arrived (he'd ended up passing out anyway), was more than payment enough, but apparently she hadn't seen it that way, and she vowed to offer any help she could if he needed her. He wasn't sure what good her testimony would do since she hadn't seen the man who'd done this, but decided it was best not to discuss it too much.

He vented at Matt a lot. Spent more than a few nights at his place rather than at his own apartment, since sleeping in the bed where he'd nearly lost his life, so soon after seeing the man who'd nearly taken it, felt almost impossible; he didn't stay with him every night, but the nights he didn't, he also didn't get any sleep. Matt listened to it all without rebuke or judgement or even advice, just let him rail on and on, for which he was grateful. When Kristeva showed up one day to speak with him about their progress, Matt simply sat aside and listened in.

"You're sure you can take the stand?" Kristeva wanted to know.

Reichert had furrowed his brow. "What do you mean, am I sure I can take the stand--? I'm fucking sure I can take the fucking stand! What, are they trying to think of some way to get me to back out or drop the case--?"

"That's not it at all," Kristeva said with a patience that infuriated him; he managed to hold his temper further only because Matt had put his hand on his arm. "But this being what it is, and the situation being what it was, they're going to ask you a lot of unpleasant shit. A lot of unpleasant shit. They're going to pick over your life with a fine-toothed comb and dredge up every single little thing they can get their hands on, and if you're on the stand, you're going to have to answer, every bit of it. The DA said he might be able to get the guy to agree to some kind of plea bargain if you'd rather--"

"I don't want a fucking plea bargain!" Reichert snapped; he jerked his arm away from Matt's grasp. Matt's mouth tightened but he said nothing. "That guy stuck a knife in me," Reichert steamed. "Over twenty fucking times! That's what the doctors said at least, isn't it? Twenty times? How long do you think it takes to stick a knife in somebody twenty times over? In their own bed? How long do you think it takes to drag yourself out of bed and across the floor and through your apartment and somehow manage to get your own door open, a fight to the death with your own fucking door, and out into the hallway and just barely, barely have it left in you to try to knock for help? How long do you think it would've taken me to bleed out in the hallway if my neighbor didn't just happen to be the nervous type who keeps her ears open to what's going on elsewhere in the building? How long do you think that would've taken, huh, Detective? How long do you think all that took, and how long a prison sentence do you think would be suitable enough?" He jerked his arm away from Matt when he again tried to grasp hold of him. "Fucking leave me alone! I don't need any coddling!"

"He's not downplaying your case, Justin," Matt said, leaning forward and clamping his hand down over Reichert's wrist. "He's being realistic. I don't blame you for being mad but don't lose your head either. Just hear him out, all right--?"

"I told him," Kristeva said when Reichert turned back to him with a black scowl, "you wouldn't be interested in any plea bargains. But he had to toss that out there and I had to bring it up. I don't blame you either. I wouldn't mind seeing him fry, if we had the death penalty, which we don't. So we'll have to settle for the next-best thing. The thing is..."

He trailed off; Reichert barely let the silence draw out before flinging up his free hand.

"Oh, just fucking say it! I have a history. A reputation. Is that it? That's what has your panties all in a bunch?"

Kristeva pursed his own lips now. "Actually, yeah, that's exactly it. I'm not judging you, Reich. I know you're smart enough to make your own decisions. I've done some seriously stupid things in my own time, but that's just it. I don't have a history like you do, and I'm not the one who's going to be testifying. They're going to bring up everything. Everything. Even every little thing you could've sworn you'd forgotten and nobody would ever possibly remember. They might even call other witnesses, other guys who know you, if they can find them. They're going to do everything they can to make you look bad and to make it look like you walked your way into this."

"Seriously," Matt cut in, to Reichert's surprise. The look on his own face was uncharacteristically dark. "What can they do with that? How can they spin that? Nobody in their right mind consents to being stabbed nearly to death. There's no defense attorney good enough to make that sound consensual."

"No, there isn't," Kristeva conceded. "But there are plenty who can argue about everything that led up to that moment. And, Reich, the moment they get it all out on the stand what your reputation is, exactly, and why that asshole was in your apartment to start with, the fact that you invited him in, is the moment they're likely to stop seeing you as a victim and start seeing you as something else entirely." A pause. "The whole 'asking for it' defense isn't completely extinct in this day and age, Reich. I wouldn't advise you to accept a deal that lets this shitwad off easy. But at the same time, you have to consider the alternative. You're the one who was attacked. It's your decision, not mine." He took a step back from the table. "I told the DA I'd run the idea past you but you'd probably not agree to it, not in a million years. He's willing to try the case with everything he's got, otherwise. He just doesn't have much. And the defense has a lot." A vague shrug. "So, what do I tell him...?"

Just as with opening his mouth in the bar, the silence seemed to last forever, though he knew it didn't. "Go back and tell him," Reichert said, fighting to keep the rage from his voice, "that he couldn't pay me to keep off the stand, or to let this asshole take a deal. They want to drag me through the dirt? Then they can go right ahead. I don't fucking care."

Kristeva had stared at him for a long moment. Then, a quick nod--just once--and he turned away, for the door.

"I'll let him know right now. Already told him I should be right back with your answer."

For a good long while Reichert and Matt continued sitting at the little kitchenette table; after some time Matt took both of Reichert's hands in his and squeezed them on the tabletop, and Reichert glimpsed concern in his eyes, but he didn't protest what was likely a very stupid idea. Reichert mentally thanked him for that, that he was willing to put up with what was bound to be yet another foolish decision, just as foolish as his decision to pick that guy up in the bar and bring him home for the night. Just as foolish as a lot of similar decisions he'd made in the past several years, it seemed. He'd thought he was finally starting to put all that behind him, but Kristeva made it clear it was likely to all come back out in the open, and as usual, Kristeva was right. Reichert wondered why he was so often right, and why he couldn't have the same common sense.

It wasn't so bad being on the stand himself. Humiliating, yes, but he'd grown rather used to that over the years. The DA did his best to get it all out first, before the defense could work him over, and more than once Reichert had to bite the inside of his cheek and remind himself to answer calmly because the guy was just doing the best job he could with shitty little evidence to back him up. Still. He hated going over some old territory while Matt sat in the courtroom, as there had been things he'd rather he hadn't known, and every once in a while he couldn't stop himself from peering in his direction. The look on Matt's face never changed. Every time Reichert glanced toward him, he lifted his chin a little and met his eyes. Even after all the embarrassing things he had to own up to on the stand, Matt kept making eye contact, and didn't waver. Reichert didn't know how he had it in him to be so levelheaded, to be able to face all this at once when Reichert had barely made it through the past several years with his life intact. As long as he kept giving Reichert those looks, Reichert was able to keep his composure and answer every one of the DA's questions. Even when the defense attorney started questioning him, it wasn't as bad as he'd feared it might be; he nearly lost his temper a few times, but for the most part kept calm, and a few objections kept the most insulting questions at bay. It was nothing they hadn't already heard, Reichert figured, so he might as well just get it out there while he could.

He hadn't counted on the parade of witnesses for the defense.

One by one, the various men he'd passed time with over the years. Those he'd spent only a brief time with, or perhaps just a night, it wasn't so difficult to endure. He was surprised to recognize the man he'd gone home with from a bar one night, the first time he'd cheated on his then-boyfriend, Doug; he glanced toward Reichert with a vaguely uncomfortable look as he gave his name as Roy Bennet, and testified about how drunk Reichert had been when they'd met. ("I didn't even remember his name," Reichert whispered when Matt saw the look on his face.) To his credit, most of the witnesses seemed ill at ease testifying about the time they spent with him, and a few even gave him somewhat guilty, somewhat apologetic looks; Roy even accosted him outside the courthouse following his testimony. It was only the second time Reichert had ever seen him.

"I'm sorry," he murmured so the others milling around on the steps couldn't hear. "They subpoenaed me, and I have my job to look out for, and I really had no idea what it was all about, that they were going to ask me about you and all this..."

"It's okay," Reichert said, fighting not to stumble over his words, the whole situation had him so stunned. "You didn't...do anything wrong or anything," he added, no idea what to say to make things better; Matt ended up taking Roy aside and saying something to him as Reichert watched on in confusion, and he must have made the situation clear, for Roy seemed to relax a little and nodded, though he did lean toward Reichert once more as he passed him by on his way back to his car.

"Good luck. I hope the asshole gets what he deserves."

"I asked him to restrain me and hit me," Reichert said to Matt on the way back to his place. Matt was driving, even though it was Reichert's car; he hadn't felt confident enough behind the wheel. Matt peered at Reichert, then back at the road. "That was the first time I did that. I dunno...I just felt like somebody should be hitting me. After that...I started to feel like that all the time. I didn't even remember his name."

The next day, on his way in, he spotted and made eye contact with Doug Nyrkkanen as they were both heading up the steps; both of them slowed almost to a stop, and it was only because Doug averted his eyes and picked up his pace that Reichert didn't halt completely. "Shit," he whispered when Matt and Kristeva noticed, and tried not to grimace too badly; he should've just expected this. He'd assumed the only humiliation he'd had to face was his own; but to face the possible humiliation of the other people he'd dragged down with him, for however brief a time, was far worse. He could barely stand to look up at Doug as his ex testified and had to answer questions that to Reichert were standard but to him were obviously beyond uncomfortable. "I don't get it," Reichert fumed during recess, when he and Matt and Kristeva, Devetko, and Brooks were at lunch. He didn't feel like eating; Matt kept prodding him to. "This doesn't make any fucking sense. I was okay when I knew Doug. There was nothing weird going on then. I never, ever asked him to cuff me or hit me or choke me or anything messed up like that! It was perfectly normal. I'm the one who cheated on Doug. He didn't do a fucking thing to deserve having to take the stand. Why did they drag him into this? What good does this do their case--?"

"They're going to bring in everybody," Kristeva said, sipping his drink. "Good and bad, it doesn't matter. They're establishing a pattern of behavior and the shitty thing is, you're the one whose behavior they're establishing. The mere fact that you cheated on him is enough for them. They'll bring up the end of your relationship, point out how unstable you were, dumping a perfectly sane relationship for a possibly dangerous one--"

"Roy Bennet? Are you fucking kidding me? The guy is as vanilla as they come! I practically had to force him to hit me!"

"And that's exactly what they're going to focus on."

"What about his pattern of behavior--this Walt--Walt whatever-his-fucking-name-is? How come they work on mine so much and not his? He's the one who stuck a knife in me twenty times!"

"They can't ask him about his sexual history. That's off limits. It's shitty, and it's unfair, but that's how it is. We've already checked out his background and he doesn't have anything else against him, not even a traffic ticket."

"Come on." It was Brooks who spoke up this time, setting down his own glass with a sharp clink, his eyes clouding over. "Nothing? Somebody doesn't go from nothing to trying to murder a police officer in one night!"

"I'm not claiming anybody does," Kristeva said. "But he's never been caught." He met Reichert's eyes over the rim of his glass. "You're the first person on record to complain about him. If there's anybody else...they aren't coming forward. Yet."

Reichert had been ready to protest, when that Yet caught him offguard. "We're looking into it," Devetko said. "Doing as thorough a background check and questioning as many people who know him as we can find. We're not done yet. But so far, we don't have anything. According to his friends and associates he's an upstanding citizen. If he's ever done anything else--which he likely has--he's never been caught."

"Or else anyone else is too scared to report him." Kristeva looked into his drink, then set it down and shoved it away; a waitress stopped by to pick up the empty glass and take it from the table. "We'll keep looking. Trust me on that. Just...don't get your hopes up. If anybody was going to work up the guts to testify against him, they probably would've spoken up by now."

"Have you checked out any--"

"We've already looked into gay bars," Kristeva said before he could even finish, and Reichert fell silent, gnawing on the inside of his cheek again. "And nobody claims to recognize him. So either he never visits them, or he's got any witnesses scared shitless." He stood and gestured at Devetko. "And that's all we can tell you about that. We shouldn't be telling you anything period."

"Are you guys on the witness list?" This from Matt; it again surprised Reichert for him to speak up.

"Oddly, no," Kristeva said, pursing his lips. "We haven't been subpoenaed by the defense, and the DA's said he has no interest in questioning us. Guess they both figure we'd have nothing to say--"

"Or no intention of saying it," Devetko finished. He picked up and finished off his own drink. Reichert noticed he wasn't the only one staring openly at the other detective; Matt and Brooks were, as well, and even Kristeva raised an eyebrow. He nudged Devetko's arm as he turned away.

"Christ, I rub off on him more every day. See you after they let out for the day; we've got some work to do."

Recess had cut into Doug's testimony, so Reichert had to sit through more of it; by the end of the day they'd finished and moved on to one of numerous other semi-anonymous guys Reichert had spent time with. He had to force himself not to cringe when he found Doug awaiting him on the steps much as Roy had been; Matt started to step away to give them privacy, but Doug spoke up before he could.

"No, I want you both to hear this." He turned to Reichert, who could feel his face growing hot. "Look. I know a lot of stuff was said...this's water under the bridge by now, okay? I figured you had your reasons for leaving even if I didn't know what they were. And I'm not as in the dark as you think...I mean, I wasn't. I knew you were going through some kind of rough patch. You showing up at my place...well, that just kind of proved it." He glanced at Matt and Reichert could tell he was silently asking if he knew about Reichert's sudden appearance at Doug's place, after the building implosion had freaked him out; Matt nodded, and Doug continued. "You don't have to explain anything, I get it. I talked with Roy and he explained what I didn't get."

Reichert couldn't help it; his face started to twist up unpleasantly. "Doug, I..."

He nearly jerked back when Doug reached out to touch his arm. "No, I get it. Really. In fact...I know this'll probably just send you into even more of a tizzy but we planned to talk more about it later. I can't really explain it; but I think maybe you'd understand. There's some things you have to experience for yourself to really get them. I think right now he could offer a better perspective than you could. I just wanted you to know this. There's no hard feelings. There never have been. In fact I'm kind of glad they called me up so now I finally get what happened." He pulled his hand back and a dark look flitted across his face; Reichert paused, unused to seeing him look such a way. "I didn't know about this, though. I mean...I stopped seeing you walking around town for a while, and you didn't look too good afterward, but I had no idea this was the reason." He took a step back, perhaps sensing Reichert's discomfort and giving him some space. "I hope what I said in there did more good than bad. I don't see why they're even bringing such stuff up when you're not the one on trial. I know it sounds trite but I hope it works out. I really do." A glance at Matt, then back at Reichert. "You're going to be okay?"

"Huh--?" Reichert blinked and his head popped up. "Wha--? Yeah...I'll be fine. Sure. Er...thanks. For asking."

Doug nodded--"Feel free to stop by the store sometime and let me know how you're doing, okay?"--then he turned with a small wave and jogged off down the steps.

Reichert felt like sinking through the ground, but Matt's hand on his arm kept him on his feet and he unsteadily followed him down as well.

Perhaps that had been the worst of it, then, he figured, on his way back the next day; but the look on Kristeva's face as the other detective jogged up the steps beside him told him otherwise. He fell into step beside Reichert and ducked his head toward him slightly, Reichert having to lean a bit as he was taller.

"Heads up; another witness for the defense. You're not going to like this one. Just sit tight, and when it's over go home and maybe treat yourself to a few stiff drinks to wash it down."

Reichert furrowed his brow, wondering why he wouldn't just come out and say who it was; but once Officer Silvertree was being sworn in, he understood why not. He ground his teeth hard enough to hurt, and was fairly certain, on some level, that he must be hurting Matt's hand since he dug his fingers in so deeply, but Matt said nothing and the haze of mixed dread and hatred in Reichert's head was too thick for him to notice much.

There was no way, no way, this would go well. Silvertree had been his longest-lasting relationship while in Minot. By now, he was lucid enough to understand that the only reason they'd stayed together so long was because each of them filled the void of what the other one lacked--Reichert had needed somebody to punish him, and Silvertree had needed somebody to punish. He'd lost count of just how many times they'd broken up and gotten back together, how many times he'd instigated fights just to see how far he could push the officer before he would snap, how many times Silvertree had obliged him and how many times Reichert had put up with it because it just seemed like what he'd deserved. Their violent rows had usually ended with equally violent sex, and their volatile breakups had usually been patched back together with equally volatile sex. That was the only thing that had kept Reichert going back to him, even when he was sure he'd wanted to leave. He'd liked their relationship, at first. Toward the middle, and especially toward the end, he'd loathed it, and that was exactly why he'd stayed. He hadn't deserved any better.

That in itself was bad enough. What was even worse was their final breakup. Finally, now that he had Matt again, now that he had some stable ground, now that he was finally trying to get better, he had no reason to keep going back to him. For some reason, he'd figured Silvertree probably felt the same way, and would be glad to be rid of so much drama. Silvertree showing up unexpectedly at his place one evening, however, made it clear he figured it was far from over. Reichert still wasn't sure what to think. He and Silvertree were about the same in height, in build, in physical strength, and he'd always known how to defend himself pretty well, and Silvertree hadn't even had to use his cuffs on him or anything. He was pretty sure he hadn't wanted it. But if he really hadn't wanted it, couldn't he have fought back harder...? Couldn't he have defended himself, and sent the other police officer packing? Why hadn't he? Why had he only fought a little bit, and then just put up with it, like he always had? He was supposed to have been doing so much better. He was supposed to be past punishing himself, and letting others punish him. It made no sense. He could have defended himself...if he'd really wanted to. Yet he hadn't. So on some level, he must have wanted it...

Matt had been able to tell, when he'd seen Reichert later, that something truly awful had happened, despite how hard Reichert tried to hide it, and even he knew he hadn't done so well. He hadn't pressed Reichert to report the incident and he was grateful for that. He knew Matt would have preferred if he had, but he just didn't have it left in him to drag himself through yet more humiliation at the time, when all he'd wanted to do was move past it, get over it, move on. He thought he'd done a remarkably good job of it...until today.

Silvertree testified as to everything everybody already knew by now, everything every other guy had gone over, just from his own perspective. He glanced in Reichert's direction every so often but the only expression on his face was one of vague curiosity, as if he wasn't sure why any of them were there. Reichert actually found himself wondering if he even remembered what had happened, and, if he did, if it even registered as anything significant. Judging by his casual behavior describing their frequent blowups, perhaps their last interaction had been just another in a long string of minor affairs not worth dwelling on. By the time he'd come to the end of describing their relationship for the defense attorney, Reichert was fairly certain he had a completely different way of seeing things, that what had happened between them was, to Silvertree at least, the most normal thing in the world.

He told himself to let go of his grudge, couldn't, but at the same time was a little surprised that it wasn't quite as venomous as it had been before.

"Is there anything else I've left out, then?" the defense attorney asked, and Reichert's attention snapped back to the present, panic flaring in his chest and then sinking down into his stomach like a stone. "That was the whole of your relationship with Det. Reichert?"

Silvertree cast him the slightest glance before turning back to the defense. "Yes," he said, and Reichert could tell he meant it. What had happened between them last hadn't been part of their relationship. He could only answer one question at a time. The defense didn't rephrase or reiterate or ask him to clarify or add anything more. He turned away from the stand.

"No more questions for this witness."

"The prosecution--?"

"No questions for this witness, Your Honor."

"You're excused," the judge said to Silvertree when he glanced up at her, and he stood, straightened himself out, and stepped down from the stand. One more oddly curious glance in Reichert's direction as he walked past, then he pushed open the door at the back and vanished, not bothering to stick around for any further testimony.

"You know," Kristeva said as they snacked at recess, "it's not unheard of for sociopaths to go into law enforcement? The feeling of power or privilege, the ability to feel above the law oneself, and let's not forget the ability to carry around a lethal weapon and occasionally get to use it as one sees fit. I'd imagine that's a big selling point. I heard Officer Jenner could've fit the profile." He didn't say anything in response to Reichert's stare, just lifted his glass and took a drink, the icecubes rattling. All he'd been told was how the latest testimony had gone; Reichert had never revealed anything else about his further interactions with Silvertree, outside their relationship. The only ones who knew were Matt, Silvertree, and himself. He had to take a drink of his own to hide the look he felt he got on his face. Why he continued to be surprised when Kristeva managed to figure such things out on his own, he had no idea.

He wondered if Kristeva knew about what had happened with Sheriff Rhoades, but the sheriff was never called to the stand, so apparently nobody who mattered knew about that incident. He suspected that Tina might, but she was never called back to the stand.

After that it was pretty routine. The asshole himself--Walter Harris, as he was sworn in on the stand--testified in his own defense, something Reichert had been hoping for, but all that he did was lie through his teeth. The defense, of course, asked no questions that would make him look terribly bad; despite this, or perhaps because of it, all of Harris's testimony was just one falsehood after another after another. Reichert had to fight not to shoot to his feet and yell at him to at least tell the truth if he was such a man that he had to use a knife to get himself off; Matt's iron grip on his knee prevented him. He'd always sat to Reichert's right, before, but when Harris testified, he sat to his left, and his fingers digging into Reichert's bad knee made their point known all too clearly. It was an effort just to keep the pain from his face.

Finally, something true about Harris's story--he "freely" admitted meeting Reichert in the bar ("It was actually my first time in a place like that, I was more curious than anything"), hooking up with him ("Frankly, he was drunk out of his mind; I was worried he'd never make it home on his own, in his condition"), and heading back to his place ("Granted, I had no interest in doing anything further with him, like I said, I was only there out of curiosity; I don't exactly swing that way, if you catch my drift. But I never would've forgiven myself if I hadn't at least made sure he got home okay"). That was as honest as his story got, however. According to his side of the tale, he'd just barely managed to get Reichert inside his apartment, where the detective had put the moves on him--"Seriously, I had to tell him more than once I wasn't interested, after hearing all I've heard about him now I think I understand why he was so pushy"--and he'd resisted, having to see himself out before things could get too ugly. He showed off a slight scar on his arm--"This is where he got me, when I told him I wasn't going to stick around; he threw a bottle at me." ("That's where I managed to claw at him once while he was stabbing me!" Reichert hissed to Matt, as if he needed to be reminded.) "I thought, this guy must be some kind of nutjob, and I was glad I got out of there with my life. I was kind of pissed off, to be honest." He shrugged in such a blatantly forgiving manner that Reichert ground his teeth into his tongue. "But like I said...after hearing everything I've heard in here, it makes more sense. I had no way of knowing he was this unbalanced--"



"My apologies...I had no way of knowing that, well, he kind of has a history of interactions, altercations, like this. If I'd known, I never would've taken him home." A brief pause. "I'm glad to see he seems to be getting the help he needs."


"Sustained. Jury, disregard that final comment, please."

"There's anything else you wanted to share about that evening, Mr. Harris?"

"No, that's about it...thankfully I left after that. Looking back on it I feel kind of relieved I did."

The prosecutor's mouth pressed into a tight straight line but he said nothing. "Oh?" the defense asked. "Why is that, if you feel comfortable enough sharing--?"

"Well...I mean, look at everything everyone else has said in this courtroom! And I had no idea. And then he ends up...nearly dead, he was stabbed so many times." An aggrieved look came to his face. "I can't even imagine what kind of mood somebody would have to be in to do something like that to themselves--"

"Objection!" The prosecutor abruptly stood. "Your Honor, he's positing a completely different theory of events that hasn't been offered by either the prosecution or the defense. To sit here and say the victim stabbed himself twenty-two times--"

"Sustained. Calm down, Counselor! If you don't want the defense arguing it, then don't you argue it, either. Jury will disregard the defendant's final comment."

"Our apologies, Your Honor. I'm done questioning this witness."


The DA stood up again, scowling slightly as he tugged on the bottom of his jacket, and strode to the witness stand. He asked all the right questions--Reichert tried to make himself listen impartially and found no fault in any of his questioning--but still, he couldn't help but keep peering toward the jury. They seemed a little antsy and on edge and not too pleased with some of the answers or questions, he couldn't be sure which. That would have encouraged him, if only he hadn't noticed the exact same reactions from them as his sex life was gone into in such great detail, and as Harris had told his snow-white version of events to the court. He was just about positive those looks they were getting were meant for him, except that none of them had the courage to look in his direction. He turned his head to keep from peering at them; it wouldn't do if the defense caught sight of his stare and accused him of trying to intimidate anyone. Matt's grasp on his knee let up a little, and he rubbed his kneecap just slightly, a sympathetic gesture. Reichert sighed and sank into his seat a bit. Suddenly it felt like this thing would never end. The thought occurred to him, maybe this was the Hell his mother had vowed he would go to, maybe this was his required punishment? He wasn't sure if he believed in Hell but if he did, this certainly wasn't how he'd pictured it before.

It wasn't too much longer before the prosecution and the defense both rested, and the jury was sent to deliberations. The deliberations lasted less than a day before they were all called back to the court. They sat here now, silent, watching as the judge read the paper that had been handed to her, then folded it up again.

"Madam forewoman, has the jury reached a verdict?"

"We have, Your Honor."

"On the sole count of attempted murder, how do you find?"

"We, the jury, on the sole count of attempted murder, find the defendant, Walter Harris, not guilty."

There was an immediate upsurge of chattering, but Reichert couldn't hear it over the roar of blood rushing in his ears. His lungs felt as if they'd turned inside-out. Matt dug his fingers into his hand hard enough to hurt, and was saying something into one ear, while Kristeva leaned forward and said something into the other, but it sounded like so much muffled gibberish. He watched the asshole and his defense shake hands, smiling and talking to each other; the judge had already banged her gavel, apparently, as she was rising, and the jury was doing the same, but he noticed them only as a blur off to the side. On some dim level he noticed that Matt was digging his fingers into his hand even harder, pulling on his arm a little now; the roaring started to fade, but his voice still sounded faraway, and Reichert's view of the courtroom had gone slightly fuzzy, staticky, as if in a dream.

"Justin," Matt was saying, from miles away. "Justin, just, squeeze my hand or something to let me know you're okay? Please?"

"Reich." A hand grasped his shoulder and Kristeva leaned over the back of the seat. "Take a minute. Don't think of doing anything stupid, okay?"

For a moment or so he thought perhaps he'd misheard, there was no way he could've heard the verdict he had. Whenever all this fuzziness and haziness dispersed, then reality would set in, and he would see the asshole getting cuffed and led from the courtroom. As soon as Kristeva's words got through his head, everything cleared up, far too much so, so that the lights were too bright and everything was too loud and his heart was thudding up into his skull, and he had to struggle to take in a breath, like his chest was being compressed. No one was being led away in cuffs. Matt was staring at him with concern in his eyes; behind him, he saw Devetko and Brooks, and the slight scowl on Devetko's face and the livid glare on Brooks's told him everything he needed to know.

And if it hadn't--Brooks turned, saw him looking back, and the glare flitted away into crushing sympathy. "Justin, I'm sorry."

"Like I said, apparently the days of using somebody's sex history against them aren't quite dead yet," Kristeva said, from behind him; he kept his hand on Reichert's shoulder. "Figures. A lot easier to dwell on that than to, you know, dwell on the criminal."

"Is there any kind of recourse?" This from Matt.

"Not much...he's not guilty, then he's not guilty. Double jeopardy. We can, I dunno, keep a closer eye on him in case he reoffends, the chances of which are pretty strong, but if he's gotten away with such things this long, chances are also pretty damn strong he's just gotten really good at covering up..."

"We haven't come across any other complainants yet," Devetko's voice said, then, "Reich, I'm sorry. I believe in the justice system, but...this is a major failure right here. There just wasn't enough evidence after all this time..."

"And a whole lot of history." Reichert wondered who had the nerve to say this, then realized he'd said it himself; his vision had started fogging off to the sides, but it refocused now, and he saw how the others stared at him. "It's...I'm okay," he said, vaguely surprised that he managed to keep his voice sounding so sane and level. "Part of me kinda figured it'd turn out this way anyway. Like you said. No evidence. And a lot of history." He lifted a shoulder. "Jury can only work with what the jury's got."

"Not guilty doesn't mean they didn't believe he did it," Kristeva said. "Just that the prosecution couldn't meet the burden of proof."

"I know, I know. At least it's over with and we can get out of here now. Getting sick of coming here every day anyway." He rubbed at his eyes under his glasses and made a face, hoping they couldn't read what he was really feeling, knowing that at least Matt and Kristeva probably could, but not really caring. "Think maybe I could use a drink or something, though. I'm not big on getting plastered, but maybe if one of you keeps an eye on me..."

"Sounds like a plan." Kristeva let go of his shoulder; Devetko and Brooks, who'd looked a little tensed, relaxed. "I'm buying. About time I carried my weight. Shut up, Dev, I called shotgun first," he said, when Devetko opened his mouth as if to protest; Devetko shut it, rolling his eyes and giving him the finger instead. "Look, we're off to a smashing start already. C'mon, let's blow this Popsicle stand." As they all stood--most of the others in the courtroom had already departed by now and there was no crowd left--Kristeva glanced at his partner and started prattling conversationally, "Don't you ever wonder where they got that saying, 'blow this Popsicle stand'...? When's the last time you ever saw a Popsicle stand and sure as hell when is the last time you ever saw somebody blow one?"

"You're the only one with enough free space in your brain to dwell on such things, Max..."

Outside, many of the people who had vacated the courtroom were now standing, talking in small groups, some making lunch plans, some talking about the case, some chattering on cell phones or texting. Reichert spotted the asshole--Walt Harris, he had to remind himself--still standing with his attorney, and they were talking with an unidentified woman. Reichert visually searched her for a notepad or microphone or handheld tape recorder but saw none, so she most likely wasn't a reporter of any sort. Matt was starting to say something as Kristeva, Devetko, and Brooks made their way down the steps ahead of them but he didn't stop to listen. He turned and headed for the trio, as he did so catching, from the corner of his eye, the fact that Kristeva had immediately seen what he was doing and halted as well before pivoting and jogging back up the steps. He opened his mouth.


Reichert touched the woman's back and she gave a little gasp and hopped to the side in surprise, clearing the way. The defense attorney opened his mouth as well; Harris blinked once, then Reichert's fist met his jaw, spinning his head to the side and sending him reeling backwards. At the same time Reichert took a fluid step back to allow the defense attorney and the woman to rush at him and grab his arm before he could fall; Harris staggered back a step, a hand going up to his face. Blood streamed from his lip and he made eye contact with Reichert, a venomous glare full of unspoken threat. Reichert stared back, keeping his face neutral, though his own eyes felt like they were burning from the inside out.

"Walt!" the defense attorney exclaimed. "You all right--?" He turned to Reichert, a scowl forming on his face. "We have all kinds of witnesses to this, you know! You've just opened yourself up to an assault charge. I hope you have the luck to find a good-ass attorney..."

A hand on his shoulder again--"Reich," Kristeva hissed, his own voice a mere whisper but almost poisonous. "I said not to do anything stupid!"

Reichert shrugged his hand off, and pulled his other arm loose from Matt's grasp; Kristeva stepped around to stand ahead of him but slightly to the side, glaring at him. Reichert didn't meet his eyes; he stayed focused on Harris. The woman had pulled out a tissue and was helping press it to his split lip while the attorney ranted on about lawsuits and new charges and job suspensions and whatnot, but he barely heard any of it, and he was just about certain Harris wasn't listening, either. The two of them stared at each other in silence for what felt like an eon. Reichert made no further move, but every muscle in his body was thrumming as if he were about to leap.

"...go after every asset you have, as well," the attorney was vowing. "However little it might be. By the time we're done with you you'll be lucky if you can keep staying in that dank-ass hellhole you call an apartment. Walt? Just let me know when to start drawing up the paperwork for another trial, and this time this nutcase will be right where he belongs, in the defendant's chair."

"No," Harris said.

"There's all kinds of room for a--what?" The attorney cut himself off and glanced at his client, blinking in confusion. Reichert kept his eyes on Harris's; Harris didn't blink either. "What do you mean, no--?"

"I mean no, I'm not filing charges." Still keeping his stare focused on Reichert, he carefully pulled the tissue away from his lip and licked at it, made a slight grimace, and pressed the tissue to the cut again. "Just a puny little cut," he said. "Barely even broke the skin."

"Are you--are you sure?" The attorney furrowed his brow, perplexed; around them on the steps, everyone else within earshot had stopped what they were doing and were now looking on in curiosity. A few even held their phones halfway up, as if in anticipation of shooting a brawl to post to YouTube. "There's witnesses all over here, Walt, it's a dead-on win..."

"I said I'm not interested," Harris snapped at him now, making him flinch. He crumpled up the tissue a little too harshly, as if he were trying to crush a can, and hurled it aside so it fluttered to the steps. "Wasted enough time in a courtroom. I have an actual life to get back to, now. Come on." He finally broke eye contact and turned away; the woman glanced apprehensively toward Reichert and his group before hurrying to follow, though the attorney paused, giving him another black look.

"Just because my client wisely chooses not to waste more time on you doesn't necessarily mean you won't be seeing further legal action. The world's eyes are on you now, Detective. You might want to watch your step from now on." Then he turned and departed as well, his pace a near-stalk, briefcase swinging savagely in his hand. He joined Harris and the woman and the three of them descended the steps away from the courthouse.

Reichert let out his breath. His lungs suddenly felt like they were on fire; he hadn't even been aware he was holding it in, until now.

Kristeva stepped into view at his side, watching the departing trio. "Run along now," he said in a mock-cheery voice. "Back to your little sandbox." He peered at Reichert. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Now that that's out of my system." Reichert rubbed at one eye and made a face. "Thought you didn't want me to do anything stupid," he said.

"Well..." Kristeva pursed his lips contemplatively. "I said not to do anything stupid...nothing wrong with doing something somewhat dumb, I guess." They and Matt turned when Brooks gave a small whistle; now that everybody else was starting to move off again, having lost all interest, he'd moved to stand beside the tissue Harris had dropped, and was gesturing at Devetko with one hand, pointing at the tissue with the other. Devetko blinked, then blushed a little, and went to join him, stooping to carefully pick the tissue up. Reichert frowned.


"You never know," Kristeva said with a shrug. "Like I said, we'll be keeping an eye on him from now on. A DNA sample would be a nice thing to have on hand, just in case." He rolled his eyes when Devetko put the tissue in a small baggie he'd taken out of his jacket pocket. "Now that there, seriously? Have any swabs on you, too? Maybe some luminol stashed in your shoe?"

Devetko made a rude gesture. "I believe in being prepared, even if you don't."

"Hope you know the Boy Scouts don't take gays."

"Up yours."

"Like I said." He turned back to Reichert and Matt and raised an eyebrow. "So...now that it's out of your system, you have any plans? My offer of a nice stiff drink still stands. Think maybe you could use one?"

"I...I dunno." Reichert rubbed at his forehead now. "I think maybe I just...wanna go home." He bit his lip and peered at Matt. "If...if you don't mind"--hoping he would take the hint.

Matt blinked, then his expression softened. "No...I don't mind. Maybe a rain check, you guys? I think maybe we're just kind of tired right now."

"Sure. Rain check." Kristeva nodded and took a step back. "If you want I can speak with the chief and see about you getting a day or so off..."

"Nah, that's all right. I think I need work to distract me. Just feel like sleeping ten hours straight right now."

"Sounds good to me. See you tomorrow, then." He offered a half-wave and turned back to Devetko and Brooks; they waved as well before heading off toward their own cars. When Matt kept hold of Reichert's hand as he made his way down the steps he found he didn't mind it much, even if they did draw a few stares.

"Remember," Matt murmured, so he had to lean toward him again to hear, "when you stopped by my place back in Manhattan, after you bailed on that awards thing, and you lost your crutch, and you ran all the way? And I thought what better time to open up that bottle of brandy, just to settle you down...?"

Reichert furrowed his brow. "Please don't even tell me you brought that thing all the way here with you--?"

Matt shrugged. "What was I supposed to do, toss it? It was a New Year's gift. And besides, liquor keeps. There's still a good third of a bottle there. I say we finish it." A slightly awkward pause. "Though I understand that makes it sound like a celebration or something...I didn't mean..."

"No, a celebration actually sounds kind of nice." Reichert mimicked Kristeva's lip-pursing expression. "I'm serious," he added, noticing Matt's somewhat skeptical look, though when he said this Matt's features relaxed and his mouth twitched a little bit. He squeezed Reichert's hand.

"All right, cracking open the booze it is. You'll have to think up the toasts. Have anything in mind?"

"I've got a few things."

"Sounds like a plan, then." He had to hop onto his tiptoes, as the difference in their height was so much, to plant a quick kiss on Reichert's cheek. Reichert felt his face go hot, and saw how a few more people passing by glanced at the two of them with eyebrows arching before continuing on their way; but he didn't wipe it away or rebuke the other man even though he usually detested public displays of affection. He sensed rather than saw Matt's own surprise at their actions, so squeezed his hand back, just slightly.

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