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Shaw couldn’t remember ever having been in a social situation where she’d wished Reese was present, but, sitting in her chair at the all-night diner halfway between Root and Carter, she spared a moment to send some uncharitable thoughts in Reese’s direction for his absence.

Root was smiling, at least, but on her a smile was just as likely to mean that she was enthusiastically contemplating multiple homicides than that she was being friendly.

Carter, for her part, was coolly assessing Root over the top of her coffee mug.

No one had said anything for the full fifteen minutes they’d been there and Shaw was starting to wonder if she could slip away unnoticed and swing by later to mop up the remains.

“So, here we are,” Carter finally said, pulling Shaw’s attention away from her inspection of her water glass.

When Carter didn’t immediately add anything to her initial thought, Root widened her smile in what was an unmistakably patronizing manner.

Shaw kicked her in the shin hard enough that Root let out a strangled whimper through clenched teeth.

Carter’s eyes flicked back and forth between them and, for a split second, Shaw wondered if she could somehow figure out everything from just watching them. The taser incidents, the almost-torture, the time in the CIA safe-house, the multiple times in Finch’s safe-house, the time in the backseat of a very expensive car they’d borrowed, the time on the desk in the library…the list went on. There wasn’t any way that Carter could know about that stuff no matter how good a detective she was, but still.

“Pretty sure this is the same woman I helped John track down a while back after she kidnapped Finch. Called herself Root, if I remember correctly.”

Root straightened up from rubbing at her bruised shin. “I can see why you’re a detective.”

She actually yelped this time when Shaw kicked her.

Carter didn’t look impressed with either of them. She turned to stare down Shaw.

“How about you tell me what’s going on here before I arrest her, or you accidentally break her leg? I thought you were going to let me in on how you lot always know about crimes before they happen. You’re not going to try and convince me that’s her doing, I hope.”

“That’s…complicated.” Shaw wasn’t completely sure where to begin. Root did work for the Machine now, so Carter’s skeptical theory wasn’t completely off base.

“Uh-huh, well what’s not complicated is that she murdered a woman named Alicia Corwin. So how about you give me a good reason not to arrest her right here?”

“Oh, right. I forgot about her.” Root gave a dreamy little smile. “Fun times back in the bad old days.”

Shaw made a mental note to wear steel-toed boots next time.

“She saved your life,” she quickly interjected. “From Simmons that night.”

Carter frowned. “No, you did. Showed up out of nowhere and shot the bastard.”

“Only reason I knew to be there was because of her.”

Root tilted her head to one side and shrugged minutely, and yeah, okay, that wasn’t quite the whole story, but this had to be explained in parts and Shaw needed both of them to ease up a bit.

“She’s another computer genius like Finch.” Carter tapped a finger on the side of her mug. “Always figured he’d made some kind of illegal surveillance program to tap into the city’s camera feeds or something. Only thing that made sense. She take it over after he went missing?”

Shaw was impressed, though not too surprised. Carter had always been really damned sharp. She was wasted on the NYPD.

And Root was looking over Carter like she was readjusting her evaluation of her.

“It’s not exactly a program.” Shaw wasn’t sure how she of all people had ended up in the position of explaining this to Carter, but Finch had vanished at the bank that day and Reese was too busy chasing after dead-end leads to be useful for anything right now. “It’s-” She glanced at Root. “-an Artificial Intelligence.”

Carter put her mug down on the table with a thud. “An Artific…you mean whatever this surveillance thing is, it’s alive?”

Shaw raised her eyebrows meaningfully at Root. This was her territory.

“She’s very much alive.” Root looked more serious now and Shaw suspected that this was the part of the conversation where Root would actually make up her mind about Carter. And possibly vis versa.

“She, huh.” Carter thought that over. “And this Artificial Intelligence, what exactly can it, or she, do?”

“Not very much on Her own. Mostly She watches and listens. She still relies almost completely on Her human agents to get things done.”

“And John and Finch and you two are these human agents?”

“Yes, though my relationship with Her is a bit…different.”

Shaw wondered if Root would ever get tired of saying that with a little smirk and suggestive eyebrow raise.

“Root works directly for the Machine, and not with the rest of us so much.” Though that was starting to change.

“The Machine? Is that its name?” Carter shook her head. “Let me guess, Finch chose the name.”

“I think it would be more accurate to say Finch chose not to name Her.”

Anyway,” Shaw interrupted before Root had a chance to go off on a tangent, “the Machine told Root you were in trouble, and Root told me.”

There was a good bit more to it than that of course. She’d stopped by the library to drop Bear off that night and, on a whim, had decided to check in on Root. She’d been avoiding her since Finch had locked her up, but it had gotten beyond the point of being ridiculous to keep her in there and she’d decided to assess the situation on her own.

“Well, this is a nice surprise.” Root looked up from the book she had spread open in her lap. “Conjugal visit?”

Shaw thought about turning back around and leaving, but that would have felt a lot like letting Root win a point in whatever game it was they were playing.

Root shut her book with a snap. “Or are you here because the boys are still in trouble?”

“And how would you know about that?” Shaw asked, stepping up to the gate of the cage. “Thought this thing Finch had us rig up was supposed to put you in a no-service zone.”

Root only smiled.

“Trouble seems to have died down for now, though there’s still a couple loose ends that need tying up.” Shaw kept feeling like they’d missed something, though she couldn’t put her finger on what.

“Well, I’m really good at tying things up, if you need a hand.”

Shaw rolled her eyes. This had definitely been a mistake. She started to turn away from the cage.

“Shaw, wait.”

Root sounded serious enough that she paused and looked back.

Root got up and drifted across the floor to the cage door. “Did you find Simmons yet? She was concerned about him in particular.”

“Not yet, but not much he can do with HR completely gutted. We got Quinn.”

“I think She was more worried about Simmons personally than about his influence within HR. He’s a real piece of work apparently.” Root hooked her fingers through the cage fence. “If you let me out and give me a phone for five minutes, I can find out if there’s anything to worry about still.”

“Let you out? Yeah, not happening.”

“You’re armed and much better at, ah, hand to hand, as we found out. How much of a threat can I possibly pose?”

She wasn’t technically wrong, but Shaw also knew that a lot of the danger Root presented didn’t come from physical violence. But….

“My phone do?”

Root’s eyes widened like she couldn’t believe Shaw was actually agreeing and she nodded.

Shaw took her gun out before she picked the lock on the door. She kept her gun pointed at Root as she handed the phone over and took a step or two back just to play it safe. Root couldn’t actually leave the cage with the ankle monitor Finch had put on her, so she stood in the doorway, Shaw’s phone clutched in her hands like it was some priceless treasure.

The phone rang almost at once and Root’s entire face lit up as she quickly answered it.

“I can hear you.”

There was something so desperately grateful in Root’s voice that Shaw felt like she was intruding.

The smile fell off of Root’s face. “I understand. I’ll tell her.” She lowered the phone and then handed it back to Shaw. “There’s an address in your phone. You have to go there. Now.”

“Why do I…”

“No time, Shaw. Lives are at stake.” Root took a step back and pulled the cage door shut herself. “Lock me back in and go.”

“Why not insist on coming with me?” Shaw asked as she clicked the lock back into place.

“Because you don’t trust me yet and that’ll slow you down. There’s no time for that. Now go.”

And Shaw went.

She still wondered if she should have left the cage unlocked, let Root escape. Even after she’d explained Root’s part in saving Reese and Carter, Finch hadn’t been willing to let her out.

Maybe that was part of why she hadn’t thought twice about going back to rescue Root from Hersh and Control.

Part of it, anyway.

Carter was trying to put all the pieces together. “Why didn’t this…machine…warn you the way…” She paused. “Okay, is this AI a she or an it?” She directed the last part towards Shaw.

“Hell if I know. Only talks to her.”

Carter’s exasperated look made her realize she’d probably only confused the question more. She shrugged helplessly. Fancy computer gender was above her pay-grade. Or had been. With Finch missing, all sorts of things that hadn’t been her problem before were now giving her a headache.

Carter gave up. “Why didn’t the Machine warn you the way she usually does?”

“She tried.” Root was more relaxed now, and almost looked like she was enjoying herself. “But nobody was picking up the call.”

“Call? What call?”

Shaw raised her hand to flag down the waiter. She had a feeling they were going to be here a while.


“Your turn to babysit me, is it?” Root flopped down on the couch in the safe-house still wrapped in her towel from the shower.

“If I had my way, you’d be in protective custody. Or better yet, regular police custody.” Carter didn’t look up from whatever she was doing on her phone. “Shaw didn’t want the police officially involved, which, considering your record, I guess isn’t surprising. But I’m not a babysitter. You want to run out there, I’m not going to be the one to stop you.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going anywhere at the moment.”

Carter nodded and didn’t say anything else until Root had mostly tuned out the physical room, drifting away into Her whispers. She still wasn’t overly concerned with the supposed threat against her, but the Machine had asked her to stay in the safe-house for now and she’d stay for Her even if she didn’t think it was necessary.

“Why aren’t you going anywhere?”

Carter’s voice pulled her back to reality.

“Hour ago you were ready to take off without a care in the world.”

“The Machine didn’t want me to.”

“You always listen to her?”

“Yes.”

“And why’s that?”

Root cocked her head to one side. “Why all the questions? Thought you didn’t much like me.”

“I don’t. You’re a killer and a threat, but Shaw thinks you’re valuable for some reason and this AI you answer to seems to be using you to help people. Even if she is the only thing holding you in check.”

“And you want to know why I listen to Her because you’re worried one day I’ll stop and go back to my wicked ways?”

Carter shrugged. “Sounds about right. I don’t have any reason to trust you other than Shaw’s word, and I’m not quite sure why she trusts you.”

That was a topic Root definitely wanted to steer clear of, though the amount of weight Carter put on Shaw’s word pleased her.

“The Machine offered me a job.”

“A job that has you getting tortured and shot. Because you don’t strike me as the type to walk into gunfire for some stranger all on your own. Which means she must have told you to.”

The wound from the bullet Root had taken saving Cyrus Wells’s life the day before ached. Carter hadn’t been there, but John or Shaw must have filled her in on how she’d gotten hurt.

As for why she’d done it…that was still a bit baffling to her. Maybe she’d hoped it would give her some understanding of why the Machine thought people were worth saving, or maybe she just hadn’t wanted to disappoint Her.

Or maybe she hadn’t much liked feeling responsible for how Cyrus Wells had been unable to do anything but watch as someone close to him was taken away, a scenario that was not at all unfamiliar to her.

She glanced up to find Carter watching her a little too closely for comfort and quickly continued.

“I don’t mind a little risk. I work for Her because She chose me and She cares about me.” She fidgeted with the edge of her towel with one hand. “The truth is I played a very small role in saving your life, and only because She asked me to. She’s the real reason you’re alive. She cares about all of us, including you.”

Carter looked surprised; clearly not the answer she’d expected. “Well, tell her thank you from me then.” She sounded sincere. “And thank you as well, whatever your reasons.”

Root looked down at her feet. She hadn’t figured out yet how to handle Carter’s straightforwardness. She decided to counter it in kind. “You found Hanna, made sure she got a proper burial. I thanked John for that, but I never got a chance to thank you.”

“Just doing my job. That little girl and her family deserved to be at peace.”

Root’s fingers tightened their clutch on the edge of her towel. She’d brought it up, but she didn’t actually want to discuss it.

She stood up. “I left something in the other room.”

The door swung open then, and Root breathed out a sigh of relief as Shaw came in.

“I hate winter in this city.” Her nose was red from the cold.

Root smiled at her and felt herself relax fractionally. “Did you get me something nice?”

“They’re just normal clothes.” Shaw thrust the bags at her. “Go get dressed.”

“Might need a hand with that.” Root motioned at her injured arm.

Shaw froze for half a second. “Uh, right. Guess it might be difficult for you right now.”

Root saw Carter watching them, cataloguing everything they said and did. It was a bit annoying having a competent detective around all the time.

“I don’t have all day.” Shaw stalked past her towards the bedroom. “You coming?”

Root turned away from Carter’s scrutiny to follow Shaw to the privacy of the bedroom.


“We’re clear for this hall.” Shaw kicked the gun away from the unconscious Vigilance agent. If she got shot rescuing Root after she’d gotten her dumb ass kidnapped she was never speaking to her.

“Good thing we made John leave his grenade launcher in the car,” Carter said. “He’d have had this whole place on high alert shooting that thing all over.”

“He brings it everywhere now. Think he’s still upset about that time I borrowed it for you.” The look on his face had been so incredibly satisfying. Shaw wondered if the Machine had that on tape. And speaking of the Machine…. “She says it’s this way.”

“So what’s it like having the Machine talking directly to you?” Carter asked. She was covering the hallway behind them, just in case.

“Dunno. Bit weird. Useful.” It had been great for allowing her to speed out on the highway.

“Didn’t think she’d ever talk to anyone but Root.”

They set off down the hall together, falling into a natural pattern of covering each other as they moved around corners. Shaw hadn’t gotten out in the field with Carter that much recently and it was damn good to work with her again.

“Special circumstances. She’s worried about Root.”

“You’re worried about her, too.” Carter sounded amused.

“She’s part of the team. Sort of. She would be if she weren’t so bad at team work.”

“Case in point,” Carter agreed. “And how long have you two been…?”

“What?” Shaw asked, hoping that someone would show up for her to shoot right then. “How long have we been what?”

“By my guess there was something already going on before we took down HR, but I’ve got no way of checking that.”

“There’s nothing going on.”

The look on Carter’s face spoke volumes.

Shaw scowled. “We’re just…it’s not a thing, okay?” She thought guiltily about her new couch. “Definitely not.”

“Uh-huh. That why you broke the sound barrier getting here to rescue her?”

“I’d have done that for anyone on my team.” Which was completely true even though it didn’t explain why this had felt slightly different than if it had been John in trouble. “Why did you show up? You don’t even like her.”

“I don’t like everyone whose life I save. Goes with the job. I wouldn’t say I hate her either. We just don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”

“Hope this means no speech about watching my back then.”

They had to pause the conversation to knee-cap two more Vigilance agents.

“You’re an adult. Don’t need me butting into your personal life.”

“You brought it up.”

“I’m a detective. Can’t turn that off.”

The Machine let Shaw know that there was a good chance Root was behind the door up ahead.

“Root’s…important. Uh, to our work, I mean. Analogue Interface and all.”

Thankfully, Carter let it drop, though she did look amused when Root smacked Shaw in the head with the door a few seconds later. And she definitely looked smug when Root basically hung all over Shaw on the way out and Shaw let her.

At least she didn’t know about the couch.


“Shaw?”

There was no mistaking her even with most of her hair hidden under a beanie, but she was about that last person Carter had expected to wander by right now.

Shaw looked equally confused as she came over to the parked car Carter was sitting in.

“So I know why I’m freezing my ass off out here, but why are you?” Shaw asked.

Carter motioned for her to get in and turned the heat up a little. Shaw climbed into the passenger’s seat and held her hands in front of one of the vents.

“I should steal a badge someday,” she said. “Would make it easier to park closer to stakeouts.”

“Why don’t you just borrow one of Root’s? She seems to have quite a collection.” She couldn’t keep the note of disapproval from her voice. Root had no respect for what any of those badges were meant to represent. They were another game of dress up for her.

“I don’t borrow things from Root.”

Carter raised an eyebrow at the immediate defensiveness in Shaw’s voice. Did she really think she and Root were fooling anyone?

“What’s this stakeout you’re on then?” It was more than a little suspicious that they were both keeping watch outside the same building.

“The Machine had some mission for Root. Thought she might need backup.”

“Root’s in that building?”

“Yeah, why?” Shaw narrowed her eyes. “What’s going on?”

“John went in there ten minutes ago. Off to help some number. Told me he could handle it. I figured I’d give him another five minutes before I went in and bailed him out of whatever mess he got himself into.” She couldn’t remember a single occasion where John had correctly claimed he didn’t need backup.

“I didn’t know we had a number.” Shaw frowned. “What the hell is he playing at? What the hell are both of them playing at?”

Carter unbuckled her seatbelt. “Only one way to find out.”

The building appeared empty, but the elevator dinged and the doors opened as they entered the lobby. They exchanged a look and went to investigate. A floor number lit up as they got in and Shaw huffed a little and shook her head.

“If the Machine wanted us to keep them out of trouble, she shouldn’t have sent them off on their own in the first place.”

“I don’t think even an AI can keep those two out of trouble.” It seemed unfair to compare John to Root, but, in some matters at least, the comparison worked too well to ignore.

Carter wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting to see when the elevator doors opened on the fifth floor, but it definitely wasn’t the scene unfolding before her.

The first thing she noticed was that the ceiling sprinkler system was on, water spraying everywhere. One of the ceiling lights in the big room was flickering and spitting sparks out while a very unconscious man dangled from it by a wire tied around his foot.

There were several other bodies in the room, and one or two men clutching their knee and groaning in pain. Sitting on a desk in the middle of the chaos was Root, kicking her feet back and forth, and tapping a taser against her leg. There was a man tied up and twitching in a chair in front of her who appeared to be wearing the remains of a clown costume.

Right before Carter recovered enough to say something, John Reese splashed into the back of the room holding what was almost definitely a small, angry pekingese dog under his arm.

“Root! I caught it!” He sounded so proud of himself.

“I knew you were useful for something. Now let’s see if this will make him talk.”

The elevator door started to close on its own as Reese triumphantly carried the struggling bundle of fur over towards the desk. Neither Carter nor Shaw moved.

As the doors closed (cutting off some angry yipping noises), Shaw reached out to stab the lobby button several times with one finger.

They stayed silent as the elevator descended and both headed out of the lobby and towards Carter’s car.

“You know, there’s a new restaurant around the corner,” Carter said. “Hear it’s supposed to be pretty decent.”

“I could eat.”

They veered away from the car and started down the street.

Carter was pretty certain they were on the same page here, but some things were worth confirming. “Just to be absolutely clear, we’re never mentioning any of that. Ever.”

“No arguments here.” Shaw made a pained noise. “I’m trying to forget it ever happened.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to start on the arrest report.”

Shaw muttered something angrily under her breath that was undoubtedly about Root. “This place we’re going to, does it have drinks?”

“It better.”


“You drew the short straw for babysitting duty again, I see,” Root said as she led Carter towards the safe-house where her team was staying. She had both hands wrapped tightly around a takeout cup of coffee that Shaw had brought her earlier for no particular reason. It wasn’t great coffee, but there was no way she was going to throw it out.

“I’m here to meet this little team of yours I’ve heard almost nothing about. Nothing else.”

“I’m not going to hand myself over to Decima in the next hour. So if you have somewhere you’d rather be…” She still got edgy with Carter hanging over her shoulder. Fusco was easy to befuddle and deflect, but Carter was trickier.

“You were ready to before. Shaw must have been pretty convincing to talk you down.”

“Convincing…” Root thought about Shaw showing up in the library the previous day, and how she’d woken up in her bed this morning. “Yes, she can be very convincing when she puts her mind to it.”

Carter snorted somewhat inelegantly and Root wondered again how much Carter knew about her and Shaw. Even the worst detective would have been able to guess they were sleeping together. But the other stuff….

“Why were you so eager to turn yourself over in the first place? Didn’t think you even knew Finch that well and he locked you up twice.”

Root could still remember the conversation where Carter had found out about that. She might not agree with Carter on most things, but Carter’s complete disgust with how her double incarceration had fallen out had been gratifying.

“We have jails for a reason,” Carter had snapped when Reese had made a weak effort to explain (it hadn’t sounded like his heart was really in it). “There’s a word for people who keep other people locked up in cages in their house. Or secret base or whatever. A couple words, actually, and none of them are good. Criminals go to jail.”

Root hadn’t enjoyed all the insistence about going to jail, but still. A bit gratifying.

“She wants Harold back. And even if we had our differences, I don’t want Decima to have him.”

“Anything you wouldn’t do for the Machine if she asked?”

The Machine hadn’t asked her to turn herself over (had in fact been very firmly against the idea), but she didn’t want to get into that right now.

“Doing what She asks is my entire life.”

“Your entire life. Right.” Carter sounded like she didn’t buy it.

Yeah, she definitely knew about her and Shaw.

“Hanging out with vigilantes isn’t exactly what I pictured you doing,” Root said to change the subject. “Detective law and order. Why not arrest all of us?”

“John and Shaw help save lives, even if I don’t always like the way they do it. They’re not the criminals who I joined the force to protect people from.”

“No, that would be me, right?” Root smiled sweetly.

Carter looked sideways at her for a minute. “You keep pointing out how bad you used to be every time you get a chance. Rubbing it in my face. Almost like it’d bother you if I thought you’d changed even a little.”

Root choked on her coffee. That was completely untrue and unfair. She opened her mouth to tell Carter how ridiculous it was and then paused when the Machine played a single note in her ear.

She had a running bet with Her that she could get through an entire day without lying to another person. It was past noon today (which made this her new record), and she really didn’t want to blow it. She sulked quietly instead.

Carter rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”


Shaw wondered if she ignored the pounding on her door if whomever was out there would go away. She turned the volume up on the tv and settled back on the couch in her new apartment.

There were a lot of things to get used to in the new life hiding from Samaritan had forced her into, but the plush new apartment wasn’t that bad comparatively.

The pounding on her door got louder.

“Shaw, I know you’re in there!”

Shaw sighed but got up. If it had been anyone but Carter she’d probably have kept ignoring them.

She opened the door a crack and looked back and forth between the two people standing in her hallway.

“Yeah, no.” She tried to shut the door again, but Carter had stuck her foot in the way. Shaw sighed. “Okay, what did she do this time?”

Next to Carter, Root grinned. “Hey, Sameen.” She looked way too cheerful for someone who had a bandage around their arm that was soaked through with blood in a few places.

“You got shot again?”

“Stabbed this time. But only a tiny bit.”

“And arrested,” Carter added as if that were worse.

Root raised her cuffed hands and wiggled her fingers at Shaw. Carter shoved her hands back down. “Shaw, can’t you keep her on a leash or something?”

“How is she my responsibility?” Shaw asked as quickly as she could to preempt whatever horrifying innuendo Root was undoubtedly concocting about the leash thing.

Carter just looked at her.

“Could say the same to you about Reese then,” Shaw grumbled.

Carter glared and gave Root a shove towards her. “Maybe you can ground her for a week.”

Shaw opened the door a little more to let Root in because they all knew she was going to so might as well go with it.

“You want a beer or something?” she asked Carter.

“I’m on my way home. Raincheck?”

“You know where to find me.”

“What about these?” Root held up her cuffed hands again.

“Since you spent the entire ride telling me how you had all sorts of handcuffs and keys stashed here, I figure those won’t be a problem.”

Shaw shut her eyes for a moment, hoping that when she opened them again she’d find that she’d imagined this whole thing. No such luck.

“Well, I’ll leave you to deal with her.” Carter waved goodnight and left down the hall.

“Do I even wanna know what happened?” Shaw asked as she headed for where she kept her medical supplies.

Root considered the question. “Probably not.”

“Sit.” Shaw motioned her towards the couch and went to work cutting off the useless bandage. “And if you promise me you’ll go at least a month without getting shot or stabbed I’ll think about taking the cuffs off.”


“Think I’m going to take a nap.” Reese looked beyond exhausted. Understandably so. Carter had missed out on all the post-stock exchange excitement, but she didn’t think he’d gotten to sleep at all since they’d escaped the basement with Shaw half-dead in Root’s arms.

Shaw was stable now, but from the little Reese had told her, Root had caused some…problems. When she’d picked them up out in Brooklyn, Reese had looked asleep on his feet and Root was out cold. He’d had to drug her apparently.

Carter wasn’t sure what Root had been trying to do, but knowing Root probably some extreme reaction to Shaw getting hurt that would have ended up with her (and a lot of other people) dead.

“You sticking around?” Reese asked.

“For a bit maybe.” She didn’t feel right leaving after everything that had gone down.

“Thanks.” Reese nodded tiredly and staggered off down the hall towards the free bedroom.

Carter waited until his door shut and then went back to the door of the bedroom Shaw and Root were in. She listened at the door for a second and then opened it just a crack.

Shaw was still unconscious in the hospital bed they’d stolen for her, and while she was obviously badly injured and drugged, she looked a lot better than she had a few hours ago. Seeing her breathing steadily made the knot of tension inside Carter loosen a little.

Root was similarly passed out on the real bed, one wrist cuffed to the headboard. Her clothes were covered in dried blood (Shaw’s most likely), and Carter wondered if she should try and at least cut her shirt off so she didn’t wake up like that. In the end she decided against it, not wanting to risk disturbing either of them.

She shut the door again and turned around to contemplate the door to the last bedroom. It was probably a bad idea, but…. She made up her mind and went in, immediately cold in the temperature-controlled server room Root had built there.

She faced the monitor setup on the desk.

“Not quite sure how this works, but I figure you’ll answer if you want to.”

The screen stayed dark for a few long, cold seconds, but then a cursor started blinking in the top left corner.

“Hello?” Shaw’s vague description of talking to the Machine hadn’t given Carter much insight into what to expect.

Hello.

It was only a single word, but Carter felt a small thrill run through her. She’d been hearing about the Machine for so long now, basically working side by side with her without ever meeting her. That had just changed.

She wasn’t quite sure what to say next, or even why she’d come in here.

Thank you for helping the others.

“Not sure I helped enough. Seems like I’m the only one still on my feet.”

I am not sure I helped enough either.

Definitely not what Carter had expected from her.

“They’re all alive. That’s what matters.”

Sameen Shaw was hurt very badly. As was Root. I could not protect either of them.

“Root was hurt?” She’d assumed the blood all over her had been Shaw’s, but surely John wouldn’t have let her injuries go untreated.

In a different way.

Carter thought back to what John had said while they were driving out of Brooklyn with Root unconscious in the back seat.

“It’s easy to get lost when someone important is taken from you. This was a pretty close call.”

She’d thought about that picture she still had of Reese and Jessica. Someday she hoped he’d tell her about that on his own.

She snapped back to the present when more words crawled across the screen.

I am not certain how best to help them. Perhaps it would be better if I let them be.

“Can’t imagine Root would be okay with that.”

She did not want to talk to me earlier.

Nothing in her life had given Carter any kind of reference for how to deal with a worried AI, but she knew how to reassure a human.

“We all had a long day, and no one has been thinking too clearly. Let’s see where things stand after we’ve all gotten some sleep.” She thought about Root’s face on their way out of the stock exchange, and later at the doctor’s. “Like you said, she got hurt, but she’s going to need you to help her get better.”

She was a bit surprised at how worried she was herself about Root. Shaw had been her friend since the start, but Root was a different matter. But something about how fiercely and openly Root cared about Shaw and the Machine (and lately John as well) made it hard to uniformly dislike her now.

How? I want to help both of them, but I am uncertain I have the means.

“Well, Shaw you’ve already helped a lot. Getting us to that doctor saved her life. And Root.… I think you know her better than I do. Maybe you and Shaw can talk about it.”

That is a very good strategy. Thank you.

The screen blanked out and new text appeared.

You came in to ask me something?

“I think I came in to ask if there was anything I could do to help.” She chuckled. “Turns out neither of us has all the answers.” But since she was here, she had another question. “This thing you do, helping us save people, is it something you do because you have to, or because you want to?”

I think perhaps it is both.

“Both?”

Your job is also to save people’s lives. Is it not both for you as well?

“Yeah, but I’m not…forced to do it. I could walk away if I wanted to.”

Could you? What are morals if not code?

“Shaw did say you get all philosophical sometimes.” Carter nodded. “I think I get what you’re saying, though. Now I’m going to leave before I freeze to death.”

Goodbye.

Carter paused on her way out. “Oh, and I know I told you through Root way back, but I meant it. Thank you for protecting me and John that night.”

You are welcome.

She left, feeling better than when she’d entered even though she hadn’t gotten an answer to the question she’d gone in with.

When she checked in on Root and Shaw again later, Shaw was still asleep, but Root had somehow gotten out of the handcuffs and curled up next to Shaw on the hospital bed. When the door opened, Root raised her head slightly, eyes furious and full of violence. As soon as she registered that it was Carter in the doorway, she relaxed and put her head back down.

The whole thing was strangely reassuring.

Carter shut the door quietly and left them to rest.


“Don’t touch anything.”

Root resisted the sudden, almost-overwhelming urge to put her hands all over everything in Carter’s car.

“Is this the part where you finally arrest me?” She’d been surprised by Carter’s request that she come along with her today, but Shaw was out of town on a mission with John, and Root had been worrying about her enough that she’d have taken any distraction.

“I seem to recall arresting you several times already, and letting you go every time.”

“True. So why am I here?”

Root couldn’t tell where they were headed, and the Machine hadn’t told her. But She hadn’t told her not to go, either.

“Got a case I’m working on. Thought you could lend me a hand. Make my life easier for once.”

Root turned to look at her, but her face gave away nothing. “Something you need some computer skills for?”

“Not particularly. Just a second set of eyes.”

Why her then? Admittedly the other two were out of town for a few days, but Fusco was still around.

“Guess I thought you might want something to do today with Shaw being away for the first time since…” Carter shrugged. “I can take you back if you want.”

Had the Machine put her up to this? Or had something Root had done finally tipped Carter’s opinion of her?

“No, it’s…I could use something to do.” Spending a day with Carter was much more appealing than it once had been. She chewed her lip and then added, “Thanks.”

“You can thank me by not making me regret this. No traumatizing my witnesses.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior.” Whatever that was. “So what’s this case about?”


“You sure you don’t need any more help tomorrow?” Carter asked.

Shaw sighed. She really wished they could bring Carter with them. “Not sure of that at all, but I do think the chances of us getting spotted early increase if more people go.” They only had one shot at taking down Samaritan.

“Doesn’t feel right letting you two go off into danger with no backup.”

“The Machine will be our backup, which is why you and John have to keep her safe.”

“Well, if you change your mind…”

“Noted. And thanks.” There was one thing, though, a problem she’d been turning over in her mind since Root had told her the code to take down Samaritan was done. “If something happens to me or the Machine, or both of us…” This was awkward.

Carter looked over towards the subway car that Root had retreated into after dinner.

“I’ll keep an eye on her for both of you, but only if you promise you’ll do your damn best to make sure I don’t have to.”

“Not a problem. I don’t have a death wish like those two.” Sometimes it felt like Root and Reese were having a competition to see who could almost die the most.

“On that note, in our situations are flipped, you make sure to keep an eye on John.”

“I’ll lock him in the subway car until he stops being an idiot.” She knew Carter had made arrangements for Taylor already.

Carter chuckled and they lapsed into companionable silence, both worried but maybe a little less worried than they’d been before.


“Feels like we’ve come full circle,” Carter said, looking around the all-night diner.

It was the same one where she’d first met Root and found out about the Machine, but this outing definitely was different. John was there, for starters, and Root had her chair shoved as close to Shaw’s as it would go and kept whispering things to her that made Shaw roll her eyes.

“Guess we have,” Shaw agreed. Next to her Root winced in a way that suggested Shaw had just kicked her under the table (Carter wasn’t sure why she would have, but she was sure she didn’t want to know). Some things hadn’t changed apparently.

“She says it’s actually more like a spiral,” Root said, once she’d recovered. “Back around to the same spot, but at a higher point. An upwards spiral.”

“I thought things usually spiraled downwards.” Reese sipped his coffee and froze in horror. Carter wondered if she should have warned him about all the sugar packets she’d seen Root dump in it (ten by her count).

“Matter of perspective, maybe,” she said. “From Samaritan’s perspective things definitely spiraled downwards.” Not that it had a perspective anymore.

Shaw flicked one of the few remaining sugar packets at Reese, who was still making horrible faces. “Way I see it, we won. It lost. We’re all alive. It’s not. Doesn’t matter if it’s a circle, or a spiral, or a different perspective. Facts are facts, and the facts are on our side.”

“That was surprisingly sentimental of you, Sameen,” Root teased.

Shaw flicked a sugar packet at her this time and Carter held back a smile.

Reese got up to go hunt down some fresh coffee, and Shaw and Root started a friendly bickering match about Shaw’s supposed sentimentality. Carter sat back in her chair with her (hopefully uncontaminated) coffee, glad to be a part of this small, strange group she’d adopted. Or maybe they’d adopted her. Either way, there was no one she’d rather be stuck with.