“Miss Lori Barlow,” Harold says, pinning up a photo. “She lives on a farm in the Midwest with her husband, Clive, and their two children. Right now, Lori and Clive are here in New York on vacation, the kids are staying with family. No criminal records.”
“Could be the husband is planning to kill her,” Shaw says simply.
“Or the other way around,” Reese replies. “Do we have photos of him?”
Harold shuffles through the thin folder he’d been able to assemble on their latest number, and he's just pinning up the photo of Clive Barlow when Root comes in, late, of course, and dressed like a Star Wars character for no apparent reason, and carrying a box of donuts.
“Is he the new number? Looks kind of boring, Harry,” she says with a smirk.
“His wife, actually,” Harold corrects, and Root sobers a little, glancing at the other photo.
“I need to make a call,” she says tersely, handing the donuts off none-too-gently to Shaw as she spins to leave the room again.
Harold would like to be able to say he has no idea how this happened. He really, really would. But while he doesn't know much, he has some idea, and that's enough.
And however it happened, Harold is now a passenger in a car chase, and the man behind the wheel is an even more terrifying driver than any of Harold’s people.
“Stay down!” Clive-- no, Clint, because of course he's a SHIELD agent and of course they got his wife’s alias’ number and of course Root knows him-- yells, when his wife goes to peek out the rear window.
“I am, I am,” Laura gripes, appearing largely calm and collected despite the gunfire behind them. “I thought you said no one knew about this vacation, Clinton!”
“ Clinton ,” Root and the redhead in the front passenger seat snicker in unison.
“Mister Finch, stay very low, I'm about to return fire over your head,” Natasha continues speaking.
“It's very uncomfortable for me to bend this far,” Harold informs her, but he does it anyway, because a sore back is better than a bullet.
“Sorry,” the agent replies, and she actually sounds genuine about it. She fires off four quick shots, and the glass behind Finch’s head shatters completely, finally losing its battle to stay together under heavy fire. “Root, where's your girlfriend with our backup?”
“Which one?” Root asks, smug.
“Either,” Natasha deadpans, before climbing halfway out the window to shoot at their attackers. Root leans forward between the front seats and pulls something from the glove box, clipping one carabiner to the grab handle and another to the front of Natasha’s belt, pulling on the short rope between them twice to ensure its integrity.
Somewhere off to the left, police sirens become audible.
“Jesus Christ,” mutters Clint, taking a right turn at dangerous speeds.
Somewhere behind them, there's a sickening series of metallic screeches and crunches. Finch doesn't try to look.
“Oh, Shaw’s here!” Root informs everyone cheerily.
“I want it known, Miss Groves, that I blame you for this entire situation,” Harold says to her.
“Fair enough, Harry,” Root replies.
Detective Carter is bleeding, again, after being shot, again, and scaring them all out of their minds, again . It's not her fault, of course, and the bullet hit her leg, not any vital organs, but Harold is starting to think he may have to extend his lessons against self-sacrifice to the entire team, rather than just John.
Carter is still a cop, but explaining this situation, why she was out here with a gun not her service weapon, in the middle of the night, outside her precinct’s jurisdiction and far from home… well, if they don't have to explain it to a hospital or to the authorities, Finch would rather not. So when Root grabs the car keys from Shaw’s hand and says “I know someone who can help,” no one argues. They pile into the car, Fusco staying behind with the promise he'll clean up the scene.
“Get her patched up, Fruit Loops,” he instructs, before they drive away, and Root nods.
They arrive at an inconspicuous apartment building, and Root leads everyone into the elevator and then down the hall. Carter is barely conscious now, Reese and Shaw supporting her. Root knocks on the apartment door, a deliberate combination of raps and pauses, starting over when no one comes by the end, and Harold recognizes the letters. “.... . .-.. .--.”. Help .
After two and a half quick run-throughs of Morse, the apartment unlocks, and a half-asleep woman with dark hair and darker pajamas waves them inside.
“Honey, it is two in the morning, this better be--” she stops talking when she catches sight of Carter, of all the blood. “Oh, shit. Couch, go.”
Root moves, and Shaw and Reese follow, Carter held up between them. Harold shuffles after, leaving their new host to close the door behind everyone. John and Shaw go to lay Carter down on the couch, and Root says “gimme a second,” pulling a plastic sheet from underneath the sofa and unfolding it over the cushions. They lay Carter down, and she's passed out as soon as she's not on her feet anymore.
“Grab my kit,” says their host, and Root zooms off, no directions needed. The woman points at Shaw, then down the hall. “You, get the pink towels from the linen closet, first door on the right.”
“I'm a doctor, I can help you. Reese, towels,” Shaw says. John goes. The woman gives Shaw an up-and-down glance.
“If you're a doctor then why come to me? I'm only a nurse, and it's the middle of the night,” she says, accepting both the towels that John hands her and the first aid kit that Root does.
“You were closer than any of our safe houses,” Root says.
“We appreciate this very much,” Harold adds.
“I have work tomorrow,” the woman gripes, but she's already working, handing things off to Shaw, and between the two of them they start getting Carter patched up.
They work in relative silence, asking for tools or towels or for John to stop hovering.
“She'll need a blood transfusion, and some serious healing time,” says the woman.
“We can go to an actual hospital once we have a cover scenario set up, for now she just needs to be stable,” Root says. She leans forward, pressing a kiss to the woman’s head. “Thanks, May.”
“Yeah, yeah,” May mutters.
“I can pay you, for your help,” Harold says. May looks like she's about to reply when a creak in the hall has everyone spinning, John and Shaw putting hands to their guns before they process the sight of the half-asleep teenager in the entryway.
“Aunt May? What's going on?”
“Helping a friend of Root’s,” May says.
“Oh,” the kid says. “Hi, Root. Hi, Root’s friends. See you in the morning.”
He shuffles down the hall, back to bed.
“Well, you heard him,” May says, already walking away. “There's sleeping bags and roll-up cots in the closet. My bed’s up for grabs, I'll sleep in Peter’s room.”
“Finch can have the bed,” John says, before Shaw can try calling dibs.
“W-why are we staying the night here, again?” Harold asks, minorly confused.
“Because Peter said so, and he's the boss,” Root says, and Harold honestly can't tell if she's joking. “Go on, Harry. We'll stay out here with Joss.”
The next morning, Harold wakes up to the sound of a shower running, and the smell of bacon cooking. He gets out of bed slowly, carefully, gritting his teeth against the inevitable ache in his back from sleeping in a bed not his own, and puts his vest, jacket, belt, tie, glasses, and shoes back on, making himself look presentable before leaving the room.
“Mister Finch!” says a cheerful young voice, as Harold emerges into the living room and kitchen area. “You're up! Do you want breakfast? We have green tea, I don't think it's the same kind you like but if you want any I can get it for you.”
Harold glances at Carter, still out, then blinks at the sight of the kitchen. Root and the kid from last night, Peter, are moving expertly around each other in the kitchen, Root’s usually violent sense of precision and grace now being put to work in a very different context. There's bacon sizzling on the stove, as well as eggs and thin-sliced potatoes, and Peter is mixing honey and lemon juice into a bowl of fruit salad.
“Morning, Harry,” Root says. “Sit down, we're almost done.”
“Morning,” Harold replies, somewhat absently. “I didn't know you could cook like this, Miss Groves.”
“We can't alone ,” Root says, lightly hip-checking her young sous-chef as he passes her on his way to the fridge. “Too many moving parts to keep track of, we end up burning things.”
“I tried to make spaghetti for Aunt May once, and somehow the noodles caught fire,” Peter affirms solemnly.
Harold doesn't know what to say to that, so he hums and turns away from them, finding a seat at the table, where Shaw and John are already sitting.
“This kid is way too familiar with Root for someone who knows what she does,” Shaw says. “It's freaky.”
Harold’s inclined to agree.
Joss wakes up at Root’s sing-song call of “breakfast!” and the team migrates to the living room, everyone carrying something. (Shaw had gone to grab the tray of bacon, and Root had neatly dropped a stack of plates in her hands instead.) May emerges from the bathroom dressed in work scrubs, with her hair wrapped in a towel.
“Good work, kids,” she says, kissing first Peter's forehead, then Root’s.
“Thanks, May,” the two chorus.
“Am I hallucinating this?” Carter asks from the couch.
It's exceedingly rare for them to get numbers outside of New York. Practically unheard of. And yet here they are, in Portland of all places, all the way across the country , hiding out in a brew pub with their number, because they need help and they need it faster than they're able to get it from the Machine.
“When you said you knew somewhere to lay low, I thought you meant a safe house,” Shaw says.
“Are you sure we'll be okay here?” their number asks. They're a young intern, being targeted by a shady corporation for trying to expose some less-than-savory dealings online. Currently, they're picking at their fries and glancing nervously out at the rainy night every minute or so.
Root, on the other hand, is eating without qualms, and barely sparing the outside world a glance. She's mostly listening to the Machine in her ear, they can all tell, because she's staring at nothing in particular, her eyes flicking occasionally to them or to the door or to the man behind the bar. (“Former black ops,” John whispered in Harold’s ear, when they first walked into the pub. The whole team had been a little on edge at the man’s presence, until Root greeted him warmly and he gave them an order of fries “on the house”.)
An unfamiliar woman slides into their booth, next to Root, squashing Shaw against the window a bit.
“I thought you were in New York,” the woman says in a British accent.
“Something's come up here,” Root shrugs. “I'm sending the files to Alec now.”
By which she means the Machine is sending files, though who Alec is, Harold has no idea.
“Who the hell is Alec?” Shaw asks, so no one else has to. “And who the hell are you ?”
“Sophie Devereaux, of Leverage Incorporated,” the woman reaches across Root to shake Shaw’s hand. “Alec is our computer expert. We… help people, who can't help themselves.”
John and Harold exchange a glance.
“The guy at the bar yours too?” John asks.
“My cousin, Eliot,” Sophie says. “Our… well, I suppose he's whatever you are to this team.”
John nods. Sophie smiles, then stands. Root moves to follow.
“Miss Groves, where exactly are you going?” Harold asks.
“To the back,” Root answers. She waits, and when no one else stands, she sighs, rolls her eyes. “You said we needed help on this one, Harry. Here's our help.”
He's taking Bear for a walk when it happens. Living in New York City, and living the life he does, Finch is more than prepared for pickpockets. It's child’s play, when the woman bumps into him, to nab her wallet out of her pocket even as she grabs his.
“Excuse me,” he says, turning to keep her in sight, and holding up the wallet. “You dropped this.”
She turns, eyes widening when she realizes.
“Nice job, old man,” she laughs. Harold frowns at being called old man , but manages to fumblingly catch his wallet when she tosses it back to him. He glances inside, assuring that everything is still there, before tossing hers back. “I kinda thought you'd be an easy target.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” Harold replies, “miss…?”
“No kidding.” she grins. She doesn't give a name, instead turning, throwing a peace sign up over her shoulder as she walks away. “Maybe I'll see you around, Finch.”
Harold startles, suddenly fearful at her knowledge of his alias, reaching for his phone-- only it isn't there. From in its place within his jacket, he pulls out a single tarot card, elegantly illustrated with a single eye on the back. The Magician.
He looks up, and sees the woman running away-- and sees Root walking toward him, a smirk on her face and a phone held up triumphantly in her hand.
“Don't worry, Lula’s harmless,” she says, which raises more questions than it answers.
“How do you know someone at Stark Industries?” Harold asks, a bit afraid of the answer.
“That's a long story for another time,” Root says. It's just the two of them in the car; Shaw and Reese are trailing their number, while Carter and Fusco pull up information to help reconnaissance along. The number is a Stark Industries employee, in the Tower, so Finch assumed getting access to him at work would be nearly impossible, until Root nonchalantly brought up a “contact” in Avengers Tower.
“If you say so, Miss Groves.”
“Here they come.” Root grins, rolling down Harold’s window and leaning past him to shout, “need a ride?”
“From you? No thanks,” says the young woman approaching, but she opens the back door and slides into the car, holding up what looks like an advanced mini-usb drive. “Here you are, Madame. Camera access is on there, as well as a remote connection to JARVIS. He says he's glad to let you both into the system, so long as it's to keep SI and its employees safe. ‘Access will be rescinded once the matter is resolved,’ or something like that.”
“Perfect.” Root takes the drive. “Thanks, Darce.”
“No problem,” replies Darce-- Darcy, maybe, Harold guesses. “This is Harry?”
“Harold,” Harold corrects quickly. “Harold Wren.”
“You like birds, dontcha?” Darcy grins. “I gotta get back to work before Tony and Jane start to miss me. Nice to meet you, Harry.”
She gives both of them a smile, then gets out of the car.
“Did she mean Tony Stark , Miss Groves?” Harold asks.
“Yes she did,” Root replies simply. “Now, let's see how much fun our girl and JARVIS can have together.”
There are people in his fifth-favorite apartment.
Without knowing if any of them are armed, Harold knows it’s stupid to confront them. Especially considering that they were able to bypass his security. But he's already opened the door, and they're already looking at him, so he figures saying something is a better option than closing the door again and hoping they don't follow him out.
“I believe you have the wrong apartment,” he says, annoyed. The three people in his living room blink at him, confused.
“They're with me, Harry!” Root’s voice comes from the kitchen, and Harold relaxes despite himself.
“Miss Groves, this is not a place to host parties,” he scolds. Root emerges from the kitchen carrying a tray of wine glasses for the three strangers.
“They're celebrating their anniversary, Harry, they needed somewhere nice!” she declares. “I'll clean everything up when the weekend's over, promise .”
“Uh, Harry, was it?” the younger of the two men starts.
“Neal,” the other two strangers start to warn, but the first man waves them off.
“Harold Plover,” Harold introduces himself.
“Neal Caffrey,” the man replies, with a conman’s grin. “We promise to be out before Monday. Root just wanted us to have a nice, somewhat private place to celebrate.”
“She doesn't have the authority to invite you to my private residence ,” Harold addresses this firmly toward Root. Then he looks at the trio. “But provided Miss Groves trusts you… far be it from me to ruin an anniversary.”
The trio smile, grateful, and Harold turns to Root again. “We will be talking about this.”
And he leaves them in his fifth-favorite apartment, already calling a cab to take him to another.
Harold has met Dr. Temperance Brennan a few times before tonight’s gala. Or, more specifically, Harold Crane has met Dr. Brennan, because he's donated to the Jeffersonian, and he's a fan of her books. He hasn't met the young man who introduces himself as Dr. Lance Sweets, but the kid’s not good at hiding his expressions-- Sweets’ eyes go from Harold, to Root, where she's standing at Harold’s side, and his eyes get wide in recognition.
For a moment, Harold fears the worst: that Dr. Sweets knows Root for her violent past, that he's about to raise an alarm.
“Ruth Crane,” Root introduces herself smoothly to both doctors. “Uncle Harry’s training me to help run his company.”
They keep mingling around the gala, eventually splitting up a little bit. Harold catches sight of John and Shaw, dressed as wait staff, more than once, but they don't approach him or Root. They have comms for if anything starts to happen.
Harold is giving the room another sweeping glance when he sees Root being pulled aside by Dr. Sweets, toward the edge of the crowd. She's smiling, but it's thin, concerned. Root can take care of herself, they all know that, which just makes the concern on her face more worrying. Harold starts making his way over, as quickly as he can.
“...heck are you doing here?” he hears Sweets ask.
“Stopping a murderer,” Root replies easily. “What about you?”
“We come as a group, Brennan and her team. These things get boring otherwise. Reminds me of when we were too young to drink, at--”
“Harold!” Root greets cheerily. “Has our perp shown up yet?”
“Not yet,” Harold replies, sparing a glance at Sweets, who smiles, somewhat awkwardly, and starts to leave.
“Be careful,” Root stops him. “We don't know what'll happen.”
Sweets nods before disappearing into the crowd.
They're in the base, which is a first.
John immediately has his gun raised at the two men-- twins, Harold can only assume-- and Shaw follows suit. The men notice quickly, turning to face the team and putting their hands up in surrender.
“This is shaping up to be a great plan, Cam,” one of the twins says sarcastically. The other glares at him.
“Who are you, and how did you get in here?” Shaw demands.
“Your passcode is the first digits of pi , it's not exactly hard to guess,” says the sarcastic twin.
“We're looking for Root?” says the other twin, ignoring his brother.
“Why?” John asks.
“She told us she wanted help with something,” the second twin shrugs. “We owe her a couple favors.”
“We really need to have a talk with Miss Groves about giving people addresses they shouldn't know,” Harold grumbles, half to himself. Shaw and John haven't put their guns down yet; it's Root's arrival that diffuses the situation.
“Oh good, you've met the boys,” she says. “Don't shoot them or they won't be identical anymore.”
“What if we just shoot them both in the same spot?” John asks.
“Good point,” the twins and Root all say in unison.
“...I need a drink,” mutters Shaw.
“These are the coordinates the Machine gave us,” Harold confirms. “Miss Groves should be here.”
He's sitting in the back of a Thornhill Corporation van with a laptop, while the rest of the team patrols the edges of the clearing. They're all in the middle of the woods, somewhere on the New York and Pennsylvania border.
“We've got two vehicles,” Shaw calls, tense.
“One more coming from this side, Harold,” Carter adds. “Mine's a van, no markings.”
“Same here,” John replies.
Above them, there's a crack of thunder, and the sky suddenly opens, bright colors streaming down and causing a small shockwave, dirt and dead leaves rising up and making it harder to see the figures-- the people that have just been dropped in the middle of the woods. When the dust settles (literally), the three other vans have stopped as close to the edges of the clearing as they can get, and people have started hopping out. And in the clearing itself, there are about a dozen people in various somewhat-fantastical outfits of silk and leather and armor. Finch recognizes all their faces, of course; he's met all of them except one, and that one has plenty of news footage depicting him as a supervillain.
“Sorry we're late!” Root says cheerfully. “Had to break him out of jail again, ran into some trouble, no big deal.”
Harold glances around at the occupants of the other vans. He recognizes Clint and a few other Avengers, most in civilian clothes. He recognizes the members of Leverage, Incorporated. He recognizes most of the small assortment of FBI agents piling out of the last van.
“Oh, good, people who hate me,” Loki says, eyeing Clint warily from where he's slung over Natasha and Jonathan’s shoulders.
“Miss Groves, why are we out here?” Harold asks Root. Above, the sky begins to darken again, crackling ominously.
“You're the getaway drivers, Harry,” Root informs him. Then (mostly to Shaw,) she says, “sorry you weren't invited to the jailbreak. It was a family matter.”
“Fine by me,” Shaw mutters.
“Did you know about… this ?” Harold asks the laptop in his lap. The Machine spends a moment replying.
“ :) maybe so ” she types.
“I'm disowning you,” Harold tells her solemnly.