Yesternight the sun went hence, and yet is here today.
Joss Carter glanced at the bedside clock and sighed. Reluctantly, she slid her legs out from under the covers. The apartment was warm enough, but not as warm as the bed. She didn't want to leave.
Though she hadn't spoken aloud, John seemed to hear her. "You don't have to go," he murmured.
"I told Taylor I wouldn't be late."
He didn't argue. He didn't say, Taylor needs to get a girlfriend of his own or when's he leaving for college again? He never would.
It was one of the things that made this relationship okay for her. One of many things.
He slid his own long legs out from under the covers. "Stay," Joss said. "You don't have to get up."
"I'll walk you out," he insisted.
Not, Joss knew, because he thought for a minute that she couldn't handle herself on the streets after dark. But because his mama had raised him to be a gentleman, and a gentleman walked a lady to her car.
Another of the many things.
When they got to the door, he made a little clucking noise and Bear trotted over to join them. As John clipped his leash on, his phone buzzed. "See?" he said wryly, "I had to get up anyhow." He clicked the phone. "Hello, Finch."
He listened for a moment, then smiled. "Good to hear. Do you need me to come in?"
Another moment, and he said good-night and hung up.
"What's Finch up to?" she asked. If John's partner knew about their relationship, he never gave it away by even the slightest glance. Joss assumed he knew everything, always, but Finch was still in his own honeymoon phase; perhaps he was distracted. He would find out sooner or later. But there was no rush.
The phone chirped again, a different notification, and John leaned in to share the image with her. A red-faced newborn with big eyes filled the screen.
"Angela Frances Ingram," he announced.
"Oh, she's cute."
"Is she?" He raised a skeptical eyebrow at the photo.
"She is," Joss assured him. "Or she will be, when she's had a day or two to get un-squinched. Everybody okay?"
"Harold says they're all healthy and happy."
"And secure somewhere, I imagine."
"Oh, yes. Nothing but the elite maternity wing for an Ingram baby."
Joss kissed him. "Does this make you an uncle? Great-uncle? Step-uncle?"
"I don't know, I can't keep the threads straight any more. We're family. Some kind of family."
"Found family," she pronounced. "That's the best kind."
They walked out. It had snowed a bit. "Get in," John said. "Give me your snow brush." He leaned down and let Bear take his leash in his own mouth. The dog trotted off. "He's on a leash," he explained to Joss' raised eyebrow.
Carter started the car and sat waiting for the heater to kick in while he brushed off her windows. Then John crouched to kiss her again, after quickly checking for any traffic or pedestrians. "Be safe."
The dusting of snow had of course snarled traffic. People acted like they'd never seen it before, even though it had snowed barely a week before. But Joss turned her radio to an old Motown station and didn't let it bother her. The snow was pretty.
Being with John was easy. Dangerous, on a whole lot of levels, but easy. He has his own life and she had hers, and when they could make time to be together they did. It was that simple. He wasn't threatened by her status. He didn't need to be a part of her day-to-day. If she needed to complain he listened, but he didn't try to solve her problems for her.
She had no illusions, of course: If the problem was life-threatening – or if John thought it was – he would take the most direct action possible. That would be an issue. But for routine personnel matters, which was all that had come up so far, he stayed out of it.
He treated her like an adult. A fully functioning adult. One that he liked to be with. Not one that he needed to save. And Joss liked that, very much.
It had been a long time since she'd been this happy.
Found family, she mused. And it had just gotten a little bit bigger.
"Better them than me," she said out loud, smiling.
"What size shoes do you wear?" Shaw asked, without moving her lips, as they strolled around the courtyard.
"What?" Root leaned closer, but kept her voice down, too.
"Shoes. What size shoes?"
"Oh. Eight and a half. Usually."
"Are you going shopping for my birthday?" Root teased brightly. The watchers were used to her loud teasing voice; they would ignore it. "Would you bake me a cake? With a file in it?"
"Or you could bring me a huge big bunch of balloons, like in that movie."
Root frowned. "I can't remember. Something animated. This old man gets a big bunch of balloons and they pick him and his lawn chair up … oh. Up. It was Up."
"Could we at least maybe watch a movie together?"
Shaw scowled, but she nodded. "I'll ask the boss."
"Oh, you are soooo good to me!"
"But I'm not watching anything animated."
Nick Malone, who had begun his life as Nicholas Ellis Donnelly, gazed dispassionately at the image on his computer screen. "Huh. That's, uh, that's a baby, alright."
The screen image reduced to half-size and text appeared in the blank space.
THERE IS ONLY ONE PRETTY CHILD IN THE WORLD, AND EVERY MOTHER HAS IT
"I suppose so. Are they secure?"
"Of course. Well, keep me posted."
He pushed the computer aside and rubbed his eyes. They'd been 45 hours on a particularly tough case. The bad guys of the world had finally begun to wise up to the amount of surveillance that now existed and were taking countermeasures. They were not, fortunately, completely effective countermeasures. Yet. They had stopped them again, this time. But it had taken a lot of plain raw HUMINT.
He was exhausted. But his brain was still spinning much too fast for him to sleep.
The last four or five cups of coffee had probably been ill-advised. But he hadn't known then when the situation would be resolved.
He stretched out on the bed and clicked on the TV. "Got any suggestions?"
He did not have to lay out any parameters. The supercomputer who had befriended him already knew exactly what he would prefer in his current mood. Some kind of old-school crime drama, with actual detective work rather than car chases and shootings and explosions, or something with a plot. That usually meant something old and frequently black-and-white.
In the time he had worked in the Den, helping to handle the threats the AI considered relevant, he had watched a lot of movies in his hotel room home.
In ten seconds there was a list of titles on the screen.
Nick scanned the list. "Les Miserables," he mused aloud. Immediately more information came up about the movie – a thumbnail synopsis, the year it was made, the main cast, the director. He wasn't surprised to see that Asena had recommended the 1935 Charles Laughton version. "I've seen it," he told the computer. "With your step-mother."
The listing vanished, replaced by the other titles on the list.
"No, run it," he said. He sat up and eased his artificial leg off. "I enjoyed it. Only time I'm ever likely to beat Christine Fitzgerald at trivia."
WHAT TRIVIA ?
"The names of the four Carradine brothers."
DAVID KEITH ROBERT CHRISTOPHER
Donnelly smirked. "Easy for you to say, Big Brain. We had a hell of a time remembering the last one."
YOU HAD ACCESS TO SEARCH ENIGINES
"That takes all the fun out of it."
The movie began.
In half an hour, Nick was sound asleep.
The Machine let the movie run anyhow.
Root woke the instant her cell door opened, but she kept very still, with her eyes closed. The footsteps told her that the person who came in was alone. They stopped at the side of the bunk and the person crouched near her face. "Root." Shaw, quieter than a whisper. "Don't talk. Just come."
She opened her eyes and looked directly into Shaw's. She was tempted to make some smart-ass comment – you could at least kiss me first – but she resisted. She pushed her paper-like blanket aside and sat up as quietly as she could.
Shaw went back to the open door. She had a weapon in her hand, with a suppressor, which Root found very sexy. She checked the outer chamber, then gestured. Root slid to her feet and hurried to follow her.
The lights were low, the facility quiet. There was a single guard at the console. He was slumped forward, either dead or unconscious. Root didn't see any blood.
There were four other cell doors off the central room. Root touched Shaw's arm and gestured. "Let them out. Good distraction," she whispered.
The op shook her head. "They're all empty."
"Well. Don't I feel special."
Shaw holstered her gun and opened a little silver case with two chips inside. "If this doesn't work," she said, "we're not going to get any further than that hallway before they shoot us both." She pulled two Band-aids out of her pocket.
"It'll work," Root assured her. "If you programmed them right."
"I used the code you gave me."
"There there's nothing to worry about." Root cheerfully affixed one of the chips to Shaw's upper arm with a bandage, and the other to her own. "Did you bring me clothes?"
"In the car. Meanwhile, we need to make this look good." She opened a cabinet and brought out a set of zip-tie cuffs.
Root turned obediently and let the woman fasten her hands behind her back. "You're just making all my dreams come true tonight, Sameen."
"Uh-huh. Let's go."
"One more thing?"
Root gestured with her head toward the slumped guard. "Put a bullet in his head for me?"
"I already put one in his heart."
Shaw growled. But she drew her weapon and fired a single shot. The man slammed forward, blood and brains splattered on the desktop, then slipped out of the chair and fell to the floor.
"Happy?" Shaw asked. She opened the next door and checked the corridor.
"Ecstatic," Root assured her.
Shaw threw a black bag over her head.
As far as Root could tell, the facility was huge. She could see shadowy outlines through the bag. Shaw led her down a very long hallway with lots of closed doors, then across a more brightly-lit area where a couple people talked to her in passing. No one asked Shaw who her prisoner was or where she was taking her. There was some kind of checkpoint; Shaw paused to sign a clipboard and scan her ID. Then there was carpet instead of linoleum. Dimmer lights again.
"Here," Shaw said, tightening her grip on her arm. They went through a doorway, and there was concrete underfoot. Root could feel air moving upward past her. It smelled stale. "There are stairs here. We're going down," Shaw said. "I've got you. Ready?"
"Absolutely." Root slid her foot to the top of the first stair. Once she knew where that was it was easier. She counted fifteen steps.
Then Shaw turned her; they were on a landing. "Step," she said.
Fifteen more steps, five times. Then Shaw pushed her into a corner. "Stay right here."
A door opened and closed before Root could protest.
The stairwell was very quiet. Air moved through the handlers. Then Root thought she heard a car engine. It grew closer.
The door opened, and Shaw touched her arm. "Let's go."
Four steps past the door, Root could see the fuzzy outline of a dark sedan. The rear passenger door stood open. Shaw's palm covered the top of her head. "Get in."
Awkwardly, Root got into the car. She felt Shaw lean over her and buckle her seat belt. Something hard pressed against her wrist, and then the zip tie loosened. "Keep your hands behind you and the hood on until we clear the gates," Shaw warned in her ear.
"Of course, sweetie."
Shaw got into the driver's seat and buckled her own belt. "So far, so good."
There were two gates. Shaw flirted with the guards at both of them.
The car moved slowly for a time, then turned right and went faster. Root could see car headlights and taillights through the bag. By that and their speed, she could tell when they got onto a freeway. Finally, after ten minutes, she said, "Can I come out yet?"
Shaw sighed. "I suppose."
Root pulled her hands free and took the bag off her head. "Why'd you wait so long?"
"You were quiet. I was enjoying it." She glanced in the mirror. "There's clothes in the bag on the floor."
The clothes were probably Shaw's. Root liked that idea. She pulled her prison top off and sat back for a moment, topless, enjoying the freedom, until she was sure Shaw had seen her in the rearview mirror. Then she slipped the t-shirt on, and the zip-up sweatshirt. She laid back on the seat and wriggled into the jeans. Then she tossed the socks and sneakers into the front seat and squirmed after them. "So much better!" she pronounced.
"Put your seatbelt on."
"Yes, Mother." Root buckled herself in, then struggled to put on her socks and the new sneakers. "Perfect." She looked around. They were on a highway, as she'd guessed. There wasn't much traffic. "Where are we?"
"Little north of Fredericksburg."
"And where are we headed?"
"I thought we'd drive for a couple hours and then find a hotel."
"Ooooooh, I like that idea."
Shaw shook her head without looking over. "Look. I know you think you're cute. But I'm not into women and I'm not into psychopaths. I just want my money, and then I never want to see you again."
"That's not very friendly."
"I'm not your friend."
Root huffed quietly. Then she shrugged. "We need to go west."
"You have a place in mind?"
Root smiled. "Of course I do, sweetie."
Christine kicked her shoes off at the door. "I am going," she announced, "to bed."
"Save me a spot," Harold answered. "I'm going to shower. I smell like hospital."
"You really don't like hospitals, do you?"
"I do not."
She kissed him and went to the bedroom.
Finch made his way slowly to the bathroom, stripping off his jacket as he went. Behind the closed door, he put both hands on his lower back and stretched back as far as he could. His hip hurt fiercely. Ten hours at the hospital, mostly in the most elegantly-furnished waiting room in Manhattan, had contributed. But there was more to it.
His pain felt like grief.
He should not have been the one in that waiting room.
He should not have been the one Will Ingram asked to be there for moral support.
He should not have been the one coaxing Olivia to eat while she waited with them.
He should not have been the one to hold little Angela Francis before she was an hour old, as he had once held her newborn father. Not the one to study her pretty nose and her wide eyes and her Tweety-bird shock of pale hair. Not the one to congratulate her mother and her father, and to persuade them to eat, too. Not the one to survey the security of the suite one last time before he left the facility.
He started the shower and stripped off his clothes. Under the almost-too-hot-to-bear spray, he trembled. "Oh, Nathan, I'm so sorry," he said quietly. "You should have been there."
Nathan Ingram's first grandchild was safe and healthy. But Nathan, who would have been the most outrageously doting grandfather in the world, would never meet her.
Grief clenched the muscles in Harold's back, but also guilt.
"You should have been there."
He let the water pour over him, and perhaps he cried.
When the knotted muscles finally loosened, Finch toweled off and put on his pajamas. He considered a cup of tea, perhaps a light snack, but he was too tired. The grandfather clock in the library struck four. One of the cats rubbed against his ankles, then ran ahead to the bedroom.
Christine had left the door open. He switched off the hall light. The room was still half-lit; outside, the snow and clouds had trapped all the streetlamp's light. Or perhaps it was nearly dawn. Perhaps both.
He was exhausted.
Christine was huddled at the far side of the bed with her back to the door. Her knees were against her chest, and her arm was curled over her head, her hand spread over the back of her neck. She was asleep, but in her sleep she was protecting herself from her mother's attacks.
Harold sighed quietly. If he had spent less time in the shower, he might have headed off this parasomnia episode. He'd done so before. He should have anticipated it tonight; the episodes almost always happened when Christine was over-tired or over-stressed. But he'd been too busy feeling sorry for himself to think about her.
"Christine," he said softly but clearly, "it's alright. You are perfectly safe. I am here with you, and no one can harm you. You are safe. No one is coming to hurt you."
He moved closer to the bed, still speaking calmly, but he did not reach out. He had made the mistake of touching her exactly once, on the third day after their wedding, and the result had been awful. She had thrown herself off the far side of the bed and scrambled to hide under it before she fully woke. But she had not screamed. She had not made a single sound. And that silence, which had so clearly been literally beaten into her as a child, was the worst of all.
Once she was awake, she'd been embarrassed and apologetic and ashamed, and that was awful, too.
Harold had consulted his resident expert on residual trauma – John Reese, of course – and learned a far better way to handle the episodes. He spoke quietly but clearly, in calm repetitive phrases. She did not wake, but his words reached into her sleep and chased away the terrible memories that she was protecting against. In less than two minutes, she brought her arm down to her side and her tightly coiled body began to stretch out.
"I'm going to get into bed now," Harold said. "I'm very tired, and I know you are, too. We're quite safe here. Everything's fine. We're safe."
She did not react when he sat down on the bed, so he slid under the covers and arranged his pillows. He kept talking, more slowly now, until her legs straightened. Satisfied, he closed his eyes. They were safe. Will and Julie and baby Angela were safe. It was cold and snowy outside, but they were warm and snug and could sleep in.
Then, suddenly, he felt an ice-cold hand on the back of his neck.
Harold slapped his hand up. There was nothing. He half-turned, but of course the room was empty. Yet the impression remained. A hand, cold as death, against his neck.
A small hand, with slender fingers and sharp-pointed nails.
A woman's hand.
Christine rolled over. "You okay?" she murmured.
"Mhhh," he answered, his voice carefully casual. "My pajama tag poked me."
She made a contented sound and her breathing deepened again.
Harold lay in the half-light, his eyes open until the icy feeling faded away. They were safe, he reminded himself. The apartment was secure. No one could harm them here.
One of the cats jumped onto the foot of the bed, turned around twice, and curled against his ankles. A minute later, the other joined the pile.
Finch closed his eyes.
By the pricking of my thumbs, he thought drowsily, something wicked this way comes.
He tried to stay awake to see where that notion had come from, but he was already falling into sleep.