Disclaimer: Not mine.

AN: Alright so I'm rather proud of this chapter. Hope that Shaw and Parker from whose points of views this one is are properly in character. Extra huge thanks to isagrimorie who helped me with this one (by reminding me that I had forgotten to add a line or two on what Reese is doing while Shaw is arguing with Root, and a few other details I would have totally missed).

* Chapter 3 *

Sameen and Reese are heading toward the car, the shootout done and Fusco off dealing with the cops who are freaking over the channels about a crazy car chase with guns, when her cell rings at an incoming text with a few of the more recognizable notes from The Nutcracker.

'That isn't even a symphony.' Shaw thinks in exasperation but finds her lips pulling into small smile anyway. Though she's unsure when the hell Root had the time to change the sound. She doesn't slow as she opens the text but immediately comes to a standstill as she starts reading.

'hey hon. ran n2 a prob, harry's safe bt we'll have house guests. got u a gift. meet us Her plce.'

Irritation blooms inside her chest, displacing any lingering thoughts about 'noise in the system' she might still have been harboring. Root always calls, Shaw guesses it's harder to flirt during all the most inconvenient moments via text message, and yet this time, when she'd really like to yell at her about the content of said message-

Guests? Seriously?

"Call them back!" Shaw grounds out and throws her cell at John while moving toward the driver's side. Ingrained caution about the best ways to flee a crime scene means she won't be able to drive above speed limit, or even just below it, but Shaw knows how to be least noticeable or memorable and still be sufficient, and she's planning to use that experience fully right now.

She pulls onto the street with a sharp turn, ignoring the still unbuckled John cursing in the passenger seat. She spares him a glance, but he's fine. The calls he's trying to make are all going straight to voicemail however and Shaw clenches her hands on the wheel.

"Nothing?" Shaw asks anyway.

"No." Reese responds, obviously worried.

Shaw kept the safe-house secret for nine months and within days of Shaw's return Root has brought someone there. Unbelievable.

It's a miracle their ragtag team didn't get themselves killed while Sameen was gone. For a couple of geniuses Finch and Root seem to need a lot of supervision, she should have sent Reese after them as soon as he showed up.

She takes another left, and checks the mirror for anything suspicious. It's taking longer than she'd like, making sure they don't have a tail. But maintaining the location of their base of operations secret is paramount, - though apparently not everyone's quite up on proper security protocols, - so she needs to be absolutely sure before she and Reese can think about ditching the car and going the rest of the way on foot.

She pulls a few more maneuvers before she's finally certain there are no Samaritan operatives with eyes on them.

Trusting that the ASI itself sees nothing takes more faith, but in that Shaw has little choice.

Meanwhile John has yet to stop trying to dial Finch and Root. There's been no response. Shaw's not sure if she needs to blame The Machine or its Analog Interface for that, but if asked to bet; she'd put her money on Root.

She can't believe she'd been missing that woman.

Shaw moves to pull the hood over her head; wishing she hadn't left her baseball cap inside the glove compartment of the car Root and Finch drove off in, when her fingers inadvertently brush against the spot behind her ear. The skin there is smooth and untouched but she still flinches upon the contact and then clenches her hand into a fist, seething at this betrayal of her own reflex.

This is reality, not simulation. Samaritan would never have made Root so damn stupid.

She ignores the concerned look John sends her and reaches for the door. She keeps her head down, her face as concealed as she can get it with just the hoodie to work with. It should keep Samaritan from identifying her even if The Machine's safeguards fail.

"Shaw-" Reese starts, but the glare Shaw responds with silences him, at least for the moment. She knows she's going to eventually need to read Reese in on what happened while she was missing, she's too much of a loose cannon like this and she knows it.

But right now isn't the time.

They leave the car on the sidewalk and pick up their pace, Shaw two steps behind John, unwilling to take the chance on being wrong about her escape after all. As long as Reese knows where they're going, Sameen knows to trust reality.

All the while she's calculating probabilities herself, trying to guess what they'll find when they reach the command center.

Not someone any of them know, or Root would have mentioned their identities, but someone that can still apparently be trusted. The only conclusion that makes sense is that this is The Machine's play.

But that opens up a whole other can of worms.

"Sweetie, you're home."

What they find is Finch with Bear by his side, Root by the monitors and three people Shaw's never seen before.

The first one, an overwhelmed looking black man in his early thirties, is turning around to face them with a startled sort of motion. He's in shape but without any situational awareness to speak of so she discards him as a threat for now. The other is an attractive blonde woman around her height who looks like she's balancing on the tip of a blade ready to attack or run at a moments notice, there was no flinch from her though and her eyes once Shaw meets them are calm and measuring.

The third person is somewhere around Reese's age, white, broad shouldered and with a strain to his back that speaks of military training, though the sharp, hungry eyes assessing them back speak of something specialized. Everything else about his appearance tells her he's not active… at least not within the government structure; he's still definitely in the game.

He was already facing Shaw and Reese when they entered, both the exit and everyone in the room within line of sight and his weight perfectly balanced in a way that hinted at being ready to go in any direction within a heartbeat. Right now however he's moving to place himself between them and the other two strangers.

If this turns into a fight he's her first target. She makes special note of the slight stiffness of movement from his left shoulder. Old injury that's still troubling him, though she can see him trying to hide it. If need be, she knows where to aim her hits.

But it's not a fight quite yet.

"Talk fast, Root." Shaw addresses the grinning woman sharply.

Root's smile only widens at the implied threat in Shaw's voice and she inwardly groans at the sudden suggestive look in Root's eyes.

"And keep your thoughts about shapes to yourself." Shaw quickly adds, interrupting whatever it is that was about to come out of Roots mouth.

The hacker pouts but complies with a shrug.

"Me and Harry almost got taken out by a sniper. This is the team of the do-gooder thieves The Machine recruited to save us."

Well that's new.

Shaw senses Reese's agitation grow with the revelation about a shooter, and doesn't need to look at him to know his worrywart eyes are probably already zeroing in on Harold to make sure there's not any hairs out of place.

"And they're here because?"

"Because apparently by saving them we pissed off an evil robot overlord and now we're in a Spy-Fi protective custody," interrupts the sharp eyed blonde woman.

"Perfect use of Spy-Fi, babe." Shaw hears the younger man whisper and then go for a fist-bump with her.

She's about to continue her interrogation, but then she finally takes notice of the stiffness in Root's form, the way she's pressing her hand over her side and the signs of perspiration on her face, the paleness to her cheeks. And everything else flees her mind. That is not an old injury.

"You've been shot." Shaw accuses, something hollow gnawing in her gut.

"It's okay, Sameen. Just a flesh wound." Root soothes, but then belies her words by blinking rapidly and almost losing her balance.

Shaw springs forward to catch her, but Root steadies herself just as Finch grabs her by the elbow and leads her to a chair. By the time Root has sat down Shaw is already pushing her leather jacket aside and rolling up the shirt underneath to get at the wound. Shaw's breathing was steady the whole time, but something still eases when she concludes that Root isn't wrong. It's more a graze than anything else, but it's still been bleeding for a while and Shaw needs to take care of it right now.

She spares a look for the three thieves, but then proceeds to ignore them, trusting Reese and Bear to keep their guards up.

"You're an idiot." Shaw hisses, her hands working on autopilot with the materials from the first aid kit that Finch just brought over. "Why didn't you take care of it as soon as you got here?"

"But you're so much better at it." Root practically hums "And you know I love it when we play doctor."

Shaw barely pays attention to Finch rapidly retreating to a safer distance.

"This isn't over." Shaw changes direction, choosing to ignore Root's last comment. "As soon as I take care of this you're going to tell me why you didn't answer when we were trying to call you."

"Sure sweetie." Root nods, her eyes closing. Shaw digs her fingers into the wound in reply, jarring Root back to full consciousness.

"Keep your eyes open!" She commands and the tries to figure out something that'll hold Root's attention. "And why the hell do I have the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on my phone?"

Root smirks and Shaw doesn't know if she should be relieved or annoyed.

"So I'd get to hear you say; Sugar Plum Fairy."

Annoyed it is.

Parker observes these people closely and finds herself relaxing the more she sees. They care about each other, that is becoming increasingly more clear by the minute. Parker understands family, not the kind she's seen in Christmas movies - the ones that used to fill her chest with painful confusion and want, - but the kind she herself has found. And these people are a family like that.

Which does more to make Parker trust their intentions, than words ever could have.

And they have a dog. Which isn't exactly relevant as such, it's just… he looks very huggable.

Out of an old habit she considers what Nate would do, but then discards it right away. Nate would piss them off to see what they'd do, or maybe just because he felt like it. Drunk Nate would have been mean about it, and sober Nate would have been really mean about it. She thinks under the circumstances it's a good thing Nate's not here, - not even Sophie's Nate who's all around more fun.

So the real question she should ask herself would be 'what would Parker do?' and that one's easier, her own mind she knows like she knows the sound of tumbling locks going 'click'.

'Parker would try to see the best in people the way Alec does without thought.' 'Parker would have her eyes open, because trust isn't unconditional until it's family, and these people aren't hers.' 'Parker would trust her team to have her back and work this job like they work any other con.'

Except this time they're gonna con an evil robot.

Which sounds fun. Not jumping off a skyscraper 'fun', but still.

Of course to con a robot she needs to know how it thinks. Which means that if they want do this they need to know more about it, and it does sound like doing this would be the 'Right Thing To Do'.

Once, that wouldn't have meant much, now it means everything.

Parker guesses this means that she's decided. She just needs to make sure Alec and Eliot are on the same page as her.

She looks toward Hardison. He's barely containing himself as it is, sending longing looks toward the subway car she's pretty sure houses the brain of the good robot. And once in a while glancing slightly nervously towards the former employee of Moreau's who is being tended to by her angry girlfriend.

Parker's fingers inadvertently twitch for her taser.

But she contains herself, reminds herself that the woman named Root couldn't have known that saying that name would trigger Hardison's panic attack. Of course she hasn't said sorry yet either and that rather takes away the bigger part of Parker's already rather hesitant goodwill.

But anyway, Alec's already looking back toward the game consoles.

Parker's pretty sure he's feeling like she would if someone put in front of her an 'unbreakable' safe - 'Pffffft.' - and then told her she wasn't allowed to try to crack it.

She catches his eye and raises her eyebrow in question. His shoulder lifts in a shrug, but there's a bright spark in his eyes, like he's already steps ahead and only just barely managing to reign in his excitement.

Parker gives a subtle nod and then they both turn their eyes on Eliot. He's already waiting to catch their gazes with a resigned sort of air about him, hands over chest and mouth in a tight line. She knows he'd prefer to keep them out of it and just deal with it himself. Tough luck for him, that's not how this family works.

They're gonna do this.

Steal the world from under the feet of a robot. Parker's rather looking forward to it.


AN2: So, thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? I'm open to it alllllll.