I really enjoy stories that explore what's "broken" without fixing it. Plus I like Carter/Reese in theory, even though I'm not rooting for them to become a couple on the show. So I wrote this-and borrowed a romance fic cliché-as a way to achieve shippy not-fix-it fic. (This isn't connected to the other Carter-Reese fic I wrote after 1.17.)

It's just after midnight but the city still radiates a constant rumble. This place has a sound of its own, different than other towns he's visited. He listens to the ongoing noise as he walks the last two blocks to the hotel where he's going to stay tonight. It's a dump-walls painted a sickly green, a tiny bathroom, repetitive noises from the adjoining rooms. Reese has stayed here once or twice a week this past month. It's the place he goes when he's had a bad day; a reflection of his mood.

This has been a very bad day. A cop got shot because he had to give up the safe house where Moretti was in hiding. Carter took that betrayal exactly as he might have predicted, though not how he would have wished. His hands bear the fresh scrape marks from his efforts to loosen the bar he was handcuffed to inside the truck; his arms and shoulders feel the strain of that effort as well.

Checking the shadows out of habit, he keeps his pace steady when he spots something. Someone-after a moment he recognizes her. Carter, waiting near the hotel's entrance. She doesn't say anything; instead she starts walking, matching her strides to his.

No point in trying to hide which room is his if she's gotten this far. Reese walks up the stairs; her shoes click on the metal steps behind him. After he unlocks the door and checks the room, he says, "Come in, Detective."

He debates trying to apologize, but she's not ready to hear it. Reese isn't sure he wants to hear what she has to say, either, but here she is. He doesn't offer her a seat; the room doesn't really have accommodations for a pleasant chat anyway.

She has a calm look on her face that's somehow worse than a glare. There's almost no room for both of them; they stand a couple of feet apart near the foot of the bed, her closer to the door.

"How did you know where to find me?" he asks, figuring he might as well get this conversation over as quickly as possible. Reese can guess the answer but he wants her to say it.

"How long have I had your number?" she retorts, looking bleakly amused. "I told you and your friend weeks ago that I wanted answers. Got tired of waiting."

Phone numbers, plural: that's part of his protection, not keeping the same phone number very long. Carter knew most of them from the past two months. Willful ignorance on his part to think that she would never put that focused attention back on him once they started working together.

Both Carter and Fusco have used Finch's phone numbers as well. Yet another reason to move the computer equipment away from the library, but if Finch was willing to ignore the probability that the hacker from the Powell case knows their physical location, then Carter knowing it as well wouldn't sway Finch. John trusted Carter with the information more than the hacker, but if Snow or Elias got to Carter with some kind of leverage...

He would have to make sure they didn't.

Reese wonders what she had planned to do with what she found. Probably use it as a way to push for more about how they got their information. It certainly puts a twist into his still nebulous plans to change her mind about working with them again soon.

Carter looks around the hotel room, taking in the sparse surroundings: one narrow bed, one chest of drawers, one chair.

"What do you want, Detective?" His voice reflects his fatigue.

"Is the kid okay?"

Funny that she won't say her name-Carter is still trying to remain distant, in spite of how charmed she'd been by Leila. "Leila's fine," he tells her. "She's with her grandparents. We'll get it cleared up legally tomorrow."

Carter raises one eyebrow at the statement but doesn't question it.

"How's the detective?" Reese doesn't know if the controlled calm she's projecting over her fury includes Szymanski's fate.

"He made it through surgery. He's still sedated for now, so..." She shrugs; it's deceptively casual. "His ex-wife and daughter are waiting at the hospital." Carter blinks and looks away. It's the first visible crack in her facade of control. No, he corrects himself; the first obvious sign was her coming here.

After looking away, she glances down; he can tell from her body language the moment she spots his abraded hands. This morning she was too focused on Szymanski's wound to notice. Her eyes narrow.

She doesn't ask him about the injuries; instead she says, "Elias likes his games." Her voice contains a bitter ring. Reese isn't sure how much is the cop and how much is because Elias harmed people she knows.

Carter takes a breath and says, "You've dealt with him twice now and lived to tell about it." It's a question of sorts; she won't ignore an opportunity to get information. Reese admires and fears it at the same time. He has plans of his own to bring down Elias, but the man is always five steps ahead of them.

Since he doesn't answer her, she gets more direct. "Where do you think we'll find Moretti's body? Assuming that Elias kills him soon." Furrowing her brow, she adds, "He'll do it himself."

Reese huffs out a breath in agreement. "He likes dehumanizing people," he tells her. The man gets off on it, he thinks, remembering how satisfied Elias had been to see him wearing a hood in a primitive setting. "Outside, maybe somewhere that connects to their past." He doesn't know if Elias would prefer to announce his father's death at his hands or try and conceal it; either choice would have a ripple effect.

After a moment Reese adds, "Elias is smart about cameras. Wherever he takes care of Moretti, there won't be any footage to find."

For a moment she has the analytical look he's used to seeing on her face. "I almost feel sorry for the old gangster. You think Elias will torture him first?"

"I think Elias will get every bit of information he can from Moretti-anything useful-before he kills him."

"Everything he touches gets damaged or corrupted," says Carter; she's thinking of Szymanski again. Her posture turns rigid as she speaks. "And that's the man you went to."

If he's going to persuade her to help them again, Reese needs to reassure her that they're still working the same side. Remind her of the bigger picture; he's just as invested in bringing Elias down as she is. "Hey," he says, voice low and calm. "We'll get him."

He brushes her arm in what he hopes will be a soothing way; the touch snaps her out of her frozen stance, but instead of relaxing, she grabs his arm and twists, putting him in a hold that he's seen her use to arrest people. Easy enough to slip out of it; he does so and grabs her wrist to put her in a similar hold.

Having the height and strength advantage already, he doesn't need to use any additional leverage. Reese waits for her to break the hold-she should know at least two ways to get out of it. She moves in closer as he expected, but she doesn't duck to lower her center of gravity next. Instead, she stares at him, takes her free hand and puts it behind his neck, pulling him closer and kissing him.

He lets go of her other arm in surprise. Her lips are warm against his and it feels like that moment just after leaping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool-gravity's pull is kicking in and the water spins closer.

At least she can't yell now, he thinks for a moment, but then he makes a connection as he tastes her lips. He pulls back. "Have you been drinking?" he asks her.

"One beer, an hour ago." Carter gives him an incredulous look; he must have smelled liked a whiskey distillery the first time they met. She doesn't drop her gaze; her eyes are wide, lips parted.

Continuing this would be illogical, a bad idea. A petulant voice in his head whispers that she started it. Something about her brings that out in him, though. She started it the day she talked to him at the station, as he watched her take his fingerprints. He knew that it was going to draw the CIA back, that he was allowing her to create a potential death sentence as she cautiously tried to offer help.

She places her now-freed hand on his chest. Reese doesn't know how to interpret the emotions that cross her face, but she doesn't move away from him. He moves his head down, connecting their mouths again.

One part of his mind registers that this is the first time in ages that he doesn't question what the person he's kissing is going to try and take from him. She's already taken it away.

He puts one hand behind her neck, directly under her low ponytail. The hum of the city, a distant TV through the thin wall-all of the peripheral noises stay in his conscious but they dim as he focuses on her. The way her breath catches as he slides his thumb under the line of her jaw, the quiet smack when he pulls away for a moment to change angles.

He can feel the pulse in her neck under his fingertips, accelerated like his heart beating under the palm of her hand. Unsurprising that two people who bottle things up so well end up explosive when those emotions are released.

What does surprise him isn't the attraction-it's that her pushing past the boundaries he set up brings so much more tumbling down with them.

Her right hand twists in the fabric of his shirt, pulling him closer, then her palm flattens against his chest again. John feels almost light-headed, letting one of his tightly wound secrets loose for a moment-that she matters to him, and it isn't just because she's a good cop. Her fingers trace along the nape of his neck while he kisses the corner of her mouth and moves his lips to her jawline.

"Joss," he says against her skin, because he wants to say it again. Not Carter, not her job title. He hasn't called her by her first name since the night her CI tried to kill her.

It breaks the spell. She backs up, her face a portrait of fleeting emotions: desire, anger, fear, recklessness. Blinking, she tries to cover them up again. She looks down; hand shaking for a moment, she digs in her coat pocket until she pulls out the burner phone he gave her a few weeks ago.

"Here," she says, handing it to him. "Don't start following me around again." Her mouth twists at the corner-a parody of the generous smile he used to catch glimpses of. "I'll return the favor," she adds, and walks out the door.

John stands at the foot of the bed, holding the phone. Finally he pulls out the SIM card and battery and dumps the phone into the trash, then sheds his coat. The scrapes on his hands and wrists burn as he slowly undresses.

She's smart; she'll change her personal cell phone number as well. But he needs-no, they need her help. He can't afford to let this get personal.

He'll get her new number from Fusco soon enough.