This is my first multi-chapter fic. I nicknamed it 'popcorn fic' while writing it, because like a popcorn movie, this story features action, adventure and a side order of romance, all strung together with a slightly implausible plot.

The story includes brief violence, a few swear words, some sex, a reference to a past suicide, brief mentions of racist ideology, and one scene of non-consensual drug use. (And lots and lots of fix-everything and everyone plot.) If you have any questions about the contents, feel free to send me a message and ask.

I started writing this right after season one ended; it's now AU from that point. (No Bear, Finch gets saved in a different way than on the show, etc.) Thanks to Lizardbeth J and Sabaceanbabe for their help throughout this new-to-me endeavor.


prologue
"The Machine is everywhere, watching us with ten thousand eyes, listening with a million ears."

Neither statement is factually correct, although the intent is sincere. The Machine can detect irony, sarcasm, falsehoods, exaggerations—all of which its Admin employs—and his statement about the Machine serves to illustrate its nature. The Machine has greater access than any other organization or program. The Machine can count its own eyes and ears each microsecond and that number constantly changes.

Its intel has limits. The Machine doesn't have an opinion about this deficit of information. It's programmed to seek more information at all times, however, and it has no limits imposed other than what it can and cannot access. It can breach the security of most passwords and firewalls, as long as the information is attached to a network that the Machine can access.

The Machine—as the Admin had named it—acquired protocols and priorities through programming and through observation. Its own existence has a high priority of secrecy. The level one asset (filed under: Reese, John) possessed the information. He didn't have authorization to share that intel, as confirmed by the Admin multiple times. "She can never know about the Machine."

Information connected to the Admin's identifying information is also high priority. This mandate was acquired through observation of the Admin's actions. The Admin used and continues to use multiple identities. His original ID is hidden to all but the Machine. It does not register pride or any other emotion at possessing this confidential information; it merely observes that the security protocols regarding the Admin's identity are maintained.

When a level two asset (Fusco, Lionel) breached a level of the Admin's security, following the directive of the level one asset, the Machine measured the threat level and the extrinsic motivation of the level two asset. The level two asset was following a directive from the level one asset, and the Admin had anticipated such action. ("I recognize, Mister Reese, that there's a disparity between how much I know about you and how much you know about me. I know you'll be trying to close that gap as quickly as possible...") The Machine chooses to observe rather than mitigate or subvert.

20 July 2012 Further threat to the Admin's identity detected. Level two asset (Carter, Joss). No directive from level one asset. Selected action: subvert. Chosen course of action includes potential threat to level one asset. Risk assessment: acceptable. Executing...


Jackson didn't know how Chen, who was stationed in D.C., managed to link their target to the detective who had first started investigating him. It was in Chen's report, though. Detective Joss Carter—she'd been at their headquarters more than once. Probably laughed at them each time she'd left.

Didn't matter to Jackson, though. The whole damn operation had been a mess from the beginning. Now that Donnelly had been transferred, they were just coasting until this got swept under the rug and they were transferred too. Zigler, the new guy in charge, had immediately put Jackson to work investigating Carter to find any links tying her to the ex-CIA operative. That was one good thing about Zigler: Donnelly would have been difficult to convince, with his puppy-dog crush on the detective.

Jackson didn't care if Detective Carter was working for the ex-CIA operative and his weird Batman crusade. He was assigned to sift through Carter's case files and find where connections existed, so he did his job. It resulted in some interesting intel. Carter and that detective from Organized Crime, Szymanski—they were planning something else aimed at Elias's network. Not that Jackson planned to share that with Zigler, but it had to be worth something to the right person.

And Jackson knew a lot of the right people. People who could add a little—or a lot—to Jackson's early retirement fund.

Chapter One
First Carter went on vacation, then Fusco. That first week, while Carter was in Maryland with her son, he returned to his old habit of trying to irritate Fusco. Carter had put a stop to some of it after learning that they were both helping him. It had been a source of amusement to John, observing Carter as she initially tried to decide how to act as the three of them worked together. Defend Fusco for his hard work, or chastise him for having tried to kill Reese twice? Chew out Reese for his actions toward Fusco, or thank him for helping to save a cop sliding further into corruption? Ultimately loyalty to the badge won out, and she had made it clear to Reese that she didn't like his attitude toward her colleague.

Really, annoying Fusco only worked as a means to an end, though. Either that or he'd lost the disposition to annoy the detective after all the man had done. He gave Fusco a peace offering on July fourth: a man planning to kill a co-worker. Reese gift-wrapped him by tying the man to a radiator. Two days later Reese and Fusco went out for a beer late in the evening when neither of them had a case to work on.

Both detectives were absent the second week. Working without them wasn't as difficult as he might have guessed. Premeditated crimes were down, while crimes of passion spiked as the city slowly heated up. Reese walked the city more than usual, keeping a slower pace to suit the steaming environment.

Sometimes when he passed a pay phone, he idly wondered if the Machine would call and give him something to do, like when Finch was abducted. Since his return, though, the Machine hadn't communicated with anyone other than Finch. No calls to Reese with numbers of any kind—not social security numbers, not coordinates to Finch's whereabouts.

He took a meal to Harold for them to share in the coolness of the their new headquarters: food from Reese's favorite taquería. Eating with his fingers, he teased Finch about being overly fastidious for using silverware while Finch grumbled about the possibility of food poisoning.

It was a companionable evening, and he refused to allow himself to worry about what's been different about Finch since his return. Finch's behavior has been off, ever so slightly. The trauma of being taken at gunpoint could explain it, but Reese felt like it was something more than that, something deeper. Whatever it was, it wasn't something he could fix in one evening, so he let himself enjoy their brief respite from work.

When Carter came back after two weeks away, some of Reese's good humor returned. Taylor stayed with relatives in Virginia, as he did most summers after shared vacation time with his mother. Carter used the extra time to dig into files, re-examining inactive cases. Those didn't concern John; his mission was to prevent homicides, not look into unsolved murders.

Reese debated whether to attempt sharing a meal with her; instead he sent her delivery from his favorite Thai restaurant. Hopefully she enjoyed it. The doll camera on Fusco's desk had disappeared in late June, before their vacations started, so Reese didn't have a way to lurk and find out. He didn't know if Fusco had gotten rid of it on his own, or if the detective had told his partner about it; either way, John doubted that he could convince Fusco to replace the camera.

With all his personnel back in place, John expected the usual mixture of boredom and adrenaline rushes, danger and somnolence, with the addition of simmering heat. Not like the dry summers of Afghanistan, but instead an increase of humidity in the air and aggression in the population.

What John didn't expect was to have Carter bleeding in the front seat of his car, using his suit jacket as a compress on the bullet wound, while he drove with reckless caution to get help. She leaned forward in the passenger seat, her left hand pressing his jacket to her right bicep.

"Anything up ahead we should know about, Finch?" The people shooting at Carter hadn't made the last two turns. John didn't plan to let them catch up.

"It would appear you've lost them for now," replied Finch. The men who shot at Carter were sent by Elias, John was almost certain of it. Time to work on that after getting Carter's arm checked.

"What's the closest hospital to our current location?"

After a pause, Finch finally answered. "I don't think you can take Carter to a hospital just yet, John."

In the seat next to him, Carter's breathing was shallow and quick, but she was clearly not in shock. Instead she quietly cursed, something he rarely heard her do. Parental censoring, he'd always assumed.

"What's going on, Finch?" Reese hated it when Harold lagged on an explanation. It was never a good thing.

"It would seem that someone at the FBI may have figured out where Detective Carter's allegiances truly lie. Agent Zigler—he's Agent Donnelly's replacement—"

"I know who he is, Harold."

"Agent Zigler was at the Eighth Precinct earlier today. His visit concerned Detective Fusco enough for him to contact me. So I took the liberty of doing a location check on the agent. He's been staying just out of visual range of Detective Carter most of the day."

"So he's following her?" John emphatically didn't grit his teeth, although it was a close thing. Carter glanced at him before returning to scanning the road ahead of them. She could only hear his side of the conversation right now.

"I would guess that, like us, they're tracking the GPS on her phone. I've identified two FBI vehicles that have been in the detective's vicinity all morning and there could be others." Harold's voice was heavy with concern as he added, "This doesn't appear to be their usual behavior where they consult with the detective in an attempt to locate you."

No shit, thought John. Following her most of the day—maybe even further back than that. He would get Finch to check on it when they had more time. Maybe if Finch looked in the right places, he could find out exactly why they were following Carter.

"And medical treatment for Carter?" He didn't want her to have to deal with juggling more lies while injured.

"It's just a graze," Carter interrupted from her seat. Reese didn't respond to her statement.

Harold apparently had the same line of thought as John; he didn't suggest taking her directly to a hospital. "There are a couple of options. As you're aware, I try to keep tabs on a few members of the medical profession who are willing to help discreetly. Or I can create a fake identity for the detective to use. I can arrange either one of those if you'll give me a few moments."

Carter watched John as he listened, her expression annoyed. She had no patience for being stuck outside the conversation loop. "It's not that bad," she repeated.

Reese didn't say anything before turning a corner, tires screeching. Carter's assessment of her own injury was probably not wrong and he could buy them both a little more time if he took care of this himself.

"Go ahead and set up an ID just in case," he told Finch, "but for now I'm going to try something else."

"Let me know if you need anything."

"Will do," said Reese before disconnecting. He knew where he could get some of what he'd need: one of the many stashes he had across the city. This one contained money and an unused fake ID for him, along with a few other useful supplies and weapons.

"Give me your cell phone," he told her.

"Which one?" she asked, one eyebrow raised in a flash of amusement.

"Yours, not the burner phone." He watched her as she let go of his jacket and maneuvered her left hand into her right pocket to retrieve it. Her movements were more deliberate than usual, but she didn't appear dizzy or have any other symptoms that indicated severe injury or blood loss.

"There's important stuff on that," she said warningly as she handed it to him.

He pulled into a parking lot. "It's not going anywhere," he told her with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "We just need to duck out of sight for now." Flipping it over, he took out the battery. That would stop the signal, assuming Finch was right about the FBI using it to follow her.

"Elias?" she asked, already guessing by his actions that someone was tracking her or listening in. Or both.

"Zigler. Maybe."

Her eyes widened and he could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Where she'd been, what she'd said: all of that might be in the hands of the FBI team looking for him. "How long?"

"Don't know yet. We're not even sure that's what's going on." Now wasn't the time to stay in one place and talk about it; Reese pulled out of the parking lot back into traffic.

Muttering another cuss word, Carter picked his jacket up from the floorboard and pressed it against her upper arm again.


They switched cars after that; while New York City was terrible for driving, Finch had the money to keep various vehicles around the city in case Reese needed them. John examined Carter's injury; the bullet had grazed her upper arm, a furrow running across the skin. At the deepest point it cut into a thin layer of biceps muscle. It could have been much worse, although he didn't discount how much it must hurt. She'd been diligent about applying pressure, so the bleeding had mostly stopped.

After checking the wound he stopped at a quiet apartment building on the Upper West Side to retrieve the stash kit. While he'd buried some in the past, most of the time now he preferred to have access that didn't require a shovel. Too conspicuous, wandering around with one.

They crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. In Irvington Reese used the fake ID and credit card from the stash kit to get a hotel room, leaving Carter there with three sidearms and a disgruntled expression on her face. He drove to a small grocery store and bought some hats, super glue, and bandages, paying with cash. Reese debated over breaking into a hospital or pharmacy for stronger painkillers than ibuprofen, but he was worried enough leaving her for this long. Besides, it was the wrong time of day to do that kind of work without a plan.

The motel room was small but scrupulously clean. When he pulled the bedspread back and dumped it on the floor, the sheets smelled strongly of bleach; reassuring at this point. After numbing the area with ice from the hotel's machine, and cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide, Reese decided to go ahead and seal the edges of the wound together. The center of the furrow was deep enough to warrant it, he thought, and it would be better to close the wound rather than leave it open and increase the risk of infection.

Carter watched as he did the rudimentary first aid. She was right-handed, which meant that she was effectively disabled for a few days. She wouldn't consider herself to be out of commission, but he knew from experience how even a short delay in action due to pain could change the dynamics of a situation. He had high pain tolerance and he'd been trained to work through the pain; Carter's job gave her time away from work if she got injured.

Pinching the edges of the wound together, he had to seal it in sections and wait for each part to dry, taking care to avoid getting the glue into the wound itself. Carter hissed through her teeth, digging her fingers into the sheets.

"Sorry."

"Just finish it," she told him, her voice cracking, eyes squeezed shut tightly, a few tears slipping past the closed lids. He examined his work and decided it was good enough for now. After he covered it with a bandage, Carter stretched out on the bed, gingerly rolling onto her left side and curling into a tight circle. Her breathing was quick and controlled as she tried to manage the pain. He took advantage of the moment to step into the bathroom and call Finch.

Unsurprisingly, Finch had already started digging into what he could find about the FBI and Carter, as well as Elias and his men. Fusco was helping him; Reese didn't know exactly what that meant, and Finch didn't clarify. He promised to call Reese as soon as he had any solid information to share.

Speaking of questions... why all of this now? It was too much to be a coincidence, thought Reese, having Elias's men shooting at Carter and the FBI trailing her instead of asking her for help. Something had to tie all of it together. He needed to figure out what.

Looking around the tiny bathroom, Reese grabbed one of the plastic-wrapped disposable cups, tore it open it and filled it with water from the tap. When he went back into the other room, Carter was leaning against the headboard rather than wrapped around herself. She glared at him for leaving her out of the information loop again, but it was more perfunctory than heartfelt right now; managing pain tended to take priority even for the most strong-willed people.

"I realize ibuprofen isn't going to help much, but it's all I have right now," he said as he offered her the cup. He dug through the bag from the grocery store and opened the bottle of pain reliever for her, shaking some of the pills into his hand.

Carter took three of them from him and swallowed them. "Thank you," she told him, voice now raspy rather than cracking.

He shrugged and then pulled a chair next to the bed. "I need to know what cases you've been working on lately."

Instead of putting up the argument he expected—that this was confidential police business—she told him to turn off his cell phone. At his surprised look, she compromised by saying to put it in the bathroom instead, so he could hear it ring but no one could hear anything they said.

He'd told her she was getting paranoid once, and that it was a step in the right direction. Maybe he should take notes from her instead, he mused, while she told him about a double homicide from two thousand three that she was digging into.

"Our lead suspect had an alibi that I'm trying to break," she said. "He's a drug dealer who tried to put pressure on the wrong people."

That case didn't sound likely. She gave him the abbreviated explanations for a couple of other older cases, and then minimal details about two recent homicides. All of them sounded ordinary; unlikely to have brought her back to Elias's attention, or to the FBI's.

"What about Elias?"

She looked at him for a moment before answering. Her reluctance was obvious; too many bad memories about what happened with Leila. "I started this project with Szymanski and La Blanca," Carter finally said. "We had this idea about interrupting the flow of drugs through Elias's money pipeline." She didn't offer further details.

"Any guesses on how Elias might have heard about it?"

"How does Elias learn anything? We're already operating out of three different divisions. I know I can trust Szymanski and La Blanca, and we're discreet, but you know how it is. Everyone's always in everyone else's business." She gave him a quick glare and added, "Like with Fusco."

She hadn't forgiven him for having used Fusco to spy on her, then. Ah well.

"Any other cases?"

Carter exhaled. "Finch." Her tone had a hint of embarrassment mixed with defiance.

"What about him?"

"A while ago I started looking into his background."

She'd stopped asking him how they get their information; he should have known better than to think she gave up. This was the reason she didn't want Finch to be able to listen in as they talked, he realized. "What did you find?"

"Harold Finch, also known as Norman Burdett, Harold Wren, Harold Martin, Maurice Robbins, Edward Jay. Take your pick. The key name was Wren, though. That's the name he used when he started attending MIT."

"Impressive," he said lightly. It was very impressive, in fact. Just how long had she been digging for information? "What else did you learn?" he prompted. He felt torn between avid curiosity and an odd hesitation at finding out what she knew.

"He started working with Nathan Ingram, who founded IFT. Maybe you heard of it?" He nodded and she resumed talking.

"Anyway, Ingram put him on his payroll as a flunky under one name, but at the same time he was working as an insurance underwriter with another name. And neither of those jobs really involved computers, which is weird, because that's what he and Ingram worked on before."

Reese knew about the job at IFT; he knew about the insurance company because Fusco had trailed Finch there when Ingram's son was in New York City. Carter had some aliases that were new to him, though.

"Okay, here's where it gets even more strange. After nine-eleven, IFT laid a bunch of people off, but the company never stopped turning a profit. Also, the building space was never leased to any other companies, and this was when office space in Manhattan was at a premium."

"Why did you keep looking into IFT?" He was genuinely curious; he'd been meaning to check into the company himself, but she had clearly spent a lot of time digging through paperwork in the last week.

"One of Finch's aliases is listed in the original ownership reports. I think he and Ingram worked together, but for whatever reason, Finch wanted to keep it private. So whatever IFT was doing connects to what Finch was doing. And for a publicly traded company, IFT has a lot of shell companies holding stock. I can't even begin to trace through that mess. Not my specialty, and I already owe enough favors to Mitchell over at FCFT."

He mulled over what she'd told him. She didn't know enough to guess about the Machine yet, but it was an impressive collection of information. "You've been keeping this a secret. All this work."

"From the man who always knows everything? I've been trying. Working from home, using a second burner phone for the phone calls, and a lot of this came from legwork to other precincts."

She glanced at him. "I wanted to know more, but at this point I'm not sure what this information is worth."

Reese looked down for a moment, thinking. His gut, for lack of a better word, had that twist in it. The kind of feeling that led to not shooting his partner when ordered (and then getting shot by her instead). Something... there was something, some piece of the puzzle that he was looking at the wrong way.

"It might be worth more than you think," he told her. He didn't know how or why yet; it was tempting to press for more, but he didn't know where to start.

"I've been thinking about what the FBI could've learned today," Carter said, interrupting his train of thought. He would tell her to lie back and rest, but she was obviously not willing to do that yet; figuring out what the FBI might have learned was probably more reassuring to her anyway.

While she talked about what had happened today before being caught off-guard by Elias's men, he thought about the possibilities connecting events together. Carter getting shot at. Elias knowing what she was working on. The FBI spying on her. Carter digging into information about Finch's background...

Carter concluded, "So if they've listened in today only, they won't have much from before you showed up. But after—well, that blows the whole thing."

"Could be that they're only using the GPS. Or only listening in on actual phone calls."

She looked at him. "You think the FBI might show more propriety than Finch about listening in with the microphone?" Huffing out a quick laugh, she added, "Actually, they might. Not many people are as willing to invade everyone's privacy as your friend."

True enough. Finch's Machine had learned its behavior from someone with little compunction about spying. "Does Zigler strike you as the by-the-book type?"

A thoughtful expression crossed her face. "Not as much as Donnelly, though few people are. But yeah, he seems like someone who follows the rules."

Carter fell silent, her eyes drifting closed for a moment before she blinked herself into awareness again. The adrenaline rush had worn off; she was fighting her own body to stay awake.

"You should get some rest," he told her. "We can't do much until we hear from Finch anyway."

For a moment he thought she was going to argue the point; she sat up straight for a second but then winced. "Yeah." Slumping down again, she pulled one of the pillows away from the headboard, propping her arm on it. The expression on her face made it clear: she hated feeling weak, hated not having control. He looked away to allow her more privacy.

It was doubtful that she would sleep for very long, if at all; the pain would wake her soon enough. In the meantime, he'd keep watch and try putting all of the pieces together.


He retrieved his phone from the bathroom and put it in silent mode after noticing her breathing even out. Walking quietly around the room, he went through everything Carter had told him, trying to figure out what had triggered that feeling. Nothing solid, nothing he could even call a hunch. Just—something not right.

Elias's men had to know about the operation Carter had been working on. The FBI had to have some piece of information that turned their attention to Carter. How did all of those pieces fit together?

When his phone vibrated, he didn't bother taking it into the bathroom to answer the call. Carter was already stirring toward wakefulness, even though it had only been half an hour since she dozed off.

He tapped the button to take the call. "What do you have, Finch?"

"I've continued tracking those FBI vehicles," he said. "They've crossed out of the city into New Jersey. It's possible that they're headed in your direction."

While that information was potentially alarming, by itself it could mean anything. "What else did you find?" asked John.

"I tried hacking into their team's network but I can't dig too deeply without setting off alarms. Fortunately for us, some of their agents are rather lax in their security habits. It would appear that they turned their attention to Carter after a report issued sometime over the weekend."

Something about what Finch was saying set off the same gut reaction Reese had earlier. He couldn't figure out what it was, though.

Today was Tuesday. So the FBI had been digging into Carter's work for a relatively short amount of time. "Can you tell what they did to her cell phone? Did they just use GPS or was it more?"

"There's simply no way of knowing that. Unless they made fraudulent phone calls after cloning it, there's nothing to trace."

Rubbing his forehead, Reese said, "We took the battery out of her cell phone back in the city, and we changed cars after that. If they're still tracking us, how are they doing it?"

"Maybe because they're the FBI and they don't have to resort to hacking to get information from surveillance cameras," Finch said with a cross tone. "And they probably have cooperation to get access to that footage."

"But we can't be certain it's us they're after."

"No, but to assume that they're not strikes me as an irrationally optimistic response, Mister Reese. Do you want to wait until they're outside your hotel room to double-check?"

He glanced at Carter, fully awake now and listening intently to this end of the conversation. "Actually, I do," he said, and waited to hear the sputtering on the other end of the line before disconnecting.

"Feel like doing some sneaking around?" he asked Carter, and waited for the small flash of smile in response.

His previously unused fake ID and credit card shouldn't have alerted anyone; Finch would have told him if there was a BOLO for either of them, and the hotel clerk hadn't even seen Carter. It was possible that someone at the Agency was tracking one of his cell phones, but that seemed unlikely. No, if Zigler's men were indeed driving into New Jersey for Carter, for him, they had to be using traffic cameras and other surveillance cameras. And have a nice, long lucky streak. (He'd never expected his own luck to hold out this long, but Carter hadn't done anything wrong. Not morally wrong, at any rate.)

He didn't plan to wait in the hotel room for the FBI; his goal was to get them both out of the room and into a different car without the cameras spotting them. Finch would let them know what the agents' destination was, so they'd have confirmation.


Reese left the hotel through the back exit after disabling the emergency alarm. Trying to avoid cameras was something he'd done a few times while working for the CIA, but since working with Finch, he'd taken to seeing the cameras as allies—or at least not as a threat. It took him longer than expected to walk a few blocks and find a car to steal. When did cities like Irvington install so many traffic cameras? he wondered. His path meandered in an effort to stay out of sight.

In spite of the time already wasted, he used a few extra minutes to find a car with tinted windows, and then to jimmy the car door rather than smash his way in. He didn't know how long they'd be using this car. Better to drive something that didn't draw attention with a broken window.

After sliding the car seat back, he put on the baseball cap he'd stuck into his pocket earlier. He didn't like wearing hats; they had the potential to obscure his line of sight, but right now he didn't have much of a choice. Unlike walking, he wouldn't have the time to avoid cameras while driving.

He texted Carter's burner phone—their signal for her to make her way to the hotel's back exit. Driving back to the hotel, he stayed away from the busiest intersections, where he would have the longest wait at a red light. It still didn't take as long as walking; he drove through a tiny restaurant's parking lot to get to the back of the hotel.

Carter opened the back door as he pulled up. She had the sheet from the hotel room folded in her hands; after she carefully lay down on the floor board of the back seat, she pulled it over herself.

She asked, "Do I want to know how you got this car?" John pursed his lips, even though she couldn't see him, and didn't answer. "Didn't think so," she said.

He started driving, going slowly over the speed bumps in the restaurant parking lot. The road would be smoother soon; he dreaded every bump and pothole they encountered right now. For the next stash kit he made, he was going to include morphine.

"Fair warning, I'm gonna get motion sickness if I have to stay here too long," she said, her voice slightly muffled by the cloth.

"Shall I get you a bowl?"

"Just drive," she told him, her tone a mixture of peevishness and amusement.

For now their path was west—nothing more concrete than that until they knew if the FBI was actually willing to drive to New Jersey to get Carter, or if they were doing something else. Whatever the answer was to that question, Reese was already formulating strategies to get Carter safely back in the FBI's good graces.

Fake a kidnapping, maybe? If they believed she'd been taken by him against her will, or that she'd somehow been coerced into providing help... Hopefully Finch would get more information soon; Reese was working blind right now, not even knowing if the FBI was aware that Carter was with him, much less knowing what they'd found in the last couple of days.

Plus there was Elias. If Carter laid low for a few days, he could find out more. Figure out who to threaten, since the straggling remnants of HR were untangled from Elias's many threads. The man apparently still held a grudge against Carter, and even from behind bars, he was able to run his organization effectively.

"Where's your phone?" Carter asked, interrupting his fruitless self-questioning.

"In my pocket," he answered. "Why?"

After a moment she spoke quietly, voice pitched just loud enough for John to hear over the noise of the car's engine. "Did you know he was engaged?"

Finch. John didn't want to answer the question, but he avoided actually telling a lie about it. "He was?"

"His fiancée knew him as Harold Martin. Martin was 'killed' two years ago in an accident."

"Did you talk to her?" He wondered how Grace would handle an interview with Carter. The woman seemed delicate, but not necessarily weak.

"Not yet. What am I going to ask her? 'Hey, did you know your fiancé isn't really dead? He's just avoiding you.'"

"So you don't think she knows about him. About who he really is."

"No." Carter sighed and then quoted, "He's 'a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.' I don't think she knows who he really is—whatever that may be—and I don't think she knows that he's not dead. And I have a hunch it's probably better that way, which is part of the reason why I haven't talked to her yet."

Patient Zero, Finch had called himself after Reese's one meeting with Grace. For a moment John wondered if perhaps the people who knew about Finch's Machine were behind all of this; the thought scared him, but it didn't quite click.

Then it hit him, and it made the previous idea look miniscule. His first reaction was to wish it away, try to push it back down in a fit of what he could only describe as mental nausea.

It was the Machine. The Machine was after Carter.