Based on a prompt for Carolina/Maine from tumblr. However, it really isn't all that shippy - I'm sortof uncomfortable with the idea of the Meta as romantic.

Old Family Hauntings

When Carolina looked at Maine she saw the two of them as five puzzle pieces.

At first it was just two imperfect fits.

He was gentler than he looked and the strong and silent thing must have worked because he had South following him like a lost puppy, and Carolina found that occasionally she was doing it to, if only because he looked a bit lonely without his orbiting South. Maine was nice to South. He opened doors for her, he grunted when she spoke to him in long strings of complaints.

He talked back to Carolina.

He was just dangerous enough. They knew from almost the beginning that their fighting styles complemented but did not match each other - she was faster than him, he was stronger. Together they fought like they had melded minds even before either of them got the AI, before they even heard that word. But if they were ever pitted against one another it would be a stalemate.

(She knew, when she thought seriously about it, that she would win. She had those numbers on the board, just slightly higher than his, edging York out by decimals that meant deaths and knife-cuts.

Statistically, she would win eventually.

But it would take a long time.

And she and Maine would have figured out how well they worked together by then. How they orbited one another.)

Sigma and Maine were an imperfect match: Carolina could see that in the way Maine shut down after he was implanted. Maine had never been loud - the occasional "too high" all that was necessary to express his straightforward, almost animal thoughts, but he did speak. His movements were graceless and exaggerated even out of armor, but he always looked in whatever direction he was going: he looked at the things he wanted.

After Sigma, he looked straight ahead. Even when the AI manifested, Maine looked like he wasn't seeing anything at all.

Sigma had never been loud either, but from the short time Carolina had been implanted with him she knew how many wordless wheels he sent spinning in his host's head.

Both Carolina and the Director suggested that Carolina (top-ranked, golden girl) would give the firstborn AI to Maine. She didn't know why her father suggested it. She knew why she suggested it -

Because when after they operated they didn't put Maine in Recovery. They kept him in the zero-G operating theatre in case the natural weight of the earth as replicated by the ship crushed his throat.

When he finally got out she visited. She walked in just as a medic was walking out. It was an effort not to give him a hard time, but she made it. They were doing her a favor just letting her in.

She lifted up Maine's chin to look at the scars and he winced like the skin was tender. He had ugly black stitches all across his windpipe and she thought that there must be a better way to do that. Emergency field medical procedures were one thing but this didn't look…modern.

Maybe Wash was right about medics.

Sigma's fiery light light glinted in every corner of the room. She said hello to him before she said anything to Maine, although the Freelancer was sitting up in the bunk with his face bare. Sigma had been in her head just a few days, but she still remembered the feeling like icy caverns and the pride. "Sigma."

"The patient's progress is rapid, Agent Carolina," said Sigma, without the computerized sound that Delta's or Gamma's voice had, and Carolina met Maine's eyes and saw that he would have protested. His eyes were dry and red.

No matter what Sigma said, what Maine meant was "Too much pain."

Carolina sat down at his side and they looked at each other, half fascination and half challenge.

Sigma said, "Agent Maine thanks you for transferring me to him."

The words, the tone: everything he said was wrong according to what Carolina knew about Maine. For every "too high", Sigma would say that the altitude was compromising or that risk of success was low. Sigma implied things: detachment, or logic, or fear. Part of what Carolina liked about Maine was that he implied nothing. He hid nothing. He was eternally unashamed.

She said, "You're welcome."

A moment later she said, "Retire, Sigma," a command she had never had him long enough to use before, and with a flicker that she might just be interpreting as reluctant, he did. She leaned closer to Maine, feeling that something had been freed without the AI present.

Without one, she had felt that AI were the ultimate proof of competence, but now she wanted Sigma out of the way. She didn't need a translator.

The speed with which something she had valued so highly became meaningless was not a paradox that she wished to dwell on.

She looked down at her hands, cursed over and over when tears started to well in her eyes. She wasn't sure what she was cursing at.

"I know you're taking your time," she whispered to Maine, not sure what words were going to come out. Her hair fell in front of her face and blocked her view of the clean white armor and the black patches in between. "I'll be ready when you wake up."

She wasn't.

Losing most of his voice didn't mean he had lost his strength.

Sigma had left a tiny depression in her head, a nest Iota and Eta tried but could not fit into. She heard them curl together and cry out for the Alpha, missing something too, their edges scraping together.

(Missing a mother. Carolina did not know at the time that Texas was a facsimile of that mother. Later she would shake her head and grit her teeth at the thought of it, wondering what she would have done differently, fearing that she wouldn't have changed anything. At least having a mother-rival gave her something to chase.

Nevertheless, the AI feelings were familiar.)

Sometimes she wondered whether Leonard had done this to Maine on purpose.

"Did you do this? Did you want him to have Sigma?" She asked him one day when the wondering boiled over.

"My dear Agent Carolina, the AI are carefully calibrated to their hosts."

Later, after Maine grew quieter and angrier and Sigma spoke more of words like 'metastability' that would never have passed Maine's lips, she would ask angrier, wanting to leap over the war-room table at him, remembering the callous way he had ordered her to kill CT. "Did you know Sigma was going to….do that?" She would yell. "Did you mean that for him or for me?"

"My dear Agent Carolina," he would say. And next time she spoke to Sigma, with Maine around the corner of the locker room, she did so with an eye to outmatch not only Omega and Texas, but Sigma too.

She thought she could save Maine.

By the time she remembered the plan after her implantation, she had almost forgotten who he was.

Funny thing was, the AI remembered. Sigma examined Iota and Eta as if he could stare out of Maine's helmet and into hers.

All along, Sigma had spoken in steadily less truthful translations.

Maine wasn't gentle any more but she didn't want that either. She couldn't stop fighting for anything.

She never blamed him. She blamed herself too much. First of all Sigma had been hers, and although she did not believe that she had influenced his personality at all she had wanted an AI so much that it was like she had willed the little personality into existence.

But no. That was her father.

All a different kind of family, and Carolina dangling in Maine's hands above a creaking, shifting ice field, the Mother of Invention falling apart in front of her, her AI still arguing their sibling rivalries and old family hauntings in her head.

She looked down at Maine, his white armor moving like an ice floe, and wished she could have saved him.

It was a moment of lucidity in the tangle of Eta and Iota and Alpha noises. She hardly had room to want anything with how badly they want Alpha, but she managed to fit in Allison and Maine as her legs kicked, her cloven toes scratching against his armor. She stared at him and for one refreshing moment she had only one emotion, and it was missing him.

Because having Maine gave her something to chase too.

Then he tore them out of her, let her go, and it was all fragments, all whirling snow and crying voices, frayed synapses and the fuzzy edges of torn puzzle pieces.

(She would win eventually.

But it would take a long time.)

"What happened to Maine?"

She asks it casually, while they're in Sandtrap and the dirt is still blowing the sand around not-CT's grave. Wash answers casually, to punish her for the frank way she revealed the end of CT's story.

"They killed him. The Reds, mostly. They dropped him off a cliff near the Mother of Invention." Wash says, "There won't be a grave."

Carolina says, "Dropped off a cliff? There's ways to survive that." She feels the laugh coming and is surprised that it isn't bitter, isn't insane, it isn't a broken piece. It's just hers.