Using the Machine's timeline, the doctor from "In Extremis" died on April 12. After that there's an undescribed week—presumably with at least one number—before the ten days without a number mentioned by Reese (April 19-29). The Machine then gives Finch and Reese the number for Ernest Thornhill, and we careen through the events of "Zero Day" and "God Mode" from April 29-May 1.
This story is set in that week before the Machine stops sending numbers for ten days.
Some guys I knew got a little lost. Needed a little help adjusting. You need some help?
He remembered the first time they met, seeing this same expression on her face. She wasn't using the same words with Annette, but the worry line over her brows flashed in and out of view as she spoke. "You just need to take care of yourself right now," Carter told the blonde woman.
Annette's hands had ceased plucking at her jacket buttons, clasped in front of her instead for the moment. Her head still drooped toward the ground, but she was leaning slightly toward Carter rather than wrapped around herself.
When Carter caught him watching, she raised one eyebrow. Not a smile—he hadn't expected one from her at this point—but not a look of disapproval, either. No trace of the strife from their conversation a week ago.
He liked this part of the job. He liked it even more with Carter here.
Finch's voice interrupted John's reverie, picking up the conversation where they'd left it moments before. "I'll have it done by the time you get her to the rehab center. They're expecting her."
"Sounds good, Finch." After disconnecting the call, he walked over to the car. Annette sat in the passenger side now, curled up as if to use as little space as possible. Carter closed the door gently, giving her one last encouraging comment as she did so.
Then Joss walked over to the driver's side door to wait for him. "Need anything else?" she asked, tone clear and easy. Nothing to push against her boundaries with this case; John didn't even have any perps gift-wrapped for her to take care of. No feathers ruffled in his small circle today.
"We're good. Finch is making sure that Annette will get the help she needs." Carter raised an eyebrow again at that statement, catching the full meaning. Finch's results usually came through a combination of illegal hacking and carefully selected applications of pressure and money.
"Thanks, Carter." She gave him a half-smile and quick nod in acknowledgment.
John started to open the car door; she put her hand on his arm, stopping him. "You could come over later if you want."
She must have already switched off her phone, and tracked his actions to make sure that he'd disconnected his call as well. Even so, her voice was pitched low as she made the invitation.
He didn't have to think about his answer. "As soon as I get Annette settled in," John told her, his glance going to the car for a moment and then back to her. Carter's expression—what little she allowed to surface—wavered between pleased and apprehensive. He wanted to give her hand a reassuring squeeze; instead he climbed in, closed the door, and then watched her walk to her squad car.
As John drove Annette to the rehab center, the woman quietly thanked him, her words difficult to make out over the noise of car. In between the thank yous she repeated her shock that anyone had figured out what she was planning. After a few minutes of almost unintelligible phrases her words trailed to an end. Slumping back against the seat cushion in exhaustion, Annette's eyes fluttered closed a few times in the quiet.
John let the silence drift over him, thinking about the invitation from Joss. The last time they'd spoken in private, their words had been sharp. She'd been carrying the burden of destroyed evidence: digging up a corpse to save her partner from his corrupt past. John had been mired in his anger over Doctor Nelson's death, and over what Carter had had to do alone.
For a moment he wondered if she'd invited him over to talk about it again before shaking off that idea. Joss wasn't necessarily quick to forgive, but she wouldn't deliberately tease him like that. Plus it would violate those walls she'd built around the various aspects of her life, those carefully maintained compartments.
True to Finch's word, people were expecting them when they arrived at the rehab center. Annette didn't repeat any confused phrases about her thwarted felony plans, apparently thinking better of it as they were surrounded by strangers. She gave him a brief, panicked glance, to which he responded with a reassuring smile. "They know you need help," he told her, letting one hand rest on her shoulder for a moment. "That's all they know."
Annette nodded several times quickly in succession, then let herself be pulled back again by another staff member. They were about to go inside when the conversation was interrupted by another women walking over from the parking lot. "Annette?" she asked. Annette let out a sob and grabbed the other woman, wrapping her so tightly that Reese could barely make out her face. The staff members of the center stopped their work for a moment to watch the reunion.
"I took the liberty of contacting Ms. Grantham's half-sister," Finch's voice sounded in Reese's ear. "I thought maybe she could use some support."
"Good work, Finch." Reese watched the sister—older, from the way she behaved—pull Annette inside, talking to her in that tone that he remembered from a cousin who used to boss him around when he was young. Annette looked more relieved than she had all night.
After leaving Annette, he drove to the nearest bolt-hole to shave rather than go directly to Carter's apartment. Shaving was a luxury he didn't often have. He'd been fairly clean-shaven when he'd invited her to his place, but the other times were hit or miss. Once, when he'd had a particularly whiskery chin, he'd asked her if she wanted him to shave in the hotel bathroom. She'd answered with a distracted, "Maybe later," and then he'd gotten distracted as well and neither of them had mentioned it again.
Looking in the mirror, he carefully moved the razor over the planes of his face, thinking about Joss's invitation. This would be their sixth time together. The continuation was something he hadn't dared hope for after last week.
She wasn't ending it. Whatever it might be to her: affair, assignation, fuckbuddies... He hated that term. John tilted his face up, moving the razor down his neck. He worked carefully, trying to keep the impatience and excitement he was feeling out of his movements.
When she answered his quiet knock at the door, her hair was loose, instead of pulled back into a ponytail. Her feet were bare, and her jacket was nowhere in sight. She looked relaxed, sleepy. "You made it," she said.
As he stepped in, he caught a glimpse of a half-empty beer bottle on her coffee table. Joss saw where she was looking. "You want one?"
He shook his head no. "Good," she said, and took him by the hand, leading the way to her bedroom.
Not that tired, then. John had thought about asking her if she'd rather sleep first. He wouldn't have minded. He enjoyed the sex, and liked it that she wanted him for sex, but sometimes he itched to push against the boundaries they had both established.
She had more to lose than he did, though: a son, a job that depended on keeping her name clean, a life in the city where she'd grown up.
After leading him into her bedroom, Joss started to lean upward for a kiss, but then noticed his clean-shaven face. "I like it," she told him, sliding her fingertips across his cheekbones. She traced down to his jaw, index finger briefly pressing into the center of his bottom lip.
"I'll be right back. You—strip," Carter ordered, and walked out of the room.
No beer-flavored kisses from her, then. He smiled at her departing back.
After setting the phone to ring only if Finch called, John put it and the earbud in his pocket and draped the jacket onto the chair across the room from her bed. His shoes were off and he was just unzipping his trousers when Joss came back into the room. "Not fast enough," she told him with a saucy grin. She sat on the corner of the bed, watching him as he finished removing his clothes, tilting her head in visible appreciation.
Her dimple flashed into view as their eyes made contact.
After undressing the rest of the way, John sat next to her on the bed. When he leaned in to kiss her, she pushed him down onto the bed, his back pressed against the red comforter. Joss straddled him, brushing a light kiss against his lips before pulling back.
"Don't I get a show too?" he asked.
Her elbows were planted on each side of his face, her teasing smile looming large in his vision. "Not yet." Her glance went to where their bodies met. She brushed the sleeve of her shirt cuff against his bicep, apparently intrigued by the contrast of her clothes against his bare skin.
The warmth of her skin filtered through the fabric as her weight pressed against him. Like being wrapped in a blanket, he thought; the still air and dim light added to the effect.
Blankets hadn't been comforting in a very long term—useful on occasion, but not a comfort. Right now, though, he let himself enjoy the sensation, curious what she would do next.
Joss slid down again a couple of inches. He let out a muffled moan of appreciation as the cloth dragged against his skin. She did it again, moving up and down slightly and then drawing lines across his shoulders and biceps, just above where her shirt brushed against him. Her fingers finally traced inward to his chest; she pushed against him for leverage until she was sitting up again.
Her knees were on each side of his hips, her dark trousers stretched taut across the muscles of her thighs. John watched Joss trace the pale skin of his abdomen. The pads of her fingertips pulled across his midsection; he closed his eyes for a moment, letting the sensations wash over him.
She ignored his scars this time, creating random lines for a few moments before changing tactics. Lowering herself until her breasts were pressed against his chest, Joss leaned in as if to kiss him again. Instead she nipped at his jaw, gently moving down to his chin and biting it, scraping her teeth along the edge and following with a teasing lick.
Her eyes sparkled when he caught her glance; she was playing for the moment rather than seducing. John held in a laugh; instead he grabbed her ass and rolled them over, pinning her underneath. They stared at each other, Joss's mouth puckered in a bow shape as she tried not to giggle.
"I want my show," he finally told her.
"Okay, then." She managed not to laugh as she said it, instead using an indignant tone. The corner of his mouth curled up at it. She wiggled out from underneath him, finally standing at the foot of the bed. John moved to the edge, sitting and watching her unbuckled her trousers. As she shimmied out of her pants, he leaned back, hands placed behind him to brace himself upright.
Her trousers were on the ground by the time he realized that the panties underneath were mostly lace, a deep purple-red that framed her skin. She'd never worn anything quite like these, going for comfort rather than aesthetic appeal their previous times together.
John liked the contrasts in what she was wearing at the moment: her feet and curvy brown legs bare, then the colorful lacy panties, and on top Carter's usual conservative blouse covering her from neck to wrist.
She undid the blouse from the bottom up, glancing at him between buttons, her movements slow and meticulous. Eventually she had every button undone; holding the blouse between finger and thumb, she finally dropped it to the floor.
Her bra matched the panties, a wine-colored lacy affair that revealed more than it hid. She stood still, wearing just the matching lingerie, looking both pleased and awkwardly self-aware. John liked the idea that she had put them on for him, that she had thought about him while wearing them throughout the day.
"Wow," he said.
"Wow? That's it?" Recovering her poise, she was back to teasing him. "I expected something a little more eloquent."
Wanting to flatter her, to express his appreciation for the effort, he said, "Good thing I didn't know these were underneath all day long."
She was standing close enough for him to touch; he put out his left hand to trace her breast. The lace let him see the outline of her nipple. John rubbed his thumb against it, enjoying her quick intake of breath, and the texture of the rough lace against his skin.
He put his hands on her hips and pulled her in closer, until she was standing between his legs, letting him see the lacy bra up close. Her nipples tightened underneath the lace as he stared. John kept one hand on her ass, sliding his fingers along the edge of the panties. With his other hand he traced the bottom curves of her breasts, pressing his head to them and teasing them through the lace with his tongue.
John lost track of time as he caressed the skin covered by lace. Finally Joss grabbed his shoulders, leaning against him. Her breath came in quick spurts, giving him the courage to ask what he was wondering earlier. "Did you think about me when you put these on?"
"Yes." She held his hand in place as he moved his thumb across her nipple again. "I thought about you when I put them on." A moment later she added, "I thought about you when I bought them."
John put both hands on her hips again and fell back, letting them both tumble onto the bed. With a bit of manipulation, they ended up face to face on the mattress. "I'm glad," he said, voice husky.
"That you thought about me." He appreciated it more than the visual appeal of the lingerie. She'd planned this, planned being with him tonight, and worn this for him.
She gave him a tiny smile, both sweet and uncertain, her eyes wide as she looked at him in the dimness. He didn't move for a moment, letting himself hear their breathing, savoring this glimpse of her, of them, that didn't connect to work.
Her eyes grew wider in the silence. Wanting to bring back some of the playful mood, he announced, "But it's time for those to go."
She played along with the tone shift. "So impatient," she chided.
He reached around to her back and carefully undid the bra hook. Her quiet sigh of relief confirmed his theory that this wasn't as comfortable as her usual undergarments.
They both worked to remove the bra, Joss finishing by throwing it over him, off the edge of the bed. He kissed the faint lines left on her skin, working his way up to her shoulder. From there he focused on the spot behind her ear that left her squirming, twisting her hips and pressing against him.
Joss pulled at him, sliding until his hips lined up with hers, his erection pressing against the lacy fabric of her panties. Her legs, bent at the knees, gripped his thighs as she rocked upward. She put her hands behind his head and kissed him, fierce and demanding.
When he could breathe again, he echoed her words from earlier. "So impatient." He felt it too, though; he wanted to shove those panties to the side and bury himself inside her now, to let himself go. Instead he kissed his way down her neck and farther until he could feel the gentle curve of her stomach under his lips.
He slid his fingers under the elastic of the panties and gently tugged at them, pulling them down her legs. John kissed the tops of her kneecaps on the way down, succeeding in making her smile. When he finally slid them off, he kissed his way back up to the tops of her legs again, listening to her breathing as he embraced her with his tongue.
It's like a language, he thought, learning a wordless language made for two: how to interpret the way her breath caught, translating the movement of her hips, the twining of her fingers in his hair...
...that sudden shift into comprehension, when the new language feels like part of yourself. He feels it when he moves up and finally lets himself slide into her, when her arms wrap around him to hold him close and they rock together.
He lets himself go and she catches him.