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Title: Two Damsels, Hold the Distress
Author: jedibuttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not
Rating: T; mild het
Prompt/Prompter: rose_griffes, who asked for: "Carter case fic. The more interacting with her and Shaw, the better. (Carter/Reese optional, but I'd rather have it on the side than the main dish, if that makes sense.)"
Spoilers: Person of Interest, canon-divergence AU for mid-season 3
Notes: A scene from a case fic, rather than the whole novella: capturing a moment, in a world that might have been if Simmons' aim had been a little off.

Summary: In the aftermath of the final showdown with HR, some things are different, and some are the same: Carter, on a case with Shaw. 2600 words.

A bullet barked off the brick wall next to the idiot trying to run from her, and Joss sighed as he froze in place, arms reaching warily for the sky.

She'd thought they were past this phase already. At least it wasn't John this time; he tended to aim closer to knee-level, even when shooting to miss. And it wasn't her partner either, since Fusco was pursuing another angle on the case, looking into the likelihood that the elderly man whose death had apparently triggered the suspect's suspicious behavior was a victim of less than natural causes himself.

"Hi, Shaw," she concluded, tapping her earbud on as she crossed the street to collar Mr. Dahlen. "Not sure I needed the help with this guy, but good to have you on my six anyway. What's the occasion?"

Shaw's voice was as even as ever, but Joss thought she detected a hint of amusement in it as the former government operative replied. "John's out of pocket today, running down another one of those AI projects with Harold and Root."

Joss shook her head as she pulled out her handcuffs. Dahlen didn't bother trying to fight back; he'd been mostly non-aggressive so far, just a little slippery to keep a grip on. Whatever had put him on John and Harold's list, it seemed more and more likely that he was the target, not a perpetrator.

"I'm a big girl," she murmured back as she went through the motions of cuffing him and putting him in the back seat of her car. "You can say, 'and asked me to play bodyguard'. He's got to get over this fit of over-protectiveness eventually, you know. Simmons is dead, HR is out of the picture, I got a clean bill of health again, and you all have bigger concerns than trying to hold my hand through routine investigations. I'm a detective; this is my job."

"Not exactly your job," Shaw pointed out, reasonably.

Joss looked up to catch a glimpse of the other woman on the rooftop, looking down at her. "Close enough," she replied wryly as she circled the car. "Case like this, potential homicide, heirs implicated? I'd probably have ended up here anyway. And I wasn't the only one who nearly got killed that day."

"To be fair, he mostly did that to himself, bulldozing his way through what was left of HR until Harold told him you were going to make it after all." Shaw scoffed. "You really want to discourage him, I can always add another bullet hole when he gets back. In the meantime, though, please tell me there's more to this case than just this guy; he wasn't exactly much of a challenge."

Joss resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. If anyone was going to confront John, it would be her... assuming she ever got the chance, that is. They hadn't even managed to repeat the kiss from the morgue yet, what with the showdown between Vigilance and Shaw's former boss over Finch's friend Claypool, and the crusade the team had been pursuing between jobs ever since. Given what she'd guessed and Finch had more or less confirmed about their source, she couldn't even really blame him. For that part, at least. They'd collected Claypool's nascent AI before the fake bank manager could get away with it, but the other guys weren't going to give up as long as there were any other possibilities out there.

The part where he spent the little time they did have together following her around like a bigger, deadlier version of Bear, though? He'd been the one to get her involved in this world to start with; he didn't get to complain now that she'd finally made herself comfortable there.

In the meantime. "Old man had three other heirs, all of whose bequests were reduced in a new will a few months ago to give a significant share to some random UPS delivery driver. Whether he was involved with Mr. Herrington's death or not, they definitely have reason to be upset with him. But he doesn't exactly strike me as the snake oil salesman or ruthless mastermind type. After I get Dahlen into custody, I thought I'd go talk to them again, starting with the granddaughter."

"Sounds like a plan. Text me the location, and I'll meet you there." There was a flash of brown hair up above as she disappeared from the roof's edge, then the sound of a heavy door slamming shut behind her. "Random UPS delivery driver, though. That's a new one. Old guy one of those home shopping network addicts?"

Joss got in the car, then took the team phone out of her pocket and tapped in the address in question. No point not responding to the request; Shaw would just show up there anyway. She was as bad as John about that kind of thing. "Both, actually. And not so far as I could tell," she replied out loud. "No evidence of hoarding at the decedent's house; no pattern of frequent purchases on his accounts; in fact, no deliveries to that address at all since Dahlen was assigned to his route. Got to be some other connection."

"Well, if it's not about the job...." Shaw drew the sentence out.

"Doesn't seem like a sugar daddy situation, either," Joss replied, with a deliberate glance in the rearview mirror. Interestingly, the revolted face the guy made at her suggestion seemed more horrified than morally outraged; a point in favor of her secret blood connection or mentor theory. Though somehow she doubted it would be that simple; it never was. "Whatever the reason, though, I'm sure the family will have plenty to say."

"Nice tactic, Carter," Shaw added. "I can see his expression from here. You're right; definitely not the ruthless mastermind type."

"Thanks." She tapped at her ear again, then sighed and headed back to the station.

Fusco was back from the morgue by the time she arrived, hunt-and-pecking at his keyboard with a vaguely disgruntled air. He glanced up at her over the rims of his reading glasses, giving her a quick impersonal once-over before meeting her gaze. "Hey, Carter."

"Hey, Fusco," she nodded back to him. "Still in one piece, as you can see. Anything interesting turn up?"

"Define interesting," he shrugged. "No obvious signs of foul play; far as they can tell, the guy died of natural causes. But he was definitely moved sometime between when he died and when the body was discovered; blood pooling patterns were all wrong."

"So either he died somewhere else, and was moved to his bed later...."

"Or someone turned him over, looking for something," Fusco agreed. "Sometimes old folks hide money under the bed, you know, or the latest copy of their will. My grandma was one of those. Either way, something's definitely screwy there. You track down the UPS guy yet?"

"Got him. Seems more the scuttling cockroach type than wolf in the fold, though, and beyond the fact that he ran, no evidence yet of any kind of crime having been committed. You want to take over with him while I go ask Ms. Herrington a few more pointed questions?"

He hesitated, then glanced toward the door of the interrogation room. "Wonderboy back yet?"

Joss raised her eyebrows. She got the concern, but that was a step beyond. "Seriously, Fusco?"

"'Scuse me for worrying about my partner," he replied gruffly, looking away. "Never mind. Yeah, I'll talk to the guy; got a lead from the university he attended a few years back. Seems Mr. Herrington was a professor there, part-time, for several years; retired just after Dahlen graduated."

"So years later, he changes his will in favor of a former student?" Joss frowned.

"That's still weird, right?" Fusco nodded, tapping away at his keyboard again.

"Definitely weird," Joss said, then sighed and relented. "And no, he isn't. But I already sent Shaw Ms. Herrington's address; I'll keep you posted."

Fusco looked up again at that, and gave her a relieved nod. "Sorry. It's not that I don't think you're capable, and I don't think he thinks that either, he's just kinda clingy right now. And clingy on him translates to terrifying, just like everything else does. Don't know how you do it."

"Try not to think about it. In fact, I'd rather you didn't," she replied, wrinkling her nose pointedly.

She could see, for just a second, that now he was thinking about it; then he gave a theatrical shudder and waved her off. "I'd rather I didn't either, thanks. Go on; get out of here. I'll let you know what I find out."

"Thanks." Joss smirked at him, then collected a few papers from her desk and went back out to her car.

She was halfway to the apartment listed as the granddaughter's residence when the earbud beeped in her ear again. "So, Carter...."

After all that thinking about John, if her stomach dipped a little at hearing someone else's voice in her ear... well, no one else needed to know that. She'd forgive him; of course she would. But that would require them getting to the actual making up portion of events, and that didn't seem likely to happen anytime soon. The perils of falling for a vigilante; the tragic comic-book hero plotline written all over John had been palpable even before she tripped into the role of damsel in distress. Maybe she should partner with Shaw more; it might reduce that particular risk factor.

"Yeah? You there already?" she replied.

"Just arrived-- and it looks like someone's been here before us. The door's cracked open. I don't hear any noises inside, but there are fresh tire marks in front of the curb."

"Shit." That might be unconnected; but the way their odds usually went, she doubted it. "The granddaughter doesn't have a car, so if it was her, someone else must have picked her up. Any witnesses who might've seen?"

"Not that I can see," Shaw replied. "Just the usual neighborhood bustle. Someone'll definitely report me if I loiter out here on the sidewalk much longer, though. Think I'll go in and check it out."

As resigned as Joss was these days to real justice being a little greyer than she'd prefer, there was still a time and a place for procedure. "And if someone catches you, and your presence taints any evidence?"

"Don't worry, I borrowed John's spare NYPD badge just for the occasion," Shaw snorted. "Who came up with the Detective Stills alias, anyway? A little on the nose, don't you think?"

"John did himself, actually, when he took it from the original Detective Stills," Joss replied, shaking her head. Now that she thought about it, though, it really did sound like the kind of alias a stoic avenger-type might choose. Still, like describing drinking water, not effervescent... or still, like the verb, to make or become still; quieten. "HR guy; not in the picture anymore, but Fusco knew him. Sometimes you can't make this shit up."

"Really? No kidding," Shaw replied, over muted sounds of movement. "Looks like I was right, by the way; the place is empty. A little disordered, but like someone packed in a hurry, not like they tossed it."

That reduced the odds of its being another crime scene... but also the immediate prospect of answers. "Great," she sighed. "Pulling up, now."

The scene was as bare as Shaw had implied; no lookie-lous hanging around, area populated only by blown leaves and the usual transitory urban traffic. Not that she'd expected much else, but it would be a nice change of pace if one of these premeditated cases solved themselves in the first act rather than the fifth sometime.

"Hey, cheer up," Shaw said, reading her expression as she met her at the door. She had her BU9 Nano tucked discreetly in one hand, but from her body language, that was more habit than a response to any kind of perceived threat. "No more bodies, and this is starting to actually get interesting. Come take a look."

Joss followed the other woman into the apartment's second bedroom, which had been furnished as a library, complete with five shelves of books, three of DVDs, a computer desk... and a wall of maps, tacked up in a neat row. The most prominent was a state map covered in a tracery of inked-in lines, anchored by a constellation of star-shaped stickers; several town maps tacked up next to it were connected by string to the locations of the stars, each one labeled in heavy ball-point ink and further highlighted with crayon.

It reminded her more than a little of the HR personnel web she used to keep tacked up in her closet, only more geographically focused... and considerably older in scope. Joss furrowed her brow at the labels for a moment, taking in the pattern, then pulled out her work phone and dialed Fusco.

He didn't answer, probably still with the UPS guy; but she left him a quick message. "Hey, Fusco. What subject did you say Herrington taught again? Was it history? Get back to me as soon as you can."

"As in Revolutionary War history?" Shaw repeated, then eyed the maps more closely. "That era isn't my strong suit, but I hit Wikipedia after we ran into Vigilance. Some of those names look pretty familiar."

"Looks like," Joss agreed. "Still doesn't explain how the UPS guy got involved, but it does explain a few other things I was starting to wonder about."

"Treasure hunts do have a tendency to get ugly," Shaw said, reaching out to touch one of the stars. "Some of those towns are hours from here, though-- and you said the granddaughter didn't have a vehicle. Did either of the other heirs have one? Or Granddad himself?"

Joss sucked in a breath, then pulled a spiral notepad out of her pocket and flipped through the pages. "You think they hired the UPS driver to, what, play chauffeur?"

"Package handling's usually a part time job; isn't that why so many Olympic athletes do it? Maybe Herrington kept in touch with some of his students, so when the opportunity came up, he knew immediately who to turn to." Shaw walked her finger across to the town map corresponding with that particular star, and tapped the date. "There's a checkmark next to about half of these. Places they've already been?"

"That would be my guess." Joss found the page she was looking for, and frowned. "The youngest cousin does have a car, but it's one of those electric matchboxes; not the kind of thing to take on a country drive. Definitely an angle worth looking into. But if you're right about Dahlen-- that would mean he lied about not knowing any of the rest of the family."

"How likely was that anyway?" Shaw pointed out. "Bet you anything he got tempted once Herrington was out of the picture, took whatever they found for himself, and now the grandkids are feeling vengeful. If there's one thing I've learned in this job, it's that everyone lies when they think their secret's big enough."

"Pot, kettle," Joss replied wryly, tucking the notebook away again and taking a snapshot of the maps with her phone. "You're good at this, you know. Wasn't lying when I said it was good to have you on my six today, no matter how irritated I am with John right now."

"Pot, kettle," Shaw echoed with a smirk, then turned to lead the way back out to the car.


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