Charmed Role Reversal

Witch of Interest

    Late March 2014...

T he tall man sat at the restaurant's outdoor table, one chosen to give him the vantage point from which he could carefully watch certain restaurant customers without being obvious that he was doing that. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a wide but long face. In his view was a man at another table, mid-forties, in a gray suit, eating alone. The waiter was clearing away his plate. Another man at a table to the left, wearing a blue shirt and a blue jacket, was also in his view.

The tall man pressed his finger to his ear.

"Barkley's about to order dessert, Finch," the tall man said in a low voice, activating the transmitter circuits in the micro transceiver in his ear. "The guy in the blue jacket has been watching him. We need to follow that guy and find out who he is."

"Understood, Mr. Reese," Harold Finch replied. He sat at a table in front of monitors and computer equipment. "Where are you Ms. Shaw?" he asked as he adjusted his black‑framed glasses.

"Five minutes away," Sameen Shaw answered, pressing her finger to the transceiver in her ear. Five‑foot three, with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, a few errant strands falling across her medium complexioned forehead, she wore a black jacket, black shirt and black pants. One gun sat in her shoulder holster while her backup gun was strapped to her leg. "I'll be there before he finishes his dessert."

"With the service at this restaurant you'll probably be here before they even bring his dessert," Reese said dryly.

"Oh...uh...what's this?" Finch asked with surprise.

"What's wrong, Finch?" Reese asked.

"The Machine just gave us a new number," Finch replied.

"That's impossible," Reese said. "The Machine only gives us one number at a time. And that number belongs to the man I'm looking at ‑ Tom Barkley."

"I know...but it gave us the number anyway," Finch said. "And...I can't find any information about her. The last records showed her 2000."

"That's got to be a mistake," Reese said. can't be!" Finch exclaimed. "The Machine just gave me a second number. And...there isn't...I can't find anything about him later than 2000, either."

"It sound like the machine is having a bad chip day," Shaw quipped. "Or whatever it has in place of hair."

"The machine doesn't make mistakes," Finch replied.

"Look ‑ I know you designed and programmed the machine, and its artificial intelligence to find people who are in danger of being victims of violent crimes is incomparable. So you feel...protective of it," Shaw said. "But there's always a first time."

"No ‑ if the machine gave us these two numbers then these two people are in danger," Finch said.

"Or perpetrators," Reese reminded him.

"Be that as it may, I'm calling you back here, Ms. Shaw," Finch said decisively. "To find these people."

"Wait a minute," Shaw said, "I have to get to the restaurant and follow the guy in the blue jacket. We have to know his connection to Barkley and whether he's a threat to him. We know Barkley's in danger from someone."

"I'll call Detective Fusco and have him go to the restaurant instead," Finch answered.

"You can't be serious, Finch," Shaw protested. "The Machine gives multiple numbers at the same time, which it's never done, about people who no longer exist. And you want me to drop the number we already have and whose danger we know is real?"

"These people did exist in 2000," Finch said, "at least as far as there being records of their activity. There has to be a reason the Machine gave us their numbers. And you're going to have to find out what that reason is, Ms. Shaw."

"Finch, this is..." Reese began. Then he exhaled. John Reese was a stubborn person but he knew that Finch could be equally stubborn. And so he knew that he was not going to talk Finch out of this.

"But I'm so close to the restaurant," Shaw argued.

"No matter ‑ just get back here right away," Finch said. "I'm calling Detective Fusco now."

"Lionel may not even be available," Reese said, referring to New York City Police Detective Lionel Fusco who was part of their team, "and even if he is he won't get here in time. I have to stay with Barkley to protect him and I can't follow both men."

"If they leave follow the man in the blue jacket," Finch said. "Fusco should be able to find Barkley by himself. Please come back here quickly Ms. Shaw."

Sameen Shaw exhaled. She was very good at what she did now as part of Finch's team. But her past was what some might charitably call "checkered". She had graduated medical school, demonstrating significant skill, but was found unfit to be a doctor because her lack of emotions left her with little concern for her patients' outcomes. She then became an operative ‑ an assassin ‑ for a government agency, which suited her emotionless personality. But when subsequently she herself became a target of that agency, to be eliminated, she was forced to change sides.

What Finch wanted her to do made no sense to Shaw. But part of joining his team, of changing her outlook on life and her attitude, about finding some emotions within her to now care about helping people in trouble, was accepting that Finch set the direction for the team. She exhaled again, then reluctantly made a u‑turn with the car and headed back to Finch.

Click speaker for Opening Credits Theme Song

Shaw strode into the team's "headquarters", which in truth was Finch's home. Besides the equipment, at the center of which Finch sat, the home was well appointed, including a full library of Finch's reference and reading material.

"This doesn't make any sense, Finch," she said.

"I'm afraid I have to agree with you, Ms. Shaw," he replied. "But the fact remains that we have these two numbers."

"Of people who must be dead," Shaw countered, "which is why you can't find any trace of them today."

"That's not precisely true," Finch said. "I did find a trace which led me to where there should have been information about them. But when I looked there the information wasn't there. At least, not permanently."

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"It's as if the data about each of them is there and then it's not there," he answered. "As if it's in flux, trying to take hold but instead just flickering in and out."

"I'm not a computer expert but even I know that doesn't seem possible," Shaw said.

"It's not," Finch agreed, "yet it's happening. I have to have an answer to this conundrum. And the only way to get it is for you to find out everything about these two numbers. That's why I'm sending you to San Francisco. That's where the last records ‑ the last permanent active records ‑ placed them."

"That was fourteen years ago," Shaw said. "What do you expect me to find after fourteen years?"

"If I knew the answer to that, Ms. Shaw, I would not have to send you there to get it," he replied. "Here is your plane reservation. The flight leaves in four hours."

Sameen Shaw grabbed her suitcase off of the baggage carousel in San Francisco Airport. She headed towards an exit in front of her when a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her to the right.

"Root?!" Shaw exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"You need my help," Root replied. Five foot eight, slim with auburn hair and an attractive face, Root's real name was Samantha Groves, though she now preferred to use her nickname. She had been a contract killer and computer hacker and, to some degree, an adversary of Shaw personally and of Finch's team in general. That had changed dramatically during the past few months. While not "officially" part of Finch's team and not following his direction, she was now aligned with them.

"This way," Root said, pulling Shaw to a corridor off to their right.

"The exit's the other way," Shaw protested, pointing to a large exit sign in front of where they were standing.

"That's not the exit we need," Root replied. She led Shaw down the long corridor which was deserted. At the end of the corridor was a single door on the left wall.

"Through here," Root said. She opened the door and they walked through the doorway. As they did Shaw felt a strange sensation. And for a few seconds everything around her was blurry.

When that cleared, she found herself about twenty yards from the terminal exit, though not the same exit that she had been in front of before. To her left was an airport newsstand. Strange, she thought, that no one else had walked this way down that deserted corridor to get to this exit.

"What happened...everything was blurry for a moment," Shaw remarked.

"The world in 2014 is dependent upon what happens to these two people whose numbers the Machine gave Harold," Root said, ignoring Shaw's question.

"You mean happened," Shaw corrected her. "Whatever it was already happened ‑ we can't change that."

"The San Francisco airport has been renovated since 2000," Root continued. "The corridor we walked down, and the door in the left wall at its end, were not part of that renovation and are unchanged from how they had been in 2000. And are therefore a portal that connects the present and the past times, one of the very few portals that exist. The blurriness you experienced was our going through that portal."

"Through what?" Shaw challenged Root. "'re not saying we...traveled through time...back to 2000. That's...absurd! That's science fiction and fantasy. And I don't go in for that."

"She's evolved, Sameen," Root explained, referring to the Machine. "She's gone beyond what Harold envisioned for her, what he even thought possible. She had to in order to do what she was designed to do. To save people. And she found that portal and sent us through it."

"That's impossible!" Shaw said flatly. Root tilted her head slightly and gave Shaw a half‑crazy look.

Lionel Fusco referred to Root as "Looney‑Tunes." There was no doubt that Root was somewhat "off"; to what extent was open for discussion. What was not open for discussion any more was her hearing the Machine talking to her. Dismissed out of hand at first by Reese, Finch and Shaw, they subsequently accepted it after it was repeatedly became obvious to them that what Root knew, and when she knew it, could only have happened through the Machine talking to her and telling her.

"Take a look," Root urged Shaw, motioning at the newsstand.

Shaw stepped over to the newsstand and read the LA Times headline. "George W. Bush Choosing Cheney as His Vice‑President Running Mate" was splashed across the front page. "Announcement to Come Today", in a smaller font, was printed just below it. Shaw just stood there, staring at it in disbelief. That...happened fourteen years ago, before the 2000 election, she thought. What's that doing in the paper today?

"This must be a special, historical issue, not today's paper," she said confidently.

"Keep looking," Root directed her.

Shaw went over to the magazines lying just past the newspapers and picked up an American Heritage magazine. Her mouth hung open as she saw the publication date: July/August 2000. Then she picked up a Popular Photography magazine and stared in disbelief at its issue date of July 2000.

"Finch!" she said, touching her ear transceiver.

"Harold can communicate with you around the world," Root said, "but not across time. I told you that you need my help."

"Finch! Reese!" Shaw shouted, drawing the attention of a few of the newsstand's customers.

Shaw gave them a harsh look and they quickly turned away. She put the magazines down and took a dollar bill out of her pocket, picked up a small candy bar and tentatively handed the bill to the sales clerk. The young woman rang up the sale, then gave Shaw her sales receipt and her change.

Shaw stared at the coins in her hand. She couldn't remember the last time she had been able to buy even a small candy bar for just a dollar, let alone get back change from it. Then she looked at the sales receipt. The date was clearly printed on it: July 25, 2000.

Shaw stood immobile, frozen in shock.

"Come on Sameen," Root said, grabbing her arm and shaking her. "We have to go."

"This is the last of the catalog documents," Kelly Anderson said, handing the folders to Alexis Bourné. Just as slim as Kelly but a little shorter than Kelly's five foot nine, and with curly brown hair reaching just above her shoulders rather than Kelly's ponytailed blond hair, Alexis worked with Kelly at the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. More than just colleagues, they had become good friends.

"I feel so ambivalent about this exhibition," Alexis said. "We'll have it ready for next month and it will really be nice." Alexis sighed. "But it will be our last major exhibition before the museum closes at the end of the year."

Having been significantly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the de Young Museum had been temporarily shored up to remain open while long‑term plans were being made. Most of the museum would finally be torn down after December and replaced with a new, seismically secure museum, while incorporating a few historic elements of the old museum.

"I understand how you feel," Kelly said. "There's familiarity and comfort with the museum that you'll be missing." Kelly had been working as an Assistant Curator at the de Young for less than two months. But she had spent two years in an alternate reality ‑ where demons had sent her and Stuart Weston ‑ working in the de Young as Associate Curator. As that alternate reality was also five years in the future, Kelly had already worked in, and was quite at home with, the new museum that was first going to be built in this reality. She missed the familiarity of that new museum and could therefore relate to Alexis' discomfort at losing the old one.

"But you'll love the new museum and be quite at home in it," Kelly assured her, remembering how nice it was ‑ and would be again.

"How can you know that?" Alexis asked. "Never mind...I've learned not to ask about things that you say and do." Alexis had unknowingly been involved in some of Kelly's demon fighting activities over the past few weeks and had learned to just accept and trust her friend's sometimes strange actions and odd pronouncements.

"And we'll have a good time working together at the Legion of Honor," Kelly added. The Palace of the Legion of Honor was a sister museum to the de Young and would be home to the displaced de Young staff until the new museum was completed.

"At least that's one thing that will be the same," Alexis replied. "Well, I'll file these with the rest of the exhibit's documents and then we can call it a day. It's already past six‑thirty."

"Sounds good," Kelly said. She put away some papers that were on her desk, then grabbed her jacket. "I'll walk out with you," Kelly said, putting on her jacket.

Alexis finished filing the catalog documents, made a half‑hearted effort at straightening out her desk, then stood up and took her jacket, too. They walked out together and were in the museum's parking lot when Kelly's cell phone rang. She waved good‑night to Alexis and took the call.

"Hi Kelly. It's Phoebe."

"Hi," Kelly replied. "What's up?"

"I need your help," Phoebe Halliwell said. "I had a premonition about something demons were going to do tonight. Prue is away in Sacramento on an assignment for 415 Magazine. And Piper is back on White Sand Island. She sweet‑talked the management into giving her a few make‑up days because of what happened last weekend. And Leo has been quietly taking some time off to secretly be with her ‑ without The Elders' knowledge."

Phoebe was referring to her sisters Prue and Piper Halliwell, and to their whitelighter, Leo, whose close relationship with Piper would not be approved by The Elders. Demons had caused terrible things to happen to the resorts' guests over the weekend. The sisters, along with Kelly and Leo, got the demons' evil undone, but not before the guests had some unexplained bad experiences. While trying to make light of it, the resort's management was willing to give guests, who asked, a freebie, just to make it all go away.

"So you're the only one who can help me," Phoebe said.

"Tell me what you saw," Kelly responded.

"Two demons were inside what looked like an old, possibly abandoned warehouse," Phoebe said. "They had maybe a half dozen AK‑47 automatic assault rifles in a crate on the floor. I know that's what they were because I heard one of the demons say that it was eight o'clock and their AK‑47 customers were late."

"Why would demons get involved in selling black‑market Kalashnikov rifles?" Kelly asked.

"Spreading AK‑47s around would also spread destruction to wherever they wound up," Phoebe replied. "Which is what demons want. And the money they'll get paid will probably be used to insinuate themselves into society, giving them more access to cause destruction under the cover of appearing to be normal."

"Your premonition told you the time but where is the warehouse?" Kelly asked.

"I saw a Potrero Avenue sign on a lampost outside the warehouse," Phoebe said, "so it's somewhere in Potrero Hill." That was a district in the southeast part of San Francisco. "But as I recall there are old warehouses at both ends of Potrero and the image was too dark to be sure exactly which warehouse it was. It's over a mile between the two ends of the street and I can't be at both ends at the same time. So I need you to be at the warehouses at one end of the street while I'm watching the ones at the other end."

"Are you expecting this will happen tonight?" Kelly asked.

"I have to," Phoebe said. "My premonitions usually happen close to when what I see actually takes place."

"We'll have to move quickly," Kelly said, "as it's close to seven o'clock. I'll pick up Stuart and we'll meet you at the southern end of Potrero. You'll search for a warehouse that looks like the one in your premonition and Stuart and I will wait there. Then you can drive to the other end of Potrero and find a warehouse there that is also similar to what you saw."

"OK," Phoebe said, "I'll see you in a half‑hour."

"This looks like it could be the warehouse I saw in my premonition," Phoebe Halliwell said. She was standing with Kelly Anderson and Kelly's fiancé Stuart Weston outside a warehouse at the southern end of Potrero Avenue near Army Street.

"We'll pull our car over out of sight and wait," Kelly said. "There's a half‑hour until we'll know if this is the right place."

"I'll drive further up Potrero to near 16th Street and look for a warehouse there," Phoebe said. "Here's the spell I made up to vanquish them." She handed Kelly a piece of paper, then got into her car and drove off.

Stuart and Kelly got back into their champagne colored Nissan Altima, drove about half a block to a spot out of the way and parked, turning off the engine so as not to be heard. As they waited silently, Kelly memorized the spell. After about fifteen minutes they heard some noise coming from a warehouse on the corner behind them. They got out of the car and carefully walked back down the street to it.

Near the side of the building that was around the corner they saw a small truck parked near the warehouse's side entrance, an entrance large enough for a car or truck to use, its rolldown gate open. On the front side of the warehouse where they were standing was a similar large gated entrance, its rolldown gate raised only halfway. They lowered their heads and went in under the gate, then stealthily made their way over to free‑standing metal shelves that were off to the side. They got behind them, a few old, torn open cardboard boxes which lay on the shelves giving them some cover.

From their hiding place they saw two slim women in their late thirties, one with red hair and the other with black hair, in the middle of the warehouse. At their feet lay an open crate but Kelly and Stuart couldn't see what was inside of it.

"It's eight o'clock. Our AK‑47 customers are late," the redhead said, looking at her watch.

"They're probably coming late on purpose," the dark haired one said. "These gun‑running humans don't trust anyone."

"As long as they put more of these guns in humans' hands I don't need their trust," the redhead said.

"And as long as they pay up," the other added.

"No doubt about it. These are the demons that Phoebe saw and heard," Kelly whispered. "The rifles must be in that crate on the floor."

"Just samples to show the buyer," Stuart said. "The rest must be in the truck we saw around the corner."

"Let's cancel this sale," Kelly said. Stuart nodded and she stepped out from behind the shelves so that she could clearly see the demons. Seeing her, they turned to Kelly as she began to say the spell. Focusing on her, they raised their hands to quickly send energy bolts at her. But Stuart pushed over the metal shelves, the loud bang as they hit the floor reverberated throughout the warehouse, distracting the demons' attention from Kelly. And giving her the time to complete the spell.

   "Evil who traffic in illegal guns

     These two female demons are the ones;

     For death and destruction you planned a sale

     As I vanquish you both, your plans will now fail."


Small balls of fire appeared, encircling the two demons. The fires began revolving around them faster and faster. Just as the two demons let out screams there was a large puff of smoke. And the demons and the balls of fire were gone.

Stuart and Kelly walked over to where the two demons had been. They looked down at the automatic rifles inside the crate.

"We'd better get these out of here before the buyers show up," Stuart said. "We can put the crate ‑" The sound of a truck's motor starting up from outside of the warehouse's open side entrance interrupted him. They rushed to the side entrance and caught a quick look of a young female in the truck's cab, the same truck they had noticed earlier. With tires screeching, she pulled the truck away from the warehouse and took off.

"There must have been a third demon who stayed near the truck to keep an eye on it," Stuart said as they watched the truck disappear around the next corner.

"I should have anticipated they would do that," Kelly said. "I let that demon, and the guns, get away."

"It's not your fault, honey," Stuart said. "You ‑ we ‑ were focused on what Phoebe told us she saw in her premonition. And she saw only two demons."

Kelly exhaled. "It still bothers me," she said.

"I know," Stuart replied. "But look at what we did accomplish. We have the rifles that had been brought in for display. And we prevented the sale of the others."

"For now," Kelly said. "But that other demon will try to sell them again."

"Come on," Stuart said, taking Kelly's hand. "Let's put the crate in the back seat of the car. You'll call Phoebe and let her know what happened. " They walked the half‑block to where they had parked the car, then drove it back to the warehouse, driving in through the side entrance.

Unbeknownst to Kelly and Stuart, five men had come into the warehouse through the front entrance while they had retrieved their car. The five men stayed in the shadows, silently watching as Kelly and Stuart loaded the crate into their car.

"What should we do about the entrances?" Kelly asked.

"We'll close the side entrance behind us," Stuart replied, "but I don't want to spend any more time here to play around with the front entrance. And it's only partially open, anyway."

They got into the car's front seats, Kelly behind the wheel, and they drove out through the open, large door. Stuart jumped out and lowered the roll‑down gate, then quickly got back into the car.

As they hadn't gone back to the front entrance, they didn't see the black car and the black full‑sized van that were parked outside of it. And they didn't see the five men quietly walk out of the warehouse, three of them getting into the black car while the other two got into the large van.

And as Kelly and Stuart were concentrating on getting away from the warehouse, they also didn't see the large van come around the corner and follow them.

They were driving in a blue car that Root had "borrowed" from the airport's long‑term parking lot. "We can't rent a car using a driver's license from the future," Root had said, which Shaw had to agree made sense.

"We'll drive by the house for a quick look, then find a place to stay for tonight," Root said.

After parking their car, Stuart and Kelly carried the crate with AK‑47s into their house for safekeeping overnight. They didn't notice the large van driving slowly down their block, then pausing outside of their home. The two men in the van stared at Kelly's car, then at the house.

The headlights of a car coming up the street from the opposite direction got the attention of the men in the van. Not wanting to be noticed, the driver pressed the gas pedal and the large van began to move away.

Shaw saw the large van coming down the street and carefully maneuvered their car around it. She and Root looked carefully around the house. Satisfied that there was no danger, they drove off.

The man's standing orders were that he not be disturbed when he was relaxing with a glass of bourbon in his hand. As he was with most everything else, he was very particular about his bourbon, drinking Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight to the exclusion of any other whiskey. But the important business deal that was supposed to take place that night had not been made. It seemed someone had interfered with it. And this phone call was important. The other party had finally answered after repeated calls one of his men had placed.

And so he made an exception.

"What did she say, Grako?" he asked one of his men.

"She wants to complete the deal, Mr. Guillory," Grako answered. The name Guillory means "will" and "powerful", which accurately described how the man felt about himself.

"At a lower price, as she is short one crate," the man said.

"Yeah," Grako said, "but not until we take care of that girl who interfered tonight."

"And who is she?" the man asked.

"She didn't know her name," Grako replied.

"Did you impress upon her that there is a deadline?" he asked. "That if I don't get these rifles from her in the next two days the window of opportunity for her will close?"

"Yeah," Grako answered, "but she said she won't make another meet until we take care of that blond bitch."

"She wants us to kill her first," the man said matter‑of‑factly.

"No...she wants to do that herself to be sure that she's really dead," Grako said. "She said to just bring her bound and gagged ‑ she emphasized the gagged part ‑ to the meet. So she'll know then that she can't hurt her. And then she'll kill that blond...bitch herself. She must have meant 'bitch' though it sounded like she said 'witch'."

"What did she say about the blonde's companion?" he asked.

"She didn't even mention him so he must not be important," Grako said.

"You know where she lives. Send two of the men to take her tomorrow night when it's dark and bring her here," the man said. "We'll 'prepare' her and set up the meet."

The man picked up his glass of bourbon. Grako understood that the conversation was over. The two men from the van who had followed her car knew where she lived. He would send them to wait for her tomorrow night when she came home and grab her.

"We have to be with them and watching them all day," Root said as they sat in the motel room.

"That may not be easy," Shaw said.

"Yes, it will," Root countered. And she explained to Shaw just how they would do it.

Kelly was working on part of the plans for the museum's upcoming shutdown at the end of the year when Alexis came into the museum office.

"Sorry I'm late," Alexis apologized. "My car was making a funny noise this morning and I had to drop it off by the mechanic. So I had to take a couple of buses from his garage to get here."

"No one's noticed," Kelly said. "Adele isn't in yet." Adele was the de Young Museum Curator.

"He said he'll try to have it ready for me to pick up after work," Alexis added. "So, how was your night? Do anything exciting with Stuart?"

"No...nothing special. We just took a little drive and picked up something we brought home," Kelly sort of lied, though technically it was true.

"Good morning," a young woman said, approaching them. "I'm Samantha Groves from ARTnews. I'm doing an article for the magazine on the de Young's plans and preparations for closing at the end of the year. I want to get a perspective from one of the curators, rather than relying on only the museum's formal press releases." She presented Kelly with press identification and a letter of introduction.

ARTnews was the premier magazine of the art world, almost one hundred years old. Samantha Groves was Root's real name. And the false identification and letter had been meticulously made up by her.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Kelly Anderson, Assistant Curator. This is my colleague, Alexis Bourné. I'll actually be working on some of the plans today."

"Then you're the person with whom I want to spend the day," Root said, smiling. She had already known that Kelly was scheduled to do that ‑ the Machine had told her. And now she could easily keep watch on Kelly, which is what she needed to do.

It was Kelly's number the Machine had given to Finch.

Shaw lifted the heavy carton of tomato juice and moved it to the storage room in the back. Then she returned to where the delivery had been left, picked up the heavy carton of lime juice and brought it to the storage room, too. Next up was the case of Absolut vodka. She gave the carton a dirty look, lifted it and brought it to the back, setting it down near the others.

Shaw took a deep breath. She was not enjoying doing this. But it was the only way. She went back to the front of the club.

"Can I get some change for the phone?" she asked.

"You're working here," Stuart replied, "so you can use the club's phone. There's one behind the bar."

"Thanks," Shaw said. She took out a paper from her pocket, looked at the phone number written on it, and dialed it.

"de Young Museum, Assistant Curator Kelly Anderson," came the voice from the other end.

"May I speak to Samantha Groves?" Shaw asked.

"One moment," Kelly said and gave the hand set to someone near her.

"Hello Sameen," Root said quietly. "How is your surveillance going?"

"Less comfortably than yours is," Shaw complained. "Why did you get a cushy, interviewing job while I'm here hauling ten ton cartons."

"Come now, Sameen, those cartons aren't that heavy," Root countered.

"They feel that way after the twelfth one filled with bottles of juice, or rum, or Glenfiddich that I've had to lift and move to the storage room in the back," Shaw replied.

"And what about our number?" Root asked.

"He's fine," Shaw said. "I kept a close eye on the delivery man and he's gone now. No one else came. There are only two other people here besides him, both young women, both regular club workers. Amazingly a third worker took the day off because he went to collect a small winning on a local lottery. So I got the temporary job carrying these deliveries and then doing the inventory on them."

"She arranged for an opening at the club for you to get in," Root said, referring to the Machine, "so don't complain. And you'll have to follow him home in a cab."

"I know," Shaw said. "Stuart Weston seems like a really nice guy. I can't figure out why his number came up and why anyone would want to kill him."

It was five‑thirty when Alexis hung up her phone, then exhaled. "That was my mechanic," she said to Kelly. "He found what's causing the noise but he can't get the part until tomorrow and that I shouldn't drive the car until it's fixed. So now I have a problem. I have two important appointments, one downtown and the other in Sausalito. I'll never make even the first one on time taking the buses. I can forget about the second one."

"Just take my car, Alexis," Kelly said, "and you'll make both of them."

"No...I can't do that," Alexis said. "Then you'll have to take a couple of buses to get home."

"I'll call my friend Phoebe Halliwell to pick me up on her way home from the P3 Club," Kelly replied. "She's covering the early evening, after Stuart leaves, while her sister Piper is away. I'm staying late tonight anyway to work on more of the plans for the museum's shutdown so I'm not in any hurry. Drop the car off by me when you're done and either Stuart or I will drive you home."

"'re such a good friend," Alexis said. "But I ‑"

"No 'buts'," Kelly interrupted her. Kelly opened her small pocketbook, pulled out her key ring and gave it to Alexis. "And just let yourself in. The back door house key is on the ring," she added, pointing to it.

"Kelly...thanks!" Alexis said, as she gave Kelly a hug.

"If you don't mind I'll stay here and keep looking over your shoulder at how you're putting together more pieces of the plans," Root said.

"Sure," Kelly replied. "You can stay here with me until I leave."

Shaw sat outside of the P3 Club in a taxi. She told the driver not to be concerned about how much the meter was running up, just to sit there until she told him to move. A minute later a car pulled out from behind the club. Shaw saw a young woman driving, with Stuart sitting next to her.

"Let's go," Shaw told her driver. "Just follow that car." The cab driver half turned around but Shaw gave him a hard look. He quickly turned back to facing frontwards and began driving.

Phoebe pulled up her maroon car to the side of Kelly and Stuart's house. Shaw let the cab ride a half block further then told the driver to stop. She gave him double what was on the meter and jumped out of the cab. A briefcase was in her hand.

Stuart's cell phone rang. Answering it, a woman's voice started speaking to him, asking about Piper, who was away, and about possibly having a private party at the club. Stuart answered the woman, who kept him on the line with her questions.

As Root, who was the caller, kept Stuart on the phone in Phoebe's car, Shaw ran back and secretively went around the house, checking the windows and doors for any forced entries. She opened her briefcase and took out a small thermal heat sensor. Aiming it at the house from different angles, she saw the readings were negative. Satisfied that no one was inside waiting for him, she went down the block, found a place with cover, and waited.

After precisely five minutes, the amount of time Root had told Shaw she would have, the caller suddenly told Stuart she would think about the party and hung up. He looked at Phoebe, shrugged his shoulders and thanked her for the lift home. He got out of the car, went inside and Phoebe drove back to the club.

It was dark when Kelly's car drove up to the side of Kelly's house. As the driver got out of the car and started walking to the house's back door, a black car suddenly pulled up, its doors flinging open. The two men ran towards the young woman and grabbed her. She screamed twice before one of the men could get a cloth over her nose and mouth. In a few seconds the chloroform rendered her unconscious and helpless in his arms.

Hearing the screams, Stuart ran out the back door towards the car. "Hey ‑ let her go!" he shouted. He grabbed a hammer that had been left by the side of the house and ran towards them. As he came closer one of the men took out his gun, aimed it at him and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Stuart in the right part of his chest and he fell to his knees.

"Take him, too," the other man said. "I'm not leaving a witness." The two men pulled Stuart and the woman to the car and pushed them into the back seat.

Hearing the screams and the shot, Shaw ran towards the house from her hiding place. As the black car pulled away, its tires screeching, Shaw wanted to shoot at it. But she had seen them put the two hostages into the back seat. Trying to shoot at the driver from behind the car would risk hitting one of the hostages. Shaw positioned herself to shoot out a tire. But a car suddenly pulled out from its parking place on the block, getting between Shaw and the escaping black car. And so she could not take her shot.

Shaw's choice of a hiding place was based upon Root, in the "borrowed" car, following Kelly in hers and covering Kelly from the side of the house. From their drive‑by of the house the night before, Shaw recognized Kelly's champagne colored car as the one just driven to the side of the house. But why wasn't Root right behind her? Where was Root?

While Shaw was berating herself for letting the kidnappers get away, a maroon car pulled up by the side of the house. The passenger door opened. And Kelly Anderson got out.

"We got her," one of the men said in the black car said into the cell phone. "Her boy friend got in the way and I shot him. I took him with us. I wasn't leaving anyone behind to ID us."

"Not a problem. He'll be eliminated once you get back here," Guillory on the other end of the call said. "And now I'll call the seller to arrange the completion of our business."

"Who are you?!" Phoebe demanded of Shaw as Root walked into the living room where they were all standing.

"Samantha? What are you doing here?" Kelly asked.

"They took Stuart and someone else," Shaw said to Root. "She was driving Kelly's car so they thought she was Kelly. And one of them was shot. I found blood in the driveway. Before they showed up I made sure the house was safe for Stuart and I was positioned to cover it from the other angle when you came. Where were you?"

"Following Kelly," Root replied. "She stayed late and Phoebe Halliwell drove her here in her car, not in Kelly's car. That was Kelly's friend Alexis who drove Kelly's car. And whom they mistakenly took."

"I will say this just one more time!" Kelly said sharply, fierce anger in her eyes. "Who are you?!"

"We're here to help you," Root said.

"Help? What do you mean 'help'? You claimed to be doing a story on the museum and spent the day there with me," Kelly said.

"And you got a temporary job at the club and were there all day," Phoebe said to Shaw. "Now explain what you're both up to!"

"I can't explain it," Root said. "You're going to have to trust us."

"Trust you?!" Kelly shouted. "My fiancé and my close friend are kidnapped and shot after both of you show up today. And under false pretenses ‑ you're not doing any story for ARTnews."

"It was the best way to stay close to you to protect you," Root said.

"And I did the same thing ‑ to be able to keep a close eye on Stuart for the same reason," Shaw said.

"Why?!" Phoebe demanded.

"Because...that's what we do," Shaw said. "And that's all we can tell you about it."

"And just why did you think that Kelly and Stuart needed protection?" Phoebe pressed them.

"She told us," Root replied.

"She? Who's she?" Phoebe asked.

"The Machine," Shaw replied with a little reluctance, knowing that answer wouldn't go over well.

"And she was right. Kelly and Stuart did need protection. And still do," Root added.

"Well you certainly didn't do a good job of protecting Stuart!" Kelly said angrily.

"I checked that the house was safe before your friend Phoebe dropped him off," Shaw said. "And had you been in your own car with Root following you ‑"

"Enough!" Kelly said. "Phoebe and I have to find Stuart and Alexis and save them. We don't have time to bother with whomever you two really are. Now get out of here!"

"Who the hell is she?" the man demanded, putting down his empty glass that had, a little while earlier, been filled with his choice bourbon. "She's not the one who was at the warehouse. She's not a blonde."

"We know her car ‑ the color, make, even the plates ‑ because we followed it last night, Mr. Guillory," one of the kidnappers said, defensively. "She's slim, too, and they're about the same height. When her car pulled up by her house and she got out of the driver's side we assumed it was her. It was dark."

Guillory exhaled. He would need a new plan to get the blonde. He thought for a moment and one began to form in his mind.

Sitting on the floor near the wall, Alexis tore away Stuart's shirt and undershirt to get to his wound. The bullet had not come out the other side; it was still in him. And he was bleeding.

Alexis quickly took off her cinnamon colored tailored blouse and rolled it up. She pressed it against the wound and applied pressure to it to stem the bleeding.

"I have First Aid training," she told him to try to ease his mind. In truth she knew that what she was doing would not be enough. If he didn't get medical attention soon he would bleed out.

"," he said with some difficulty.

"Who are these people? What do they want with us?" she asked. She couldn't keep the fear out of her voice.

"I...don't...know," he replied.

Alexis looked down at Stuart and saw the pain he was in. She took a deep breath, steadying herself to push aside her fears ‑ for his sake. Then she put her arm under him and lifted him up, placing his head against her chest's now bare, soft skin to comfort him. Stuart looked up at her, then his eyes became un‑focused and they began to close.

"Stay with me, Stuart! Stay with me!" Alexis commanded him and he half‑opened his eyes. And with her other hand she kept the pressure of her rolled up blouse against his wound.

"Give me the blonde's phone number," one of the kidnappers ordered Alexis. He had come into the storage room where Alexis and Stuart were being held.

"What? No!" Alexis replied.

"We've got a midnight appointment and she's got to be there with us. Now give it to me or I'll finish the job on your friend right now," he barked, pulling out his gun.

Alexis exhaled. "OK, OK," she said and gave him Kelly‛s phone number.

The voice on the other end of the line was being modified by a voice changer.

"The police aren't here," Kelly emphatically answered his question. "Why did you take ‑"

"And keep it that way if you want your friends to live," the voice said. "And no questions. Be at the entrance to the Daly City Golf Course in two hours." Daly City was immediately south of, and adjacent to, San Francisco. "We'll release your girl friend in exchange for you. It's wide open there and we can see if you bring in the police.

"Your boy friend is hurt but he won't be where I'll be taking you. If the police come after me they won't find him ‑ and he'll be left alone to die. And until I'm convinced you didn't bring in the police he'll stay alone. If you care about him keep the police out."

The line went dead.

Kelly put down the phone, then repeated what the voice had said to her.

Phoebe picked up Stuart's jacket that he had dropped on the sofa when he had earlier come into the house. She held it tightly and closed her eyes.

"Did you get anything, Phoebe?" Kelly asked, meaning whether Phoebe had gotten any premonition, by holding Stuart's jacket, of where he was.

"No, nothing," she admitted.

"Then I'll have to meet them," Kelly said. "At this time of night it won't take more than twenty‑five minutes to get to Daly City." She turned to Shaw and Root. "I told you two to get out of here!"

Root cocked her head to one side, as if listening to something for a few seconds.

"You're not going to be able to save them," Root said, "but Sameen and I can. I know where they're being held."

"What?! How can you know ‑" Kelly started to say.

"The one who ordered the kidnapping just called you," Root said. "She knows the phone number he used and the location where that phone is."

"She? Your machine again?" Phoebe asked.

"The calling number was blocked," Kelly added. "You couldn't know what ‑"

"There's no time for that," Shaw said. "The Machine can trace the call, blocked or not. They're giving you two hours so they can get there early and watch if any police show up. We have to go to where they are now before they leave for the golf course. We'll bring Stuart and Alexis back."

Kelly shook her head. "If you think you know where they are then we're coming with you."

"You'll just be in the way," Shaw said. "We'll have to divert our attention from rescuing them to keeping you safe."

"We can keep ourselves safe," Phoebe replied.

"These are people who kidnapped them," Root pointed out. "They're not within the realm of your powers."

Shaw gave Root a curious look while Kelly and Phoebe, taken aback by what Root said, stared at her.

"What do you know about what powers we have?" Kelly demanded.

"She told me," Root replied. "Your powers, as strong as they are, won't help you save them."

"She? The Machine?" Kelly asked. "I don't know who 'she' really is nor what this machine of yours is, either. But there is no way that I'm going to just sit home while Stuart's life is in danger. I'm going to be part of whatever you're doing to save him and Alexis. Assuming you really do know where they are."

Shaw glanced at Root. "OK ‑ you follow us in your car," Shaw said to Kelly and Phoebe. "And you stay outside and don't interfere until we have both of them. Understood?"

This was not acceptable to Kelly. But she had no idea where Stuart and Alexis were being held so she couldn‛t try to save them by herself . And the prospect of meeting the kidnappers at the golf course did not give her any confidence that by doing so she would be able to save them.

"It looks like they're our only hope," Phoebe said to Kelly.

Kelly took a deep breath. "OK ‑ we'll do it your way."

"You want to tell me what that 'power' thing was all about?" Shaw asked Root as they got into their car.

"Not now, Sameen," Root replied. "But you may see that for yourself, later," she added ambiguously.

"After we make the exchange, follow that girl we're releasing," Guillory told his men. "There's a winding road leading from the golf course. Make sure her car has an 'accident' there."

"What about the boyfriend?" one of his men asked.

"I'll hold on to him in case I need another bargaining chip. But once we have the blonde, take him somewhere he won't be found and finish him off," the man replied.

The house was somewhat large ‑ and isolated from neighboring houses. Shaw drove past it for a quick look, then continued on, turned down the next street and parked. Phoebe, with Kelly sitting next to her, did the same.

"You wait here!" Shaw quietly ordered Phoebe and Kelly as she walked past their car. Then she and Root made their way to the house, staying in the shadows. A security camera was positioned near the front door. They saw another camera on the side of the house. Staying out of the cameras' field of view, they carefully went around towards the back, where a third camera was mounted.

"Will you take the front?" Root asked.

"I thought you'd never ask," Shaw replied, with anticipation. She made her way back towards the front of the house, got into the position she wanted, aimed her gun at the camera and shot it out. In half a minute the front door cautiously opened, just enough for someone to peek outside. Not seeing anything, he opened it a drop more.

Shaw's shot hit him in the center of his chest. His body pushed the door completely open as he fell silently outside, then lay sprawled face down across the front steps. Shaw stepped past him and carefully snuck inside the house.

Root shot out the side camera, then blasted open the side door's lock. With a gun in each hand, she kicked open the door and began making her way down a hallway. A man with a gun darted out of a room ahead of her. Before he could react to seeing her, Root blasted him with her gun and he fell down. She heard the noise of a door opening behind her. Without turning around, she pointed her second gun behind her and shot the man who had just come into the hallway with his gun aimed at her. Now he, too, lay sprawled dead on the floor.

Root heard movement and running. She headed in the direction of the sounds. A shot rang out, just missing her and she quickly pulled herself behind a large breakfront. A second shot shattered the glass of the breakfront's doors. With her back against the wall, Root edged back down the hallway. She pushed open a door along the wall and went into a room.

Paintings with attached picture lights covered two of the walls. Objets d'art were scattered around the room on stands and on end tables. A double‑width bookcase, about six feet wide, stood against the wall furthest from the door. The lower third of the bookcase had a compartment behind closed wooden doors. Root hurried to the bookcase, opened its doors and threw the compartment's contents onto the floor. Except for the last item, which she flung across the room at a hand blown Tiffany Favrile Galanto Vase. The force knocked the vase off its pedestal and into the adjacent wall with a loud noise, smashing the vase into small pieces of green and blue glass.

Footsteps came running in the hallway. After a few seconds the door was slowly opened just a bit. One of the men who had kidnapped Stuart and Alexis, gun in hand, quickly came into the room in a crouching position. Using the stands and the furniture as cover, he cautiously made his way around the room. The pieces of glass from the broken vase laying on the floor confirmed for him that someone was in there with him.

He silently continued around the room, looking behind the recliner and the club chair, listening for the slightest sound of someone breathing. Then he came upon the contents of the bottom compartment of the bookcase that had been dumped on the floor. That shouldn't have been there, he thought, and something clicked in his mind. And he started to turn towards the bookcase.

The bookcase's bottom doors flew open and two guns fired at the man. Root had squeezed herself into the bookcase's bottom double‑wide compartment to hide and lie in wait. And now the gun in each of her hands was blazing. The man fell backwards, his gun firing once wildly, and landed on top of the compartment's contents. Root got out of the bookcase's compartment, stood up and headed for the door and the hallway.

Guillory, the boss who had arranged for the rifle purchase and ordered the kidnapping, knew that he was in trouble. Gun in hand, he hurried down to one of two storage rooms in the basement and unlocked the door.

Alexis, with Stuart in her arm, was sitting on the floor with her back up against the far wall. Seeing the man come in, she eased Stuart down on to the floor. Still keeping the pressure from one hand on his wound, she protectively placed herself between him and the man with the gun. Hearing footsteps coming down the stairs behind him, Guillory hurried over to them.

He pushed the gun into Alexis' side and ordered her to stand up, then grabbed Stuart and hauled him up with one hand. Keeping Stuart in front of him, he maneuvered himself behind Alexis, too. He moved the gun to her head just as Root came into the room.

"You can't get away," Root said, calmly but firmly.

"I can and I will," Guillory replied. "Put your guns down. Both of them."

"That won't help you," she calmly said.

"Do it now! Or I will kill her," he replied. "I will still have him as my getaway card. But this woman will be dead. And it will be because of you."

Root saw the terror in Alexis' eyes. "You're not killing anyone, anymore," Root said, in a calm matter‑of‑fact tone.

The man pushed the gun harder into the side of Alexis' head. "If you haven't dropped both guns by the time I count to three I will pull the trigger."

Root shook her head, then gave him her half‑crazy smile.

"One!" he shouted. Root didn't move.

"Two!" he shouted with even more emphasis. Root stood immobile.

The man took a deep breath. And a shot rang out.

There was a stunned look on Guillory's face. He stood that way for a few seconds as if frozen. Then his grip on the gun, on Alexis and on Stuart loosened. As blood spurted out from his head he fell to the floor.

With no one holding him up, Stuart also fell down. Shaking, Alexis fell to her knees, then began to hyperventilate. But when she saw Stuart lying on the floor, she caught herself and snapped back into rescue mode. She dropped down next to him, lifted him up into her arm and against her mostly bare chest again and put her hand back on to her rolled up blouse that was over the wound.

Root looked up to the small louvered vent high on the side wall that was shared with the adjacent storage room. The vent from which the shot had come. Shaw had found that adjacent room as she was checking out the house and, looking through the vent, had seen Alexis and Stuart. She was about to go to them when she saw Guillory come into the room with his gun. So she had positioned her gun in the louvers and waited.

Now she lowered herself from the chair on which she was standing, which had given her access to the vent. Her gun still in her hand, she walked out of the room and went into the room where Root and the others were.

Kelly and Phoebe rushed into the room right behind her.

"I told you to wait," Shaw said but they ignored her. Kelly dropped down by Stuart, then looked at Alexis.

"I did the best I could for him," Alexis said, still holding him to her mostly bare chest, her hand pressing against his wound. "They shot him when he tried to stop them from taking me. The bullet is still in him."

"Are you all right, Alexis?" Phoebe asked.

She nodded her head. "Concentrating on saving took my mind off of myself," she said.

"I...I'm sorry, Alexis," Kelly stammered. "I didn't ask you if you ‑"

"That's OK," Alexis replied. "I know what Stuart means to you. He has to be your first concern."

"There could still be more of them in the house," Shaw said.

"They would have shown themselves by now," Root said, "but I'll check," and left the room.

"We have to call Leo," Kelly said.

"Leo's on White Sand Island with Piper," Phoebe said. "He won't hear us. Only The Elders will hear us and then they'll look for him. And when they do they'll find out he's broken the rules by being with Piper."

"Then we have to get Stuart to a hospital right away," Kelly said.

"No hospital," Shaw said. "He has a gunshot wound. There'll be questions from the hospital, who will report it to the police who will have their own questions and will be looking into what happened here. And they can't know about us."

"You may have rescued Stuart and Alexis but I still don't know who you are," Kelly said. "And I'm certainly not going to let Stuart die regardless of what happens to you."

"He's not going to die," Shaw said clearly. "I'll take care of him. I was a doctor."

Kelly looked at the gun in Shaw's hand, then looked back at her bewildered.

"I found out that killing people was a better match for my temperament than saving people was," Shaw said. "Is there a drug store open this late? If not I'll 'open' one that's already closed."

"There's one on Van Ness," Phoebe said.

"The house is clear," Root said rejoining them. She was carrying Alexis' pocketbook that she had found in one of the rooms.

"Give me paper and a pen," Shaw said, returning her gun to her shoulder holster, "and I'll give you a list of what to get."

"I'm not risking Stuart's life by putting it in your hands," Kelly insisted.

"You're risking his life by wasting time arguing with me!" Shaw said emphatically.

"Sameen really can do this," Root said in a soothing voice. "Trust her."

"Open my pocketbook and you'll find pen and paper," Alexis said. Root opened it, fished around inside and took out a small pad and a pen. Shaw took them from her and quickly wrote the list of supplies needed.

"The one thing you can't get off the shelf is an anaesthetic, which he'll need while I work on him," Shaw said.

"They used some kind of chloroform on me when they grabbed me so there must be more of it around here," Alexis said.

"I'll look for it," Shaw said, tearing the page off the pad and offering it to Kelly. "Get these now and meet us back at your house."

"I'm not leaving Stuart ‑ and Alexis," Kelly said. "I'm going with them."

"Give it to me ‑ I'll get them," Phoebe said, taking the list from Shaw.

Kelly took hold of Stuart and supporting him helped him up, her hand taking over from Alexis to press against the wound. Alexis started to stand up. But not having to focus on saving Stuart, the whole situation suddenly hit her and she started to wobble. Shaw removed her black jacket and draped it around Alexis' bare shoulders. Root put her arm under Alexis, steadied her and helped her walk as Shaw went to find the chloroform.

It was a about an hour and a half later when Shaw washed her hands in the sink, the stitching completed. The bullet she had extracted from Stuart lay on a tray in the bedroom.

"He's out of danger and just needs rest now," Shaw said. "If he needs anything tomorrow you can bring him to the hospital ‑ there's no trace of a bullet having caused his wound ‑ but I don't believe that will be necessary."

"Thank you, for saving him," Kelly said.

"You're welcome," Shaw answered in a dispassionate tone.

"Now that Stuart is safe I'm going to look in on Alexis," Kelly said. She walked out of the room and went into her guest bedroom. Returning home from Guillory's house, Kelly had insisted that Alexis was in no condition to be home alone and would stay with her in her guest room. She had given Alexis five cordials of Herman Jansen Blue Curacao liqueur to calm her ‑ Alexis preferred liqueurs to whiskey ‑ and then let her lie down and rest.

Alexis was still lying on the bed, her eyes open, but when she saw Kelly come in she sat up.

"Is Stuart OK?" she asked.

"Yes, thanks to Shaw's surgery," Kelly replied. "She really does have surgical skills." Kelly came over to the bed and sat down next to Alexis.

"And thanks to you," she added. "You saved him, too. If not for what you did for him in that basement he...wouldn't have made it. I...with Stuart being in danger I...didn't thank you."

"Oh, don't worry about that," Alexis assured her. "You're mind was on Stuart, as it should have been. You're my good friend and he's your fiancé so of course I would do everything I could for him."

Kelly put her arms around Alexis and hugged her. "Thank you."

"Now that Stuart's out of danger," Alexis said after Kelly released her hug, "we can talk about happened. What was this all about? I know they thought that I was you. But why did they want you? How do you fit into...whatever this was?"

Kelly hesitated for about ten seconds then took a deep breath. "I know this is not an answer but it's not something I can...just explain to you."

"I was kidnapped and almost killed tonight," Alexis said. "I deserve to know what's going on."

"You do deserve to know," Kelly said, then exhaled. "But I know that if I tell you what it'll wish I hadn't."

"I'm your friend, Kelly. You can trust me with whatever your...secret is," Alexis said.

"I know I can trust you," Kelly replied. "But once I tell you my...secret, you're going to regret my giving you the burden of keeping it."

Alexis stared at Kelly for a moment. Then she exhaled and stood up. She turned around and began walking to the bedroom door. Kelly knew that Alexis was hurt. And that hurt could lead to undermining their friendship.

"I fight evil," Kelly called after her. Alexis stopped and slowly turned around to face her.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"It means that I fight evil in whatever guise, in whatever form it takes," Kelly answered.

Alexis thought for a moment. "So that's why you were involved with those art thefts right after you started at de Young...and why you were suddenly posing as a Coast Guard officer two weeks ago. And that's why you're involved in whatever happened tonight. This is what you meant when you told me that you weren't just a museum curator." She took a deep breath.

"You're a spook," Alexis said, as realization came to her. "For which agency...CIA, NSA, FBI?"

"I don't work for the government," Kelly said.

"Then who do you work for?" Alexis asked.

"I don't work for anyone," Kelly replied.

"Then...why are you doing this?" Alexis asked her.

"'s my responsibility," Kelly answered. "It's my responsibility to fight evil, and to save and protect innocents."

"I don't understand," Alexis said. She saw the hesitation on Kelly's face. "That's OK, Kelly. You don't have to say any more. Everything that happened won't change your being my friend. My good friend. When you'll be ready you'll tell me. And I will be ready to share ‑ and to keep ‑ your secret."

"I still want to know who you both are," Kelly said as she rejoined the others in the kitchen. "And why you're here. And what your 'machine' is."

"As we said, we were just here to protect and save both of you," Shaw replied. "And now that we've done that we'll be leaving. We have a plane to catch."

"Maybe not," Root said.

"What? Why?!" Shaw said.

"What are you going to do about the rest of the AK‑47s that the seller still has?" Root asked.

"We're going to find them and take them ‑ and put the seller out of business," Phoebe said. "Otherwise they'll be sold to a different buyer and still cause many deaths."

"That's what she thought you would say," Root said. "And that's why we're staying. She says Stuart is safe now but you're still in danger, Kelly. And now Phoebe is in danger, too."

"She? The Machine, again?" Kelly asked. "We know that the seller is a de‑...uh, someone we can handle ourselves."

"Things are not always as they appear to you to be," Root said ambiguously "You both still need us."

Shaw exhaled. "And how are we going to stop this sale?" she asked.

"First we have to know where and when the seller will have the rifles," Root replied. "And then we have to provide a different buyer."

"The man who made me give him your phone number said they had a midnight meeting and they needed Kelly there with them," Alexis said. "But how did I fit into that?"

"They wanted to exchange you for Kelly," Phoebe said. "Because...Kelly broke up their sale last night. And they didn't want her doing it again. Which means the sale is back on for tonight."

Shaw thought over what Phoebe had said. "If that's all they wanted the kidnappers could have just killed Kelly after they exchanged Alexis for her," she said. "But he told Alexis that Kelly had to be there ‑ at the midnight meeting. Which means that Kelly was to be part of the sale and turning her over to the buyer was a condition. But why not just kill her first and bring her body as proof?"

"There's another element involved here," Phoebe said. "Possibly personal revenge."

"We know the time they set but we still need to know where the sale will be tonight," Shaw pointed out. "When they spoke to set the time they probably chose a new place, just to be safe."

"We have the crate we took last night," Kelly said. "It was part of the sale that got left behind when we...broke it up. We were going to leave it anonymously somewhere for the police to find but we didn't have time to do that. See if you can get anything from it, Phoebe. It's behind the sofa."

"What does that mean?" Shaw asked.

"I told you that you'd get to see the powers they have," Root replied.

They all went into the living room. Phoebe moved out the sofa and removed the blanket that was covering the crate. She knelt down and put both hands on the crate. Shaking her head, she opened the crate and took out one of the rifles.

"Uh!" she drew in her breath and tightly closed her eyes. No one said anything and after about ten seconds Phoebe opened her eyes.

"I saw it. It's not the same place where they were last night but I recognized the location. It's the warehouse at the other end of Potrero Avenue, the one where I waited last night," Phoebe said. "And Kelly...your hands were tied and a gag was in your mouth. And the dem...uh, the seller was pointing her hand at you. You are part of the deal. You're part of the price."

" can you...?" Alexis started to ask.

"There isn't time for that," Kelly said to her. " me. Please!"

Alexis looked into Kelly's eyes, then reluctantly nodded her head, agreeing to what Kelly had asked of her.

"And while we're out ‑ please keep an eye on Stuart," Kelly said. "I know it may not be fair to ask of you. But I know that I can trust him in your hands."

Alexis nodded her head again. "Of course you can trust me to take care of Stuart." She took a deep breath and looking around, saw the determination, anticipation and tenseness on their faces. "Now get out of here and do whatever it is that you have to do," she exhorted them.


Phoebe slowly walked into the warehouse. She was leading Kelly, whose hands were tied behind her back, a gag over her mouth. In Phoebe's left hand was a briefcase she had found in Guillory's house.

"I'm here," Phoebe called out, her voice echoing in the large warehouse. "Let's get our business done."

"Who are you?" a female voice called out, the caller hidden somewhere. "You're not Guillory."

"Guillory is no longer making this deal," Phoebe called out in reply. "In fact, he's no longer making anything. We had a management change tonight. I was Guillory's...associate. But I decided it was time to move up." Phoebe paused for a moment to let that point sink in.

"As of tonight, I've taken over all of his business ‑ including this one," Phoebe continued. "I have his money ‑ now my money ‑ and I have the girl. I understood from Guillory ‑ at least while he was still around to say anything ‑ that she was a problem last time. Guillory had her all wrapped up and ready to be delivered. So come out and take delivery."

There was silence in the warehouse. Then there was a sound of footsteps slowly approaching. A female who looked to be in her early twenties appeared. She stopped a few feet from Kelly, looking her over.

"I will take such pleasure in killing you, witch," she said, smiling as she saw how helpless Kelly appeared to be, gagged and tied. "After what you did to Vanna and Zoe last night I will make this very slow and painful. You will suffer ‑"

"She's yours to do with as you want," Phoebe interrupted her, "but after we conclude our business." She lifted the briefcase and opened it, showing her the money inside it. "Now the rifles. And then you can have all the fun with her you want ‑ once we're gone. And I'll need your truck to take them. Guillory's van had...a little 'accident'."

The demon looked at the money and nodded her head. Phoebe closed the briefcase and handed it to her.

"The truck with the rifles is on the other side of the warehouse," the demon said. She put her hand in her pocket and pulled out a key ring. She removed a key from the ring and was about to hand it to Phoebe when a voice called out from behind her.

"Not so fast," the voice said. They heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the warehouse and then someone came into view. A woman in her late twenties, about five foot six, wearing a tailored black jacket, over a pale yellow blouse, tailored heather gray pants and black penny loafers. Her black hair permed, she stood with an air of confidence and superiority about her.

"Hello cousin," she said.

Phoebe gasped. "Tara!" she exclaimed in surprise.

"It's been what...almost three months since we last got together?" Tara asked. " changed your hair, Phoebe. You're a blonde, now. When Bree told me a blonde witch had caused trouble, I didn't think of you."

"It wasn't her," the demon Bree interjected and pointed at Kelly. "It was the other one." Kelly pulled her hands from behind her back, which had only been made to appear to be tied, then removed the gag from her mouth.

"Ah...your very young witch‑in‑training," Tara said, looking at Kelly and how young she appeared to be. Though Kelly had matured in her witch skills in the two years she had spent in the other reality where the demons had sent her, her age there reaching twenty‑three, upon returning from there her age in this reality was still only a younger twenty-one. And she looked it. "You must have written out the spell for her, cousin. She's obviously too much a junior to have come up with it herself."

Kelly bristled at Tara's "put down". But she quickly realized that it was to her advantage to let Tara underestimate her abilities. "I know who you are," is all Kelly replied.

"I'm famous!" Tara said with feigned delight.

"Infamous!" Kelly corrected her.

"Ah...if only fame was a commodity. Then I wouldn't need this money," Tara said.

"So you've been behind," Phoebe said.

"And the deal before this one," Tara replied. "Three dozen AK‑47s, which are now in...some revolutionary group's hands, I imagine. You missed that one, cousin. Your powers are getting a bit rusty.

"Hmm...I'm curious. How did you get Guillory out of the picture and get his money?"

"I have my ways," Phoebe replied. "I'm not as rusty as you think."

"No matter," Tara said, taking the briefcase from Bree. "I have his money. Now I can re‑sell the rifles to someone else and get paid again. Thanks, cousin!"

"Why?" Phoebe asked. "Why are you doing this? And why are demons fronting for you?"

"For the money, of course," Tara answered. "Isn't that obvious? These young demons don't have the ‑ shall we say 'experience' ‑ to put together deals like this. So they need me to do that for them. In turn, they handle the actual transaction. Bree gets one third ‑ which she would have shared with Zoe and Vanna had they not been so unfortunately vanquished ‑ which she will use to appear like a normal person as a cover for her...uh, activities. And I need the rest to live on. And to be able to barter for powers ‑ and to play and win them at palorak."

"Prue told me that you have quite a reputation as a palorak player," Phoebe noted, referring to a game of chance favored by demons and warlocks. Prue had learned that when she had posed as a demon to get information she needed from a demon named Kameron. "I'm surprised anyone will let you into a game where you could win."

"I don't use my name when I play...I use Prue's," Tara said and laughed. "And where is cousin Prue?" she asked, becoming serious. "Last time we were together she wanted to vanquish me."

"With good reason," Phoebe replied. "You brought evil here across time from the past to do your bidding. Then you stole our powers, stole our memory of who we are, even stole our home."

"The Halliwell Manor," Tara said, her mind going back to a few months earlier. "Yes...I enjoyed living there and really wanted to stay there. A lovely, normal house ‑ that should have been mine!

" left out my stealing Stuart from you. I would have savored that. I had him in my grip and just needed to reel him in. I'm suprised he's not here with you tonight, Phoebe. He is still with you, isn't he?"

"He's with me now, if you must know," Kelly said, not able to keep a hint of happiness out of her voice.

"With you? My, my, my...the student bests the teacher," Tara said with a little admiration ‑ and glee. "That must have left you, cousin, feeling a bit embarrassed ‑ and impotent."

"You're evil, Tara," Phoebe said. "You deserve to be vanquished."

"You can't vanquish people with spells," Tara said. "That is, until great‑great‑great ‑ hmm...I've lost track of how many 'greats' she goes back ‑ grandmother Melinda Warren wrote a spell in the Book of Shadows to use just on me. It focuses on the one part of me ‑ of us ‑ that is not a 'normal' person. Our witch powers. Neither Prue, nor anyone else, could have come up with that precise a spell to use on a witch."

"Tara, you didn't have to be like this. You could have ‑" Phoebe started to say.

"Could have what?! she demanded. "When great‑grandmother Mercy was passed over, when she was deemed unfit to receive the powers of the 'high and mighty' Warren/Halliwell lineage, and had to fend for herself with scraps of powers wherever she could find them. And grandmother Teige and my mother Tracey lived the same way. Always just getting by with second‑rate powers to survive.

"I want better for myself, dear cousin. I want to live more in the way that you and your sisters do. I want powers that I can use to get anything I want, in any way that I want. And for that I need money. Lots of money."

"You could have gotten a job, the way ‑" Phoebe began.

"The way plain mortals ‑ ordinary people ‑ live?" Tara mocked. "With their mundane jobs and their mundane lives? No, cousin. I‛m not one of them. I‛m a witch and I‛m going to live like one. A powerful one."

Tara hefted the briefcase, then took a quick peek inside it.

"Not quite as much as the original price because your junior witch here took a crate last night," Tara said. "I'll be sure to stop by and pick that up afterwards."

"There's not going to be an 'afterwards' for you, Tara," Phoebe said firmly, staring her in her eyes.

"Oh no! Are you going vanquish me here?" Tara asked, affecting fear in her voice. "You don't even know the spell without having the Book of Shadows in front of you," she taunted Phoebe. And, in fact, she was right. While Prue might have remembered the spell, Phoebe had never even seen it.

"But she...they can still vanquish me," Bree said, with genuine fear.

"No...they can't," Tara said with assurance as she pulled out something from her jacket pocket. It was tubular shaped, about six inches long and blue‑white in color. She quickly pointed it at Kelly and Phoebe.

What looked like snowflakes began suddenly and quickly falling on Kelly and Phoebe, encompassing the place where they stood. Kelly tried to say something but found that she couldn't speak.

"Ah...just something I won at palorak ‑ I did sort of cheat that time if you must know the truth. It's a handy little thing with the power to freeze whomever I am pointing it at," Tara said. "Not the way your sister Piper freezes demons and people. This 'snow' really does freeze you, in the literal sense and it will turn you both into icicles.

"So this is goodbye, cousin. But, knowing what you would do to me if you could, it's your own doing that brought this upon you."

Bree relaxed as she saw Phoebe try to move her hand but it wouldn't respond. Then Bree smiled as she saw Kelly shivering. The young witch felt colder than she'd ever been and her face was turning a blue‑white icy color.

"In another minute it will be over for both of them and we can go," Tara told the young demon.

And then a shot rang out.

The bullet smashed the blue‑white tube in Tara's hand, splintering it to pieces. With the freezing tube gone and no longer being pointed at Phoebe and Kelly, the snow over their heads disappeared. In a few seconds they felt themselves warmed up and unfrozen, moving their bodies freely in confirmation.

Startled by the gunshot, Tara turned. Then she dove and dropped down to the floor just as a second shot rang out, hitting her on her side below her armpit. Blood spurting out, she managed to roll behind a low wall that jutted out into the mostly open warehouse space.

Seeing what had just happened, Bree panicked. She starting running to where she had left the truck, what she would use to escape. But Kelly was right behind her, starting to say the spell as she ran after her.

Bree reached the truck then stopped short. Root was sitting in the truck's cab with the motor running, having pulled out the ignition wires and started the engine without needing the key. She gave Bree her half‑crazy smile, then shifted the gear into reverse, quickly backing the truck out of the demon's reach.

Stranded, Bree turned around to look for another way out but instead saw Kelly just a few feet from her. Bree raised her hand, hoping she could send an energy bolt at Kelly, whom Tara had said was a mere witch‑in‑training. But the young witch was finishing the last line of the spell, which she had changed on the fly as she was running, from the original plural to now vanquish just a single demon.

Small balls of fire appeared, encircling Bree. The demon sent an energy bolt from her hand but she was already screaming in agony and her aim was way off, the bolt hitting the warehouse wall. Her screaming continued for a few seconds more until in a puff of smoke she and the balls of fire were gone.

"So much for my being just a junior witch‑in‑training," Kelly said in vindication.

Phoebe knelt down next to Tara, who lay on the warehouse floor. Blood was coming from Tara's side, soaking her pale yellow blouse and changing its color.

"Who...shot...?" she tried to ask.

"A friend...who came to protect and help us," Phoebe replied.

"Friend..." Tara repeated. "I don't...have any," she added, jealousy ‑ and sadness ‑ in her voice. "I'm...I'm not...through yet...cousin," she said with difficulty.

"I'm afraid you...are, Tara," Phoebe said. Despite how evil she knew Tara was, she was still family. At least, within the Charmed Role Reversal modified world she was. And Phoebe, despite herself, felt something for her "cousin" as she lay dying.

With difficulty, Tara used her hand to reach into her pocket and pull out a small piece of paper. As she unfolded it, Phoebe saw that it looked like an old‑time train ticket. There was a place for a return destination but Tara's hand was on it and Phoebe couldn't see what the destination was.

"I bought a...round‑trip ticket," Tara said, barely audibly. "I'm not going to...die here. I can still..." She squeezed the ticket with whatever strength she could still muster. Her image slowly began to fade until she disappeared.

Phoebe heard footsteps running across the warehouse. She stood up and saw Shaw approaching her, a rifle in her hands.

"The other shot was aimed at her heart but she moved at the last second," Shaw said defensively, then shook her head. "I saw...and I heard...but I don't..." She left the end of the sentence hanging.

The approach of the truck, with Kelly walking in front of it, got their attention. Root stuck her head out of the cab's open window.

"I'll drive this to Kelly's house," she said. "You can turn it over to the police tomorrow with an appropriate cover story. You have experience in making those up to the police to cover things that you do, Phoebe."

The truck and the cars now all parked in her driveway, Kelly hurried in to check on Stuart and Alexis. Phoebe, Shaw and Root went into the living room.

"You still haven't explained where you're from nor what this machine of yours is," Phoebe said. "Nor how it communicates with you. It's time that you did."

"We're from New York," Root said. "And the machine isn't ours. She's very special and intelligent. She just tells me things."

"Tells in talks to you?" Phoebe asked.

Root half‑smiled. "I'm fortunate that she chose me for that."

"And the machine 'talks' to you, too?" Phoebe asked Shaw.

"No." She hesitated, glanced briefly at Root, then continued. "We get numbers that are associated with people."

"We?" Phoebe asked.

"," Shaw replied.

"And how does your machine know what's going to happen?" Phoebe asked.

"She was designed to predict that," Root replied.

"Predict," Phoebe repeated. "By whom? Who is such an expert who could build this kind of a machine?"

"Our associate Harold Finch," Shaw replied. "He's more than just an expert in artificial intelligence. He designed something unique."

"I would think you'd be working for the government," Phoebe said. "A machine with this level of artificial intelligence is something I'm sure they would very much want for themselves."

"The government...does want it," Shaw answered. "And us, too. Which is why we work in the shadows. We have a very different view of the importance of each individual number ‑ of each person ‑ that the machine tells us is in danger and what to do about them, than the view the government has."

"And you ‑ and your associates ‑ do this just to help people you think ‑ uh, the people whose numbers the machine tells you ‑ need help?" Phoebe asked.

"We all help and protect them," Root replied. "Something like what you do to help innocents."

Phoebe paused. "You seem to know a lot about me," she said. "Well, I also know something about you. You said where you're from ‑ but not when you're from."

Shaw looked at Phoebe uneasily.

"You gave me a list of items to get for you at the drug store so you could remove the bullet and save Stuart," Phoebe continued. "One of those items doesn't exist. At least it doesn't exist yet. The pharmacist said its approval by the FDA is still about three years away. He gave me a current 'substitute' for it ‑ then asked me how I even knew about it, let alone why I expected to able to buy it.

"The that you have used it. After it was approved and became available. Which tells me that when you're both not the present."

Shaw stared at Phoebe but didn't say anything. Root tilted her head as if listening to something being said to her.

"She says that not everything about who we are and where we're from neither should be nor needs to be told," Root said, with a half‑smile. "Just as not everything about who you are ‑ and where you're from, should be told either."

Phoebe stared at Root, who, with her half‑smile, stared right back at her. She can't mean about my being Alyssa Milano, about my really being an actress from Hollywood, Phoebe thought. There isn't any way in this Charmed‑modified world that she could know about the real me...and about Charmed.

Phoebe exhaled. Or can their machine somehow know that? Phoebe did not want to accept that to be true. Yet after thinking of what she had seen them do with information the machine "gave" them, she had to accept that it was at least a possibility.


Shaw took a deep breath as she looked Root squarely in her eyes as they sat in their "borrowed' car, about to go back to their motel.

"Witches? Demons? This is not...real world," Shaw said. "I just don't understand it."

"Just because you don't know or understand everything that's around you," Root replied, "doesn't mean that it's not there. She knows a lot more than Harold ever expected her to know."

"I don't know if Finch will believe all of this," Shaw said. "I don't know if I believe all of this."

"You've seen it Sameen. Now you know that she was right and it all does exist," Root said.

"Including the time portal," Shaw said, then exhaled. "But why was it so important for the Machine to send us back here to save them?"

"There is evil that they have to prevent from happening," Root replied, "evil that would have terrible repercussions all the way up to our time. Now they'll be stopped."

"OK ‑ I suppose I can understand Kelly‛s number coming up first. But Stuart isn't even a...he doesn't have any 'powers' to use," Shaw said.

"He does have them indirectly," Root replied. "She told me that he was instrumental in many of their past successes. There are ways someone can be a part of preventing evil without his directly having special powers. Just by being willing to fight the evil ‑ and by just being himself."

It was eight‑thirty the next morning when, after returning their "borrowed" car to the airport's long‑term parking lot, Shaw and Root walked into the terminal. Shaw gave a long look at the newsstand, where two days earlier she had bought the candy and confirmed her travel back through time, as they passed it going to the "portal's" door. Root opened it and they walked through the doorway, Shaw again seeing everything blurry for a few seconds.

Back in the long, empty corridor, they walked down to the main part of the terminal.

"I have to see when we can get on a flight," Shaw said.

"Just you, Sameen," Root said. "I have another place she wants me to go to before I come back to New York. But don't worry. You'll get on the flight." Root gave Shaw her half‑crazy smile, then walked away.

Shaw looked after her for a few seconds, then shrugged her shoulders and headed towards the ticket counter. Passing a small newsstand, she stopped and picked up a newspaper and checked the date. She was indeed back in 2014.

There were a lot of people on line to get to the check‑in counter and Shaw held out little hope of getting on a flight before late afternoon, if then. When she reached the counter, she handed her open return ticket to the agent.

"I didn't have a chance to make a return reservation. Is there anything available before late today, Peggy?" Shaw asked, calling the agent by the name on her name tag.

The agent looked at her monitor for a moment. "You do have a reservation, Ms. Shaw," Peggy replied. "In fact, you've been upgraded to First Class." There was a hint of astonishment in Peggy's voice but she quickly recovered and gave Shaw a warm smile. "The flight leaves at 10:35 so you have enough time to make it."

Peggy checked in Shaw's luggage and gave her the requisite documents. Shaw looked at her boarding pass with some amazement. The machine had manipulated the airline's reservation system and taken care of her flight and her upgraded seat.

"Thank you," she said. Well, I may as well enjoy this flight, she thought.

And she did.

"Welcome back, Ms. Shaw," Finch said as she came into his living room.

"How did it go?" Reese, who was also there, asked.

"It went...well," Shaw replied.

"You found the numbers?" Reese asked.

"Yes. And we saved them," Shaw said.

"We?" Finch asked.

"Root was there," Shaw answered. She saw the looks of concern on Finch's and Reese's faces. "She was a big help," Shaw quickly added.

"The machine sent Ms. Groves, too?" Finch said though it was more of a statement than a question.

Shaw nodded her head in agreement.

"I tried contacting you all day yesterday, without success," Finch noted.

"I was...out of range," Shaw acknowledged ambiguously.

"All of the records for the two numbers are there now," Finch told her. "All their information as of this morning. And the machine is no longer saying that they are in danger. Just what did you do there, Ms. Shaw?"

On the plane flying back, Shaw had thought of how to explain it all to Finch and Reese. She considered a few scenarios but rejected them all as implausible. There was always the truth, of course. But she knew Reese wouldn't accept that time travel could happen. And Finch would find it inconceivable that the Machine that he designed could evolve to such a degree beyond the parameters that he had programmed for it.

"Not everything that was done needs to be, nor should be, explained," Shaw said.

"I don't understand you, Ms. Shaw," Finch said. "I need to understand what went on. I need to understand why the Machine sent us after them."

"I'm quoting ‑ more or less ‑ from the Machine," Shaw said. "Through Root." She saw the combination of astonished and confounded looks on their faces.

"And I agree. What we did and how we did it isn't significant," Shaw continued, though in truth what the Machine was now capable of doing was very significant. "The important thing is that we saved the numbers that the Machine gave us.

"And we'll leave it at that," she added with a tone of finality. Finch was going to say something but hesitated. Seeing the look on Shaw's face, he took a deep breath and said nothing back to her.

"What happened to Barkley?" Shaw asked, taking advantage of the momentary quiet to change the subject. Barkley was the number that Reese had been with at the restaurant and whom he had been trying to protect.

"The man in the blue jacket who was watching Barkley followed him from the restaurant," Reese began, "so I was able to follow both of them for a while. 'Blue jacket' was getting closer to Barkley when he came to a store front. A bunch of people came outside to greet Barkley, along with a few photographers and a TV camera. When 'blue jacket' saw them he quickly turned away, then ran to a bus that was about to close its doors. He just made it on and the bus pulled away before I could get on, too.

"I learned that Barkley will be heading up a new privately funded social program to help the community. It's a major undertaking and will do a lot of good if it's successful."

"Last night Barkley attended a fund‑raising event for his program. It ended very late and he hung around even later having private discussions with some of the donors. That's when I saw 'blue jacket'. I called Lionel, woke him up and he came down to the hotel where the event was held.

"When Barkley finally left the hotel, he went out a side entrance. Lionel was outside waiting for him. 'Blue jacket' followed Barkley outside and I was closing the distance behind him. 'Blue jacket' suddenly raised his arm and aimed his hand at Barkley. 'Gun' Lionel shouted as he dove at Barkley and they both fell to the ground. But there wasn't any shot and I didn't see any gun. I just saw what looked like a stream of light going from 'blue jacket's' hand to where Barkley had been. It must have been some kind of laser, though I don't know why he would use that.

"Hearing Lionel's shout, 'blue jacket' turned and ran down an alley around the corner from the side entrance. Lionel got up and we both chased after 'blue jacket'. We were less than five seconds behind him but when we reached the alley he wasn't there. There was a high wall with barbed wire at the alley's end. There was only one door in the alley and it was padlocked from the outside. There was nowhere that 'blue jacket' could have gone. But he wasn't there. And there was no trace of him. It was as if he hadn't even been there."

Shaw recognized the 'laser beam' Reese saw for what it really was. Something that a demon uses to kill. Something she had seen the demon Bree try to use in the warehouse to kill Kelly.

Shaw calculated backwards the time difference in hours from when this had happened. It was right after Stuart, and then Kelly, had been saved. And she remembered what Root had told her ‑ that there is evil they have to prevent from happening that would have terrible repercussions all the way up to our time. Now they'll be stopped. This demon ‑ she found herself actually thinking that word ‑ must be someone Kelly and Stuart stopped, before he could kill anyone in 2014.

"Evil will always try to stop good that someone, like Barkley, wants to do," she said. Finch and Reese looked at her bewildered. Oh my ‑ I'm starting to sound like Root, Kelly and Phoebe.

She mulled that over for a moment. Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all, she thought.

Kelly had gotten only a couple of hours of sleep. But those hours had been spent lying in bed with Stuart, comforted by just feeling him next to her. Her arm lightly around him reassured her, giving her the feeling that she was protecting him and that he was safe.

When she woke up, the early morning light made everything seem fresh and good. Stuart was safe and would heal and be all right. But last night had been very different. It had been a close call. She had come so very close to losing him.

But she hadn't lost him. A woman she hadn't known before yesterday had saved his life. And so had a woman she had known before yesterday. Someone who had become her good friend over the past two months and who had not only kept Stuart alive but had, as Shaw told her she had seen through the vent, selflessly put herself between Guillory and Stuart to shield and protect him.

Kelly leaned over and very gently put a kiss on Stuart's head, being careful not to wake him. She quietly got out of bed, slipped a robe on over her naked body, and left their bedroom. She went to the guest bedroom and very lightly tapped on the door.

"Come in," came the response. Kelly opened the door and came into the room. Alexis, still in bed, sat up. Kelly walked over to her and sat down on the bed next to her.

"How are you feeling?" Kelly asked.

"Better," Alexis replied.

Kelly looked into the eyes of her dear friend. She had saved Stuart's life, thinking nothing of herself as she did. She would now trust her friend with her own life.

"Are you up to talking before breakfast?" she asked.

"Sure," Alexis replied.

Kelly took a deep breath. "Let me tell you a story...a true story," Kelly began. "Once upon a time there was a young girl, whose parents had moved to San Francisco from Brooklyn. She grew up as any normal girl, the only difference from her friends that she knew of was that her father had instilled in her his love for the Brooklyn Dodgers of his youth.

"But then something happened and the girl learned that she was different from her friends in a much greater way. She learned that she had special powers. And with those powers came a great responsibility to protect innocents from evil. Not the evil people in the world but a very different kind of evil, an evil of..."

~ Author's Notes ~

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