"You can't be serious, Finch," said Shaw incredulously.
"I'm afraid that I am, Miss Shaw. If Mr. Reese weren't currently away on another mission, I would have recruited him to help you with this number. But, seeing as you and Miss Groves are available, it only made sense for you two to handle this mission together, " said Harold in his usual dull manner of speaking, though there was a glint in his eyes that made Shaw want to shoot something…or someone.
"There has to be a different cover I can use, Finch," Shaw reasoned desperately, the frown on her face deepening at Harold's steely resolve.
"I'm sorry, Miss Shaw, but this is the best that I can do," said Harold, not sounding sorry at all. "Here are the keys to your temporary apartment. Detective Fusco has stocked the place with groceries, toiletries, clothes, weapons and whatever else you and Miss Groves may need."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Shaw accused, shaking her head in irritation as she snatched the offered keys from his grasp. Judging by the slight twinkle in his eyes and the slight upturn of his lips, it was obvious that Finch was getting a kick out of her miserable state. She could only imagine how much John was going to tease her when he got back and caught wind of her current situation. "Not cool, Harold."
"I am doing no such thing, Miss Shaw. Perhaps you should spend more time focusing on your mission and less time complaining about your cover," said Finch, turning his back to Shaw and facing toward his computer screens.
Shaw knew a dismissal when she saw one.
Releasing an irritated huff, Shaw turned on her heels and walked out of the abandoned subway station, making her way onto the busy streets of New York City.
Shaw parked in her 'new' apartment building's underground parking garage, eyeing the endless rows of expensive, foreign cars parked nearby, and quickly concluded that she was in the wealthy part of town. Of course, the lavish, well-kept building, complete with a well-dressed doorman and several valet attendants waiting out front, had already given that much away.
Leave it to Harold to dump her in the middle of the suburbs, surrounded by snotty, rich people, and not one good barbeque joint within a ten mile radius. She could only hope that Lionel stocked the fridge with beer and a lot of red meat.
As Shaw made her way up to her apartment – Apartment 201 – she took the time to assess her surroundings. So far, she'd seen about two dozen men donning polo shirts and Bermuda shorts, and did her best to hide her disgust at their wardrobe choices. It was like walking into the Twilight Zone; a Twilight Zone filled with terribly dressed wealthy people.
"You couldn't have picked a better location, Finch?" Shaw grunted lowly, forcibly smiling – more like grimacing – at a couple passing by.
"Miss Shaw, I take it you've made it to your location safely?" said Finch over their communications.
"You would know, Finch. I'm sure you're tracking my location as we speak," said Shaw with a roll of her eyes, stopping before Apartment 201 with the keys Finch handed her in her grasp. She frowned at the door, reluctant to see what's on the other side, and stood there, unmoving. "Is there any way I can get out of this?"
"I think you already know the answer to that, Sameen," said a new voice through the comm., their tone flirty and sweet, and belonging to the one person Shaw was wary of seeing.
"And how have you settled in, Miss Groves?" Harold asked, ignoring Shaw's previous question.
"I've settled in just fine, Harry. The case worker should be arriving in an hour so, Sameen, it'd be great if you came in. I'm sure staring at the door isn't that interesting," said Root mockingly, causing a few mumbled expletives to pass through Shaw's lips.
"Are you really going to make me suffer through this, Harold?" Shaw asked through gritted teeth, uncaring of whether or not Root was still listening in.
"I'm afraid my hands are tied, Miss Shaw. You and Miss Groves are going to have to learn to get along if you want this mission to be successful. You have less than an hour to put aside your differences. Good luck."
With that, Harold signed off, leaving Shaw alone in unnerving silence. She could feel eyes watching her, and she knew that those eyes belonged to Root. It was with a heavy sigh that Shaw pushed her key into the lock and opened the door to her apartment.
She wasn't surprised when she came face-to-face with a smirking Root, nor was she surprised when she caught sight of several ugly paintings adorning the walls of the spacious apartment. As she walked further into her temporary home – ignoring Root's presence – she took notice of the pricey looking furniture, all made of glass or marble, and the flawless photoshopped pictures of her and Root. It was scary how real those pictures looked, but what was even scarier was the fact that Harold obviously decorated the place.
"Do you like our new home, sweetie?" said Root flirtatiously, her lips ghosting over Shaw's ear.
Shaw rolled her eyes and turned to face Root, a scowl forming on her face as her nose brushed against Root's chin. If there was one thing Shaw disliked about Root, it was her disregard of Shaw's personal space. The woman had no boundaries and Shaw was all about boundaries.
"Don't push me, Root."
"Why, Sameen, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were unhappy to see me," said Root, clutching her chest in mock hurt.
"Well, lucky for us, you do know better."
"There's no need to be a sourpuss, Sam."
"Whatever," said Shaw, rolling her eyes and walking into the surprisingly large kitchen as a way to distance herself from her overly perky partner.
She busied herself with looking through the cabinets to see that they were, indeed, filled to the brim. They held everything from Oreos to tomato paste. She felt, more than heard, Root enter the kitchen, the woman's presence overwhelming her like the burning sensation of a bullet to the gut. She was everywhere and nowhere, and that made having to do this particular mission with Root all the more difficult.
Root made her feel things she didn't want to feel and if she could find a way to distance herself from her while on this mission, she'd do it. Unfortunately, distancing herself from the hacker was highly unlikely in this situation.
Ignoring Root's presence to the best of her ability, Shaw opened both the freezer and the refrigerator. Just like the cabinets, both were fully stocked and filled with things that made Shaw's stomach growl. She made a mental note to tell Lionel that he wasn't completely useless.
"Sameen," Root started, eliciting an eye roll from Shaw as she closed the doors of the refrigerator and turned to face her. "You have less than forty-five minutes to get dressed into something more," Root gestured to Shaw's oversized black hoodie, tight, black skinny jeans, and ankle-high black boots, "appropriate."
"Whatever," Shaw gritted out, heading to the master bedroom to change.
As she walked into the master bedroom, she noticed how colorful the room was. The room was painted sunflower yellow and had three photoshopped portraits of her and Root hung just a few inches above the headboard. One was a picture of them dressed in white wedding gowns, engaged in a kiss that looked startlingly real. The next picture was of them in front of Mount Everest, their backs the only thing visible in the photo. Shaw squinted at the photo and realized that it wasn't photoshopped. The photo was real.
Not allowing herself to leer at the picture for too long, Shaw turned her attention to the third picture. In this picture, she and Root were sitting together on a bench in Central Park, both with mischievous smirks stretched across their lips. As Shaw looked closely at the photo, she realized that this particular picture was also authentic.
Shaw's stomach lurched at how couple-y they looked in the photos.
"The picture from Central Park is my favorite," said Root from behind Shaw, a smile in the taller brunette's voice.
Everywhere and nowhere. That was Root.
Shaw suppressed a groan at being caught and, instead of dignifying Root's comment with a reply, Shaw stormed into the master bathroom and locked the door behind her.
"You look nice, Sameen," Root complimented, eyeing Shaw's tight-fitted black dress with appreciative eyes.
Root smirked and poked Shaw in the cheek. "Just remember to smile and be friendly. Our numbers should be arriving any minute now."
"Whatever," Shaw replied, her features twisting into its usual scowl.
And just like Root – well, the machine – predicted, a knock on the door sounded, signaling the arrival of their numbers. Plastering on a friendly smile, Root opened the front door, revealing a graying older woman, around the age of sixty-seven, and two teenagers: one boy and one girl.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. And Mrs. Johnson, I'm Melanie Tanner and this," the woman gestured to the brunette boy, his features harsh and appraising, "is Josh. And this is his younger sister," she gestured to the brunette girl standing beside him, her features soft and curious, "is Daniela."
"It's very nice to meet you all," Root said with a bright smile, stepping back and opening the door wider for their guests. "Please, come in. Feel free to look around, kids. You will be living here after all."
Shaw plastered on a forced smile as their guests entered the apartment. Their first number, Josh, eyed her with a lecherous grin on his face, his eyes roaming over her body in an appreciative manner. Their second number, Daniela, just stared at her with an appraising look, as if looking at her would tell her Shaw's life story.
Shaw quickly decided that this was going to be a long mission.
Sameen Shaw was skilled at many things. She was a skilled agent, a skilled fighter, a skilled shooter, and a great soldier. The list of things she excelled at was exceedingly long and could probably stretch across the apartment floor as a red carpet. Shaw wasn't exactly modest about her achievements, her accomplishments, or her skill set; it was practically in her nature to gloat and tease those below her level of competence. But, now, as she sat opposite the cheery caseworker, Melanie Tanner, she realized that her list of skills didn't include playing the role of a doting foster mother who was eager to open her home to two surly teenagers.
Root, however, played the part perfectly.
"You know, I've always wanted to have children. Sameen and I have tried and tried and tried," said Root exaggeratedly, her tone full of desperation and heartbreak, and her eyes shining with unshed tears. Shaw fought the urge to roll her eyes. "But we just haven't been able to conceive a child. Nothing we've tried has worked and, after experiencing so many failures, we'd started to give up all sense of hope," sighed Root, a frown pulling at her lips as she held Shaw's hand in hers.
Melanie smiled sympathetically and rested her hand on Root's knee. "That's understandable, Mrs. Johnson."
"Thank you," replied Root, her free hand clutching at her chest, as if touched by the gesture. Root was putting on the performance of a lifetime and Shaw wanted to punch her. "And, please, call me Samantha."
"Well, that's generous of you, Samantha, thank you," said Melanie sweetly as she removed her hand from Root's knee and brought her attention to the open manila folder in her lap. "Now, Samantha, it says here that you work as an IT specialist at a computer software company in the city," Melanie read off the file.
"That is correct. It's called Mason Technologies."
"Right," Melanie hummed, her eyes roaming over the file before turning to look at Shaw. "And, Sameen, it says here that you work as a high school guidance counselor."
Shaw clenched her jaw at the information. That was news to her. Judging by the slight twitch of Root's upper lip and the unbridled mirth twinkling in her light brown eyes, Root was already aware of the cover career Harold had crafter for her. If only he had thought to inform her of it beforehand.
"Yes, I am," said Shaw through clenched teeth, "I love working with kids," she gritted out with a forced smile.
Melanie studied Shaw for a moment, her expression thoughtful. "Are you feeling alright, Mrs. Johnson?"
"She's fine," Root answered, quickly cutting off whatever pathetic excuse Shaw was bound to come up with. "She's just overwhelmed. We've wanted to have kids we could call our own for the last decade and the fact that it's about to become a reality is just a lot for her – us – to take in," said Root with a bright, cheery smile, grasping Shaw's hand in her own, while mindlessly drawing tiny circles across the back of Shaw's hand. Shaw fought the urge to snatch her hand free of Root's grip.
"Oh!" Melanie exclaimed, her lips curving into a cheery smile. It's like that damn smile is painted on, Shaw bitterly mused to herself. "Well, then you better believe it, dear. You're about to be the foster mother of two wonderful kids."
Shaw glanced over at the teens in question, both seated on the loveseat placed on the far side of the living room. Shaw studied Josh's face, a lecherous grin on the boy's face as he openly leered at her legs, and then moved her attention to Daniela who, for the most part, scowled at nothing in particular. She took notice of the thirteen year old's crossed arms and narrowed eyes and knew, just by looking at her, that she was going to be a tough one to crack. Josh, however, was going to be a nightmare. Melanie Tanner was definitely overselling these kids.
"I am super excited about that," Shaw said with forced enthusiasm, fighting the urge to glare at Josh as he sent her a flirtatious wink. She was definitely going to have to lock up her arsenal if she wanted to keep herself from committing a homicide.
Without warning, Root pressed a kiss to Shaw's lips, snapping the shorter brunette out of her reverie. After a few painstakingly long moments, Shaw slowly pulled back from the kiss and narrowed her eyes at Root. The hacker just smiled at her, obviously very pleased with herself for catching Shaw off-guard. Shaw flashed a tight smile at a squealing Melanie Tanner and fought the urge to clench her jaw in annoyance.
Make that a double homicide.
"You two are so precious," Melanie cooed, that cheery smile never leaving her face, "Now, let's go over the paperwork, shall we?"
Not even four hours into their arrival, and Josh was already driving her up a wall. Daniela, on the other hand, just unnerved her. While the boy was overt with his flirting and obvious attraction to her and Root, Daniela was disturbingly quiet and had yet to say a word. Josh was a flirt, not to mention a total sleaze, and Shaw's patience was wearing thin. He was treading on thin ice and Shaw wasn't sure how much more of his douchebag behavior she could take. One look at Root showed that the hacker shared the same sentiment.
"I'm going to the bedroom," said Shaw, to no one in particular, as she excused herself from the living room.
"I'll come with," said Root, who rose from her seat on the leather sofa to tail after Sameen.
The two women ignored the obnoxious whistles coming from the arrogant sixteen year old following their departure, and quickly made their way into the master bedroom. Once inside, Root collapsed onto the king-sized bed - placed in the center of the room – and exhaled a sigh of relief. Shaw, however, paced the carpeted floor, and mumbled several expletives under her breath.
"Well, they're definitely going to be a handful," said Root tiredly.
"No kidding," Shaw retorted as she turned on her comm., "How long are we expected to babysit, Finch?"
"Miss Shaw? I didn't expect to hear back from you so soon. How did the meeting with the caseworker go?" Harold's voice buzzed through her earpiece.
"Root charmed the fuck out of our caseworker and now we have the kids in our custody. Speaking of the kids, answer the question, Finch."
"I apologize for Sam's rudeness, Harry. She's had a rough day," Root supplied.
"Also, I'm a high school guidance counselor, Finch? Seriously? You couldn't have made me a cop or something not lame?"
"Is that what's got you in such a hostile mood, Miss Shaw? Your cover job?"
"Trust me, Finch. That's only one of the many reasons for my 'hostile mood'."
"Well, Miss Shaw, I can assure you –"
Shaw cut him off before he could break off into an unnecessarily long-winded speech about trust and patience.
"Assure me this, Harold. Assure me that this whole babysitting and fake marriage gig will last no longer than a month," demanded Shaw.
"Harold," Shaw growled.
"You better answer her, Harry. She's practically foaming at the mouth," Root mused, smirking in response to the glare she received from Shaw as the smaller brunette halted mid-pace.
"I'm afraid that I don't know the exact time length of this mission."
"Well, what other information do you have on these kids? All we know about them is their names, their age, and their parentage. We don't exactly have much to go on and, the more we know about them, the faster we can figure out who is after them," said Shaw.
"Unfortunately, there isn't much information that I could find on them. Their father, Abdul Ahmadi, was a stockbroker on Wall Street and their mother, Sanaa Ahmadi, formerly named Sanaa Kareem, was an entertainment reporter for the New York Times. Both were well-respected and liked, according to Detective Fusco," Finch recited. "Sanaa and Abdul died in a car accident three years ago. Joshua and Daniela were placed in the care of their paternal grandparents after the death of their parents, but both grandparents recently passed away; their grandfather two years ago from natural causes and their grandmother a month ago from lung cancer."
"Do they have any other family members in the area?" Shaw asked as she took a seat on the edge of the mattress, mindful to keep at least a foot of distance between her and Root.
"I'm afraid not. Sanaa and Abdul Ahmadi fled Iran in 1989, leaving behind all of their family members, except for Abdul's parents. There are no other known relatives that we know of," Harold informed them.
"Well, that is entirely unhelpful," Shaw said with a groan. "Tell me about our numbers."
"Joshua and Daniela are both straight 'A' students and, according to their school records, have not so much as missed a day of school. Their school records are squeaky clean and quite impressive."
"What about criminal records? Just because they're good students, doesn't mean that they can't have a rap sheet," Shaw reasoned, hoping for something (anything) that could help locate the threat to the kids.
"All clean, Miss Shaw. As far as we know, these kids have lived a rather sheltered life."
"Then who would want to harm them?" Root wondered aloud.
"Well, if Josh is as much of a sleaze to the girls at his school as he is to us, then maybe he messed with the wrong guy's girl."
"Or girl's girl," Root interjected, a mocking smile on her lips. Shaw narrowed her eyes at the hacker and rose from the mattress.
"Finch, get Lionel to look deeper into their files. Maybe there's something we missed."
"I'll get right on that, Miss Shaw. For now, please do your best to remain pleasant. We wouldn't want you to blow your cover."
And with that, Harold signed off.
"So, what do you say we go back out there and try to engage the wonder twins in conversation?"
"How about I stay in here and take a nap, while you go out there and do that?" Shaw countered.
"Or," Root drawled, staring up at Shaw through her thick lashes, and allowing her eyes to roam over Shaw's body in a suggestive manner, "how about I stay in here with you and we could find something much more enjoyable to do."
Shaw clenched her jaw at the overt flirting and wordlessly exited the bedroom, leaving behind a thoroughly amused Root.
"Does he ever not have that stupid grin on his face?" Shaw complained as she stared at the grinning teen.
The teen in question, Josh, was seated at the kitchen counter with a large grin on his face, a piece of pizza crust hanging out of his mouth, and pizza sauce smudged across his chin. Shaw suddenly regretted ordering pizza. His sister, Daniela, looked at him with the disgust that Shaw felt and threw an entire roll of paper towels at his face; he fumbled to catch it but it quickly slid out of his grasp and onto his sauce-covered plate. Shaw smirked.
"Be nice, Sam," Root playfully warned, plopping down beside Shaw on the loveseat. "Besides, there's nothing wrong with smiling. You should try it some time," Root teased, poking Shaw in the cheek.
Shaw swatted Root's hand away from her face and scowled, turning her head to face the smiling hacker.
"I really wish you'd quit touching me."
"Anyone ever tell you that you need to lighten up?" Root asked, ignoring Shaw's previous statement.
"Anyone ever tell you that you're a pain in the ass?" replied Shaw in an even tone.
"A few people have told me that, surprisingly," Root muttered, a look of slight disbelief on her face.
Shaw snorted. "Shocker."
A bark of laughter and a grunt of annoyance sounded from the kitchen, causing Root and Shaw to turn their heads toward the noise. Root stifled a laugh at the scene unfolding before her, noticing the look of contempt on Daniela's sauce-covered face and the Cheshire grin spread across Josh's lips.
Seeing the near-empty cup of marinara sauce in Josh's hand and the sauce dripping from Daniela's cheeks, Shaw rolled her eyes at the pair and watched the siblings' interaction with disinterest. Josh chuckled at his sister's expense and tossed the previously thrown roll of paper towels at the thirteen year old. Daniela caught the roll with ease and tore off a sheet, roughly swiping at her sauce-stained cheeks; all while glaring daggers at the snickering sixteen year old.
"If I didn't think they'd be a handful before, then I'm a hundred percent sure they'll be a handful now," Root mused.
"Two people more difficult than you to deal with? Great," Shaw drawled, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
Root turned to look at Shaw then, her expression devoid of the amusement it previously held. Instead, her expression was earnest and unguarded. Shaw sighed and gave Root her undivided attention, knowing by the look on the hacker's face that there was something important she wanted to say.
"Look, I know that being stuck with me on this mission isn't exactly ideal for you-"
"At least you're aware," Shaw cut her off, receiving a glare so heated she put her hands up in surrender and gestured for the hacker to continue.
Root huffed in annoyance, but proceeded. "But I believe Harold partnered us together for a reason."
"And what reason is that?" Shaw asked with a raised eyebrow, her arms crossed over her chest. "You know, other than to annoy me."
Root smirked and unfurled Shaw's crossed arms, grazing the tips of her fingers along the expanse of Shaw's exposed arms, leaving goosebumps in her wake. Shaw involuntarily shuddered at the contact and clenched her jaw in annoyance (annoyance at herself for reacting to Root's touch).
"We have chemistry, Sameen," said Root huskily, her breath tickling over Shaw's ear. "And I don't think anyone would believe that you and the big lug were happily married and in love. You and I, on the other hand, could easily pull it off. Do you want to know why that is?" Root asked, peering deeply into Shaw's eyes, sending a shiver down the shorter brunette's spine.
"Why?" Shaw swallowed uncomfortably, noticing the way Root's eyes briefly flickered to her throat at the action.
"Because there's some truth to it. Anyone with eyes can see that there's something between us. Including Her."
"Oh, please," Shaw scoffed. "You don't really expect me to believe that The Machine can see romantic potential between us. Or that She's trying to play Cupid."
Root's lips curved into a knowing smirk, her eyes twinkling with something akin to mirth. "Sameen," she said in that condescending tone that made Shaw's fists clench at her sides. "Who do you think created the photos hanging in our bedroom?"
Shaw blanched at that, her eyes widening in disbelief. She was definitely not expecting that. There is no fucking way The Machine created those photos, Shaw rationally reasoned to herself. But Root just continued to smirk at her, obviously enjoying her gob smacked state. Shaw didn't want to believe her; she really didn't think she should. But one look at the hacker's smug and infuriatingly honest face, and Shaw knew she was telling the truth.
She didn't know what was creepier: the thought of the AI making fake wedding photos of her and Root, or the thought of Harold instructing Lionel to place said photos all over the apartment. Lionel was never going to let her live this down, Shaw was sure of it.
"How the hell did The Machine manage that?"
"She has her ways, Sameen," replied Root cryptically, shooting Shaw a fleeting smile as she rose from her spot on the loveseat.
Shaw watched as Root made her way into the kitchen and took the empty seat at the counter beside Daniela. The thirteen year old spared Root a brief, curious glance before turning her attention back to her half-eaten slice of pizza. Root grabbed a slice from the box and tried to engage the quiet girl in conversation and from the looks of things, she wasn't having much luck. At least, not with Daniela. Josh, on the other hand, seemed eager to charm Root with his weak douchebag flirting skills. Root politely smiled at him, though Shaw could tell by the tightness of her cheeks that it was incredibly forced. Josh, however, didn't seem to notice and continued flirting, oblivious to Root's discomfort.
For a kid as good looking as Joshua Ahmadi, he sure didn't know how to talk to women. The sixteen year old towered over Root by at least three inches and was blessed with a toned body. He had dark, expressive eyes - similar to Shaw's - and had hair so black it almost looked purple. His skin was somewhat pale and reminded Shaw of her own father's pale complexion.
In the eight hours and fifteen minutes that Shaw had known him, Josh proved to be lacking conventional communication skills. She wasn't sure if it was because of his natural teenaged boy ignorance or if he just didn't have much experience in interacting with individuals of the opposite sex, but Shaw figured this was something that could be fixed with the help of her and Root. If Shaw was going to play the role of the caring and involved foster mother, then she sure as hell was going to make sure her "kid" knew how to charm the pants off of the next girl he flirted with without coming off like a creep.
Shifting her attention away from the wolfishly grinning boy and the not-so-perky psycho, Shaw's gaze settled on Daniela. The thirteen year old possessed dark, haunted eyes, as if she had seen a lot in her thirteen years of life; Shaw didn't know the girl's entire life story, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she probably had. The girl was a head shorter than Shaw - quite small for her age - and had dark brown hair that reached her lower back. She was tan, unlike her brother, and looked as if she'd spent most of her time outdoors. She also seemed to have a permanent scowl on her face, whereas Josh had a permanent grin.
Shaw supposed that if she had someone like Josh for a brother, she'd be scowling, too. But, then again, she had Root. Root was about as scowl-inducing as Josh; maybe even more so.
Shaking herself out of her kid-related thoughts, Shaw released a tired sigh and leaned against the loveseat cushions, snuggling into the pillows resting at her back. She allowed her mind to wander to the AI and its apparent fascination with her and Root. What the hell kind of AI used Photoshop? She'd expect something like that from Harold or Root, but not The Machine. Shaw couldn't help but wonder what else The Machine was capable of.
But, The Machine and its weird tendencies aside - other than feeling weirded out - Shaw just felt exhausted. Today had been an overall tiring day and all she'd had to do was converse with a perky psycho, an overly-excited case worker, and two difficult teenagers. She'd also had to put on a lovey-dovey facade for the case worker, despite her discomfort, and prove how in love she was with Root and how much she wanted the kids in her custody. That wasn't an easy feat. The fact that this was going to be her everyday life for the unseeable future made Shaw feel exhausted just by thinking about it.
Shaw had spent the first few hours following Josh and Daniela's arrival trying to engage the two teens in serious conversation, all while deflecting many of Root's attempts at flirting. Add that to the fact that she'd also had to deflect Josh's incessant flirting and she'd had enough frustration to last her a lifetime.
This case wasn't going to be solved overnight and with the lack of cooperation from both teens, Shaw supposed it wasn't likely that the mission would be completed any time soon. It also seemed that Harold was intent on making this their hardest mission yet. Since their last conversation with Harold, he had conveniently disconnected his communication line. Shaw hadn't been able to reach him in the last three hours and she knew that wasn't a coincidence. That was just Harold's polite way of saying "You're on your own."
Shaw vowed to pay him a visit the following morning.
"Alright, kids, I think it's time you two got ready for bed," said Root, the hacker rising from her seat at the counter with the empty pizza box in hand.
"Seriously? It's only ten-thirty," Josh complained, his features twisting into an incredulous expression.
"I'm afraid I am serious, Josh," said Root, placing the pizza box into the garbage bag under the sink.
"We're teenagers, Sam. Don't you think we're a little too old for a bedtime?" said Josh.
Shaw watched as Root walked over to the boy and leaned down, her face just inches away from his. "I had a bedtime of seven-thirty until I was eighteen. You should consider yourself lucky," said Root in a saccharine tone, her face the picture of innocence. "Now go get settled in."
To Shaw's surprise, Josh rose from his seat and made his way into his bedroom without a fuss. Daniela quietly followed behind him, making her way into the room across the hall from his, not so much as a peep coming out of her mouth. Shaw listened as both doors closed, the sounds of rustling and unpacking sounding from behind each door.
Root walked over to Shaw as the teens got settled in, hand outstretched to the shorter brunette. Shaw slapped Root's hand away and rose from the couch without her assistance, wordlessly making her way down the short corridor to their bedroom.
Once inside the bedroom - the door closed behind them - Shaw stripped out of her uncomfortable, black dress and put on the tank top and shorts she left atop the dresser. She could feel Root's eyes on her the entire time she undressed, but did her best to ignore the woman's leering. Once she was dressed, she turned around to face the other woman and was surprised to see the hacker wearing nothing but a black, lacy bra and a pair of black boy shorts.
"Is that what you're wearing to bed?" Shaw asked, her voice thick with an emotion she didn't want to address.
"Well, I could take them off if you'd like," Root husked, seductively stalking toward Shaw.
Shaw instinctively backed away and averted her gaze from Root, focusing instead on the window behind the taller brunette's head. She tried not to react as Root stood directly before her, the hacker's fingers reaching out to trail down her collarbone and between the valley of her breasts. She tried not to react as Root stepped impossibly closer, bringing her body flush against hers, the taller woman's mouth ghosting over the shell of her ear. She tried not to react as Root captured her earlobe between her teeth, sucking on it lightly before releasing it with a pop. She tried not to react as Root began whispering in her ear, her breath feeling like a gentle caress against her skin.
"Why don't you just admit that you want this?"
Shaw released a shaky breath and allowed her eyes to meet Root's lust-filled gaze. "Because I don't," said Shaw unconvincingly.
"That's what you said last time. And the time before that. And every time before that," Root drawled. "We both know it's a lie."
"I'm not doing this with you, Root."
"You're not doing what with me?" asked Root, her eyebrow raised in challenge.
"For fuck's sake," Shaw hissed, pulling out of Root's reach. "I'm not doing anything with you. Not again. I told you, last time was it."
"Yeah, I heard you, but we both know you don't mean it," said Root flippantly. "You tell me you don't want to screw me and then a minute later I find my hands handcuffed to the headboard and your head in between my legs. If you want me to believe you, then you'll have to do a much better job of convincing me."
"How about we go to sleep and discuss this another time," Shaw grunted, making her way onto the bed.
"Does this mean we'll have an actual conversation regarding your feelings?"
"This means we'll have another conversation where I tell you exactly what I'm telling you now."
"Well, I look forward to it," Root teased, crawling into bed beside the hostile brunette, but keeping at least a foot of distance between them.
Shaw clapped her hands, successfully plunging the bedroom into darkness, and laid on her back, staring unseeingly at the ceiling.
"Goodnight, Sam," said Root, turning on her side to face away from Shaw.
Shaw rolled her eyes and turned her head to stare at Root's back. She could tell by the tenseness in the other woman's back that she was aware of Shaw's staring. But Shaw didn't look away.
They were only a few hours into their mission and Shaw already wanted to call it quits. The kids were going to be a handful, sure, but she could handle them. Root, however, was unmanageable. Shaw could deal with the hacker's flirting – she'd been dealing with it for years – but what she couldn't deal with was the conflicted feelings she had started to develop for the perky woman.
One moment Shaw would have the urge to punch her, and the next moment she'd find herself pinning the woman against the nearest surface, attacking her mouth with her own. One moment she'd allow Root to play with fire, acting as if she didn't care for the woman's safety, and then she'd find herself barging in a moment later, fire extinguisher in hand, making sure the other woman didn't get burned.
It was disconcerting and disturbing and Shaw wished she could go back to feeling nothing.
If only she wasn't "married" and forced to spend every waking moment with the woman she so desperately wanted to get away from. Shaw's life, at the moment, sucked.
"Goodnight, Mrs. and Mrs. Johnson," a taunting voice said through the earpiece Shaw had forgotten to remove.
"Fuck off, John," Shaw growled, quickly removing her earpiece and slamming it onto the bedside table. She heard Root release a breathy laugh and clenched her jaw in annoyance.
With a sigh, Shaw thought to herself, "one day down, an insurmountable amount of time left to go."
Shaw awoke the next morning, a few hours before the sun was due to rise, and quietly slid out of bed, careful not to jostle an unconscious Root into consciousness. Shaw, unfortunately, knew how easy it was to wake the perky brunette, and had been pulled into one too many groggy, nonsensical and mostly one-sided conversations as a result.
Root and Shaw spending the night together wasn't a common occurrence, but on the rare occasion that it happened, it was usually due to a mission that involved the whole team holing up together in one of Harold's safe houses. While John attached himself to Harold's side, keeping a watchful eye over the squirrely man as if a threat would jump out and attack him at any given moment, Root would gravitate toward Shaw, flirty smile and insufferable attitude in place. It was on the nights of those dangerous, overnight missions that Shaw felt the adrenaline course through her veins and the sexual hunger coil in her gut; the need for release overwhelming her senses and putting her on edge.
And that was where Root came in.
What was meant to be a one-time thing, turned into a two-time thing; a three-time thing; and then it became a thing that occurred so frequently that somewhere along the way, Shaw had lost count. It was no secret that Shaw was attracted to Root, but physical attraction and emotional attachment were two very different things. It seemed that the more Root weaseled her way into Shaw's life, the more infuriating and smug she became. Shaw didn't want to have to deal with Root or the annoying feelings she had for the hacker, but her current situation left her with no other option. How could you avoid someone you were forced to share a bed, a job, a name, and a life with? It just couldn't be done. Shaw was the master of avoidance, but even she couldn't escape her harsh reality.
It didn't mean she wouldn't try, though.
Quietly tiptoeing to the dresser across the room, Shaw pulled open the top drawer holding the clothing she haphazardly placed there the previous day, and pulled out a black bra, a black tank top, a black hoodie, and black skinny jeans. Once she had everything she needed, she softly closed the drawer and tiptoed across the bedroom, toward the master bathroom. Once inside, she carefully pulled at the door, mindful to keep the squeaking of the hinges to a minimum and clicked the door shut.
Deciding to skip a shower (figuring the faster she got dressed, the faster she could leave and distance herself from Root; at least for a few hours, she reasoned), Shaw stripped out of her pajamas and pulled on the clothing she'd brought with her. After pulling on her last item of clothing, – her baggy, black hoodie that swallowed her small frame whole - Shaw stared at her reflection in the mirror and was startled by the figure staring back at her. Her eyes were dull and lifeless, the space beneath them sporting dark circles, and her stance was lazy and hunched over. She looked exhausted.
With a deep sigh, Shaw grabbed her toothbrush from the small cup placed near the sink, squeezed a dollop of toothpaste onto its bristles and mindlessly brushed her teeth, while using her free hand to comb through her sleep-mussed hair. With the rhythmic circling of the bristles against her teeth and the gentle caress of her fingertips against her scalp, Shaw allowed her mind to wander to the woman slumbering in the next room. She'd peeked at the sleeping woman before she'd gotten out of bed, and tried her best not to stare at the peaceful expression on her face.
Shaw couldn't help but wonder if the reason for Root's peaceful expression and relaxed posture was due to her presence.
What frightened her the most was the fact that she knew it was.
Shaking her head clear of that uncomfortable thought, she placed her toothbrush back in the cup, spit out the remaining foam from her mouth, and cupped her hands under the running faucet. After rinsing out her mouth, she washed her face, using the cool liquid to wash the sleep from her eyes and the exhaustion from her features. With every splash of water, she felt more alert, and with every stretch of her muscles, the tightness in her joints loosened. Now, feeling much more awake and relaxed, Shaw grabbed the hair tie resting atop the counter, tied her hair into its usual ponytail, and made her way out of the bathroom.
Upon reentering the bedroom, Shaw was careful to tiptoe around Root and silently made her way toward the room door, pulling it open with a gentleness she was surprised she possessed. She tried shushing the squeaking hinges as she opened the door, throwing a cautious glance over her shoulder to see Root still lying on her side, her breathing even and rhythmic, and her body unmoving. Convinced that the woman was still asleep, she turned back to the task at hand and managed to open the door wide enough for her to squeeze through and, just as she was halfway through the door, a quiet voice stopped her in her tracks.
"Tell the team I say hello," said Root, her voice coated with exhaustion.
"How long have you been awake?" Shaw half-whispered, turning her head in the direction of the surprisingly alert woman.
"I woke up the moment your feet hit the floor," Root deadpanned. "You're not exactly stealthy in the mornings, Sameen. We're technically 'married' now; you could have told me you were planning to go out, instead of trying to sneak away."
Shaw ducked her head, guilt coiling in her gut. Leave it to Root to make her question her actions. Since when did she care about other people's feelings and how her actions affected them?
"I didn't realize I owed you an explanation," snapped Shaw, her tone coming out much harsher than she'd intended.
"You're right, Sameen; you don't owe me an explanation," Root shrugged, offering Shaw a smile that lacked its usual brightness. "I guess I'll see you when you get back."
However, Shaw made no move to leave. Instead, she stayed rooted in place and studied the hacker's expression, though it proved to be difficult in the darkened room. The room's only source of light was the moonlight streaming through the window, illuminating the hacker's face enough for Shaw to catch a glimpse of her expression; her expression was blank and guarded, lacking its usual cheeriness and transparency. Guarded and blank didn't suit her.
"Careful, Sameen, if you stand there any longer I'll assume you're contemplating on whether or not you want to stay. We both know that's not the case and the longer you stand there staring at me, the more you waste the precious time you'll have away from me. You should go before I decide to tag along, wifey."
At Root's teasing tone, Shaw frowned and felt the air in the room change. The tension that once occupied every space and corner of the room dissipated and all that was left was a comfortable silence. Root was giving Shaw an out, and Shaw knew she'd be a fool not to take it. Sparing Root one last glance, she wordlessly left the room and closed the door firmly behind her.
Less than twenty-fours in the Suburbs and Shaw was itching to get back into the city. The moment she parked Harold's car in the underground garage near the subway station and walked up the steps leading onto the busy streets of New York City, she breathed a sigh of relief. Who would have thought that the sight of stuffy business men in penguin suits, women dressed in bland business suits two sizes too big, and the random street thugs and thug-wannabes walking the sidewalks would be such a welcomed sight? Hell, even Fergus, the homeless Irishman who sleeps in the alleyway near the subway station, was a welcomed sight. To Shaw, anything was better than the endless amount of Polo shirts and Bermuda shorts her "neighbors" were so fond of wearing.
Even on her way out of the apartment building she'd managed to run into two men wearing matching Polo shirts and shorts. It was five a.m. when she passed through the building's lobby and way too early for her to have seen such a ghastly sight. Shaw was convinced the men in her building only owned Polos and Bermuda shorts and probably owned them in every available color. After this mission was completed, Shaw hoped to never see Polo shirts and Bermuda shorts ever again.
Luckily, as she made her way through the subway entrance and down the steps leading to the abandoned station, there were no Polo shirts and Bermuda shorts in sight. There was, however, a smug asshole dressed in an impeccable suit, with a mischievous smirk on his face waiting for her outside of the subway car.
"I hear congratulations are in order, Mrs. Johnson," John teased, a small chuckle escaping his throat at Shaw's threatening glare.
"Fuck off," Shaw grumbled, moving past Reese to kneel beside Bear, who was asleep near the entrance of the subway car. Shaw scratched behind the slumbering dog's ear and chuckled when his eyes slowly opened, an excited whine escaping his throat as he noticed who was petting him. He stood on his hind legs, placing his front paws on Shaw's thighs to steady himself, and snuggled his head against her chest. Shaw moved her hands from his head and placed them on his back, running her fingers over his fur in a loving gesture.
She felt John kneel beside her before she saw him. When he bumped his shoulder against hers, she looked at him.
"You know, I have to say that I'm hurt," he started, his tone earnest, though Shaw was sure he was anything but. "I come back from my week-long mission to find that you and Root got married and adopted two teenagers. I mean, I always knew you and Root would eventually get married, but—"
Shaw placed a swift punch to his shoulder, cutting off the rest of his sentence.
"Just shut up," she growled, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. "Can we talk about something else?"
"If you insist," shrugged John. "How come I didn't get an invite to the wedding? Those white wedding gowns sure looked," he paused, as if trying to find the perfect word to describe it, "interesting on you two."
Shaw groaned, embarrassed to find that John, too, had seen the photoshopped wedding photos of her and Root. It looked like Lionel wasn't the only person who was going to hold those photos over her head.
"You're making my trigger finger really itchy, John. I hope you know that," Shaw warned, absently running her fingers through Bear's fur.
John held his hands up in mock surrender. "Alright, I'll stop. Tell me about your mission; any leads on who would want to harm your numbers?" he asked, changing the subject (for which Shaw knew he was doing for his own safety). Smart move, John. Very smart, indeed, Shaw mused to herself.
"Nope, we've got nothing."
"Do you think it's possible that one of the kids could be the perpetrator?"
"Well, I wouldn't rule it out. But I highly doubt it," she admitted.
Shaw may have only known the teens for less than twenty-four hours, but there was something about them that made her believe they were incapable of committing a crime. If they were as innocent as Shaw believed them to be, then they were most certainly in danger. While keeping them safe wasn't an issue, finding the perpetrator and figuring out that person's motive was where things got tricky.
Shaw gave Bear one last scratch behind his ear before she stood up and made her way into the occupied subway car, John hot on her heels.
Inside the subway car was Harold, the squirrely man typing away on his laptop, his computer screens displaying Josh and Daniela's pictures, and their files listed beneath their photos. On another screen was a picture of a man and woman, mid-to-late forties, and undoubtedly the teens' parents. The resemblance between Joshua and his mother was uncanny, while Daniela seemed to have inherited physical features from both her mother and father equally.
Shaw couldn't help but notice how much Abdul Ahmadi resembled her own father. The two men weren't exactly twins, but they had a mischievous glint in their eyes that was startlingly similar. If Josh and Daniela's parents were anything like her own, then Shaw could understand how jarring it must have been for the kids to lose them. Their faces were kind, and Shaw imagined that they were the type of parents who worked hard to give their children everything they'd ever wanted and more.
Shaw had had parents just like that. No matter how different she was and how little they understood her, her mother and father had never stopped loving her. Her father loved her until his very last breath and her mother was still very much alive and showed her love by tracking Shaw down twice a month – despite Shaw's habit of destroying her personal phones every few days. Shaw had to admire her mother's commitment…and tracking skills.
"Miss Shaw, shouldn't you be with Miss Groves and the children?" Harold questioned as he spun around in his computer chair, just noticing Shaw's presence.
Shaw waved him off and pointed to the monitors.
"Did you find anything new?"
"I'm afraid not. I'm still looking into it, as is Detective Fusco."
Shaw frowned at that, but said nothing.
"Why aren't you back at the apartment with your numbers?" Harold asked again.
"Because I needed a break from-"she cut herself off, stopping herself from saying what – well, who – she really needed a break from. "-stuff," she finished lamely.
Harold looked as if he wanted to question what "stuff" entailed, but thought better of it and pursed his lips.
Reese just smirked, knowing damn well what Shaw meant to say, but didn't comment on it. He knew he reached his teasing quota for the day and the last thing he wanted was for Shaw to put a bullet in his foot. If it weren't for Root coming to his rescue the last time Shaw pointed a gun at him, John's sure he'd have one more scar to add to his already bruised body. He'd since learned his lesson about poking the hornet's nest that was in the shape of a short, Persian woman and knew that she always made good on her threats.
"Don't let your personal issues interfere with the mission, Miss Shaw. It is your job to keep these children safe," Harold reminded her, as if she needed the reminder.
"Whatever," she said with an eye roll. "So, why did you turn off your communications last night?" Shaw asked, completely switching gears. She immediately noticed Harold's deer-in-headlights expression; that confirmed her suspicion about him ignoring her the previous night. "What if Root and I were in trouble and needed you to contact Lionel for backup? You know, you should never let your personal issues interfere with the mission, Harold," Shaw mocked, repeating his words back to him with a self-satisfied smirk.
Harold frowned and turned his back to her, refusing to take the bait. Shaw didn't blame him. He was no match for her.
John coughed in his fist to hide his smile and Shaw snickered. As Harold turned in his chair, facing the snickering pair, he refrained from rolling his eyes and stared pointedly at Shaw. The snickering immediately stopped at Harold's stern expression and Shaw wiped the smirk off of her face. She noticed a small, rectangular object in Harold's hand connected to a lanyard and, as he extended the object to her, dread pooled in her gut.
"What is this?" she asked as she took the item from his grasp, knowing very well what it was and what it was for, but desperately hoping she was wrong.
"This is your school ID. Tomorrow is Monday and you will be starting your new job as Mayfield Charter School's newest guidance counselor."
"You can't be serious, Finch," she complained, staring at the school ID with disdain.
"It is part of your cover, Miss Shaw. Joshua and Daniela attend this school and, with this position, you will be able to keep an eye on them at all times."
"Why couldn't Root be the guidance counselor? I could have been the computer programmer or, you know, anything else."
"You're only able to type five words per minute," mocked Reese. "No one would believe you were capable of programming computers."
"And you think teenagers are going to believe that a sociopath can counsel them?" she scoffed, her arms crossing over her chest defiantly.
John shrugged. "It's not like you have to be their therapist. Guidance counselors just help students balance their class schedules."
"Whatever," Shaw grumbled, staring down the smiling photo of herself.
"If it makes you feel any better, my contact, Cheryl Gibbons-"
At the name, Shaw cut Harold off and furrowed her brow in confusion. "Cheryl Gibbons, as in the number Reese and I saved three months ago from her psycho ex-boyfriend?"
"That would be Miss Gibbons, yes," Harold confirmed. "She is the principal of Mayfield Charter and is the one who helped you procure this position. And, as I was saying before you interrupted me," said Harold with a pointed look before continuing, "If it makes you feel any better, Miss Gibbons has provided you with your own private office."
Shaw grumbled under breath in response.
"Does that make you feel any better?" John asked as Harold turned his attention back to the computer monitors.
"Not really. Mostly it makes me feel kind of itchy."
"You're back early," Root quipped as Shaw walked through the front door of the apartment.
It was a little after ten a.m. when Shaw returned to the apartment, and Joshua and Daniela were already awake, still dressed in their PJ's, and seated at the kitchen counter with plates of pancakes and eggs placed in front of them. The small brunette eyed the food suspiciously and then settled her eyes on the lanky brunette standing in the kitchen, her expression smug and accomplished.
"Did you make breakfast?"
The hacker scoffed at the shorter woman's disbelieving tone and placed her hand over her heart in offense. "Believe it or not, I am capable of making breakfast without assistance."
"But on the stove?" Shaw asked, the disbelief still clear in her tone.
"Yes," Root replied in exasperation.
Root had once attempted to make breakfast for the whole team during one of their overnight missions. The scorch marks on the curtains and cabinets now served as a reminder of how that ordeal turned out. Harold hadn't allowed Root near any of his safe house kitchens since.
"Is it edible?" Shaw asked, scrutinizing the fluffy scrambled eggs and golden brown pancakes with interest. They looked good…but looks could be deceiving.
"Just eat it," the hacker mumbled, thrusting a plate into Shaw's hands.
Shaw looked down at the plate and shrugged, taking the empty seat beside Daniela.
"Good morning," Shaw greeted the teens politely.
Josh returned the greeting, his voice muffled by the food stuffed in his mouth and Daniela offered her a small hum of acknowledgement, her lips twitching into not quite a smile, but not quite a grimace either. It was only a matter of time before Daniela felt comfortable enough to converse with them, and Shaw hoped that day would come sooner rather than later.
"So," Josh began, sipping at his apple juice to wash down the remaining food in his mouth. "Sam told us that you were going to be our school's new guidance counselor."
"Yup," Shaw told him, taking a cautious bite of her eggs. She looked over at Root, the hacker staring at her expectantly, and forked another helping into her mouth, answering the woman's silent question. The taller brunette smirked in triumph.
"That's awesome! I bet the guys and girls are going to be lining up at your door for schedule changes the moment they see you," Josh joked, downing the rest of his apple juice.
She choked on her eggs, then, her eyes widening in terror at the thought. Daniela wordlessly patted her back, while Root chuckled at her expense. Josh resumed stuffing his face, completely oblivious to Shaw's inner turmoil.
"I sure wish I had a guidance counselor who looked like you when I was in high school," Root playfully husked, shooting Shaw a sly wink.
Shaw clenched her jaw and ignored her, turning her attention back to her food.
"You're going to like it at Mayfield," he told her.
"I'm sure I will," said Shaw in a noncommittal tone.
She hoped Monday never came.
Sunday had gone by in a flash and Monday had approached at lightning speed, much to Shaw's dismay. The day previous had been uneventful and filled with sleeping, eating, sleeping some more, and eating some more. At least, on the kids' part it did. Shaw and Root had spent the day watching dramatized crime shows, while Root flirted with Shaw and Shaw, for the most part, ignored her. Before she knew it, the sun went down and Monday morning had arrived.
And that was how Shaw found herself standing on the front steps of Mayfield Charter School, Josh and Daniela flanking her on either side, at seven a.m. that morning. Josh flashed her an encouraging smile before disappearing through the building's double doors, and Daniela just offered her a small shrug before, she, too, made her way through the double doors and disappeared out of sight.
Shaw stood there alone for a few moments more, grinding her teeth in annoyance at all of the open and unsubtle leers she'd received from passing students, and made her way into the school to begin her very first day in Hell.
Part 1 of Shaw's first day as Mayfield's new guidance counselor.
Sameen Shaw (Johnson) walked through the crowded halls of Mayfield Charter School with trepidation. The students loitering the hallways gawked at her as she passed, their eyes shining with curiosity and confusion. They'd never seen her before, Shaw knew, but their need to quell their curiosity without even trying to be subtle about their leering was frustrating. Hadn't their parents taught them that it was impolite to stare?
When Sameen was a high school student, her fellow classmates were too scared to make eye contact with her. While some cowered in fear when she turned her cold, calculated stare onto them, others made her life a living hell. She'd always been different and, as it turned out, being different was what separated you from the rest. She'd never had any friends - everyone too scared to talk to her for fear of befriending a robot - and she'd never particularly cared for one. Students would speak amongst themselves, discussing whether or not she was a robot or a freak and, as annoying as Shaw had found it at the time, she couldn't help but wonder which she'd identified with most.
Her mother and father, however, hadn't allowed her to identify as either. To them, she was their little girl; a little odd and a little different, but an overall intelligent and amazing kid, deserving of love and respect. Shaw had learned from a young age that it didn't matter what other people thought of you, only what you thought of yourself. It didn't take her long to come to the conclusion that she was better than the losers she'd dealt with all her life. While they were now stuck working dead-end jobs, she was living an exciting and fulfilling life, working in an exciting and fulfilling profession.
At least, that's what she told herself as she walked into the school's front office, lanyard hanging around her neck and school ID resting atop her breast. Upon entry, she was immediately greeted by a cheery receptionist at the front desk; a young redhead with cat-like eyes and a smile so bright it rivaled the sun.
Yes, Shaw thought bitterly, she was living the dream.
"Good morning," the receptionist greeted, offering Shaw a bright smile.
Shaw smiled – grimaced – back, nodding to the woman politely. "Hi," she started, clearing her throat awkwardly as she stood under the woman's curious gaze, "I'm here to see Principal Gibbons. I'm the new guidance counselor, Sameen Johnson."
"Oh, right! She's already expecting you. Just go down that small corridor," the receptionist pointed to the small corridor located to the right of the desk," and it's the last door on your left."
"Thank you," said Shaw politely, making her way down the corridor. As she came face-to-face with the last door on the left, the name, Principal Cheryl Gibbons, caught her eye, spelled out on a gold plaque nailed beside the door, written in an elaborate Edwardian Script.
"Fancy," Shaw muttered as she raised her fist to the door and knocked.
A muffled voice on the other side of the door granted her entrance. Shaw twisted the silver door handle and pushed the door open, revealing the woman she had saved three months prior perched behind a large, mahogany desk, back straight, chin up, and looking as put together as ever. Her blonde tresses fell over her shoulders in effortless waves, her makeup was light and natural, and her deep, blue eyes widened a fraction as Shaw came into view, the surprise evident on her face.
"You," the blonde whispered in awe. "So you're the friend Professor Whistler suggested I hire," she mused, a small grin forming on her lips. Shaw squirmed under her unwavering gaze. The woman silently appraised her, her eyes roaming over the brunette from head to toe. It was subtle and quick, but Shaw noticed; she was trained to notice everything, no matter how small and insignificant the detail. After the blonde's eyes had found purchase on Shaw's face, she gestured to the chair opposite her desk. "Please, take a seat."
Wordlessly, Shaw sat.
"So, how have you been, hero?" the woman asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.
Shaw squirmed uncomfortably, her eyes looking everywhere but at the blonde. "I've been great."
"Really? If you're doing so great then why do you want a job as a guidance counselor? Shouldn't you be out saving lives?" the woman asked.
She had a point. But it's not like Shaw wanted to be there. It was just part of the job.
"I just needed something steady for now," the brunette lied, her tone even and seemingly impetuous.
Principal Gibbons raised a disbelieving eyebrow at that, but let it go, deciding not to voice the questions she was aching to have answered. Just as she opened her mouth to say something more, the bell signaling the start of first period rang and put a halt on their conversation. A small smile found its way onto Principal Gibbon's lips as she rose from her seat, gesturing for Shaw to do the same, and made her way toward the office door, staring at the seated brunette with a playful glint in her eyes.
"Since it looks like you're here to stay, let me give you a tour of the school. I'm sure you'll fall in love with the campus by the time I'm done with you."
The last stop on the tour was the guidance counselor's office. As Shaw entered the office, Cheryl Gibbons following closely behind her, she took in the plain white walls, the large Mahogany desk placed near the room's only window, and the black, leather seats placed on either side of the desk. Gibbons had just given Shaw an extensive tour of the admittedly large campus and had decided to show Shaw to her office, deeming the tour complete and, in her words, "a success".
Wanting to distance herself from Principal Gibbons, the woman having spent the whole tour staring at her with something akin to hero worship, Shaw (Johnson) had adamantly reassured the woman that a tour of the whole school wasn't necessary and that she was ready to begin her duties as Mayfield's newest guidance counselor. Judging by the abnormally large smile that stretched across the blonde's mouth at the statement, Shaw knew she'd given the correct answer.
Sparing the woman a brief glance, Shaw walked deeper into her office, eyes immediately catching the fake diploma plaques and academic awards hanging on the office walls, her alias, Sameen Johnson, displayed on them proudly. She, then, walked over to her desk, eyeing the desktop computer, the office phone, and the shiny, gold name plaque resting atop the desk, displaying her name and job title in bold letters. She ran her fingers over the cool metal of the plaque until a small bookshelf caught her eye, hidden behind the large, leather chair, just out of sight.
She bent down and fingered the spines of each book, her fingertips coming back free of dust, and figured that the books were new. While most of the books had to do with achieving academic success and preparing students for college, others were clearly meant for leisure reading (if the novels by John Steinbeck, Kate Chopin, Edgar Allen Poe, and George Orwell were anything to go by).
Principal Gibbons had clearly gone through a lot of trouble to accommodate her new employee; Shaw gave her an 'A' for effort. Looking toward the expectant woman lingering by the doorway, Shaw offered a small smile and a satisfied nod.
"I like it," Sameen complimented, watching as Gibbons eyes lit up, clearly pleased with herself.
"I'm glad," the blonde replied bashfully, biting her lip absently.
Shaw stared at the plump lip clamped between the woman's teeth and did her best not to stare. Deciding to divert her attention from the blonde's mouth, Shaw brought her gaze to the woman's face, eyes locking with darkened, baby blues. The woman stared at Shaw from under her thick lashes and Shaw knew all too well what that meant.
Principal Gibbons wanted her.
Shaw couldn't blame the woman for being attracted to her, though; she was hot shit. Plus, she looked great in her tailored, white button down, tight, black pencil skirt and sleek, black pumps. While Gibbons was an attractive woman, she was far too cheery and doe-eyed for Shaw's taste. Not that Shaw would ever consider making a move on the woman. While Sameen Shaw was a free agent, Sameen Johnson was not. She was playing the role of a happily married, family woman and she needed Gibbons to believe that.
Considering the things the woman had witnessed her do just a few months prior, that wasn't going to be an easy feat. It didn't mean that Shaw wasn't going to put her all into this role, however; she sure as hell had to if she wanted this mission to be a success. She would just have to ignore the flirty smiles and worshipping eyes of the hovering principal and do her best not to draw attention to herself.
Piece of cake.
"Is there anything else I can do for you before I head back to my office?" asked Gibbons lowly, her voice taking on a husky tone.
Shaw opened her mouth to respond, but quickly closed it as a familiar figure stalked up behind the principal, raised eyebrow and thoughtful frown in place.
The person coughed, alerting the principal to their presence. Gibbons immediately straightened up, professional mask slipping into place, and turned to face the intruder. The blonde's back went ramrod straight as she came face-to-face with the perkily smiling individual, their eyebrow raised in question and their hands tightly gripping the strap of the briefcase slung over their shoulder. Shaw rolled her eyes at the wink the person sent her, and snorted at the questioning look the principal shot her over her shoulder.
"Hi, I was told by your receptionist that I would find you here," said the person politely.
Gibbons' brow furrowed in confusion. "And who might you be?"
"Oh, where are my manners?" said the stranger with a slight country twang creeping into their voice, their hand outstretched to the blonde. "My name is Samantha Johnson and I work with Mason Tech. I was told there were a few computers you wanted me to set up."
Principal Gibbons took the proffered hand and gave it a brief shake. "That's right. I was told that you weren't coming until this afternoon?"
"Well, I guess you can say that I wanted to get an early jump on things," said Root (Samantha) charmingly. The taller brunette then turned her attention to Shaw, offering the woman a dazzling smile. If Shaw were anyone else, that smile would have caused a million butterflies to flap around in her gut. But she wasn't anyone else, and all that smile managed to elicit from her was annoyance. "Hey, darling. You're looking lovely this morning."
Shaw forced out a good-natured chuckle and put on her best smile. "Thanks. You're not looking too bad yourself."
Gibbons looked between the two women, confusion etching her features. "Do you two know each other?"
"Well, considering the fact that we're married, I'd say we know each other pretty well, wouldn't you, sweetheart?" teased Root.
Root was getting a kick out of this and Shaw was not amused.
"Oh, I had no idea you were married," mumbled Gibbons in a strained voice, her disappointment evident.
Shaw shrugged, "You didn't ask."
"So, about those computers," Root interrupted, trying to get back to the task at hand.
"Right, of course," the blonde said absently, attempting to muster up her previous cheeriness. "I need you to set up your wife's computer and when you're done, head over to computer lab A. The entire backrow of computers needs reprogramming."
"I'll get right on that."
"Great. Well, if either of you need anything, dial the extension five-five-three on your phone and you'll be directed to my personal line."
The two women nodded their understanding and watched as the blonde left the room without a backwards glance, her posture straight and rigid.
"Well, she seems lovely," Root mumbled.
"She's a bit of kiss-ass," Shaw shrugged.
Root smirked at that and plopped down on the seat facing Shaw's desk. "Why do you say that?"
"John and I saved her from her psycho ex-boyfriend a few months ago and, unfortunately, she remembered me and what I did for her. She gave me a tour of the campus earlier and spent the entire hour alternating between puppy dog eyes, bedroom eyes, and wide-eyed fascination," said Shaw.
"What? You're not into the whole hero worship thing?" Root teased, stifling a chuckle at Shaw's deadpan expression.
"Shouldn't you be setting up my computer instead of asking me stupid questions?"
Root shrugged, but remained seated. "Maybe."
"Well, get to it," the shorter brunette ordered, taking a seat in the large, leather chair behind her desk. Shaw watched as the lanky brunette rose from her seat and fake saluted her, making her way around her desk to take a seat…on her lap. "Root…"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Working on your computer," Root replied, turning on the computer monitor for good measure.
Shaw placed her hands on Root's hips, intending to push the woman off of her, but that plan quickly backfired as Root scooted further into her lap, nestling her rear against the shorter woman's crotch.
"Root," Sameen growled.
"Sshh," Root shushed, twisting around to face the bristling woman. "Wifey's trying to work."
With a resigned huff, Shaw leaned back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest, and watched the woman work.
Shaw was bored.
She'd been sitting alone in her office for the last hour - Root having gone to work on the computers in the computer lab - and was looking for something to distract herself from the deafening silence. No student came to see her, no teacher came to visit her, and Principal Gibbons had made herself scarce since learning of her marital status.
For once in her life, Shaw wanted the company; needed it, almost. She was being suffocated by monotony and her only source of entertainment was on the other side of campus working on computers. The fact that Shaw found Root's company pleasant and entertaining, as hard as that was for her to admit, was a testament to how deranged and addled the boredom had made her.
Needing to focus on something other than her boredom (and Root), Shaw pulled out her cell phone and activated the bug she'd planted in Harold's subway car. Immediately, she was greeted by two familiar voices.
"This can't be right," Shaw heard Harold mutter, his tone that of disbelief.
"Maybe it's not, Finch. It's a really common name. It might not even be the same person," John reasoned.
"But the dates match up."
"That doesn't mean anything," Shaw could practically picture John's nonplussed expression.
"The names match, the dates match, and look," there was a pause, and Shaw could picture Harold pointing to something on his computer screen. "Are you really trying to tell me that this is a mere coincidence? That there is no relation between the two?"
"I'm just saying that you should investigate this further before jumping to conclusions."
"And if I'm right about this?"
"Then we'll let her know. Until then, we keep quiet."
"I suppose that's fair," Harold conceded. "I'll have Detective Fusco look into this. Maybe you're right and there is no correlation between the two."
"I'm sure there isn't."
And then there was silence. No voices, no tapping, no talking. That was the end of the conversation. Shaw kept listening, though, hoping to hear more on the mystery subject, but ten seconds turned into ten minutes, and then fifteen, and then the only sound that could be heard was the buzzing of the AC unit in her office.
With a huff, Shaw switched off her earpiece, leaned all the way back in her chair, and stared up at the ceiling, allowing her thoughts to run rampant.
Shaw loved a good cryptic conversation as much as the next spy, but her inability to decrypt the conversation left her feeling frustrated and unsettled. She couldn't help but wonder if she was the topic of the conversation. If that were the case, then why would Harold sound so alarmed? What names and dates matched up? What was the relationship between said names and dates? What the fuck were they even going on about?
"What are you thinking about?" Root asked as she reentered Shaw's office, snapping the woman out of her reverie.
Shaw shrugged, pushing the conversation she'd just heard out of her mind. Maybe it was nothing serious, she reasoned. Harold was known for being a bit of a drama queen, and John didn't seem too concerned about the topic, if his calm tone was anything to go by. They were probably just discussing a new number. That must be it, she told herself, though she wasn't entirely convinced.
"Are you alright? You look like you're trying to solve the world's hardest puzzle," Root remarked.
Shaw looked up at the woman, just noticing that she'd taken the seat atop her desk, and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking about what I wanted for lunch."
Root wasn't convinced; she always knew when Shaw was lying. But, instead of calling her out on it, she played along. "There's a barbeque joint by my workplace. It's nestled between a pawn shop and a check cashing store. According to my coworkers, they have the best ribs in town. We could go check it out if you want?" Root suggested, her expression hopeful.
"You hate ribs," Shaw pointed out.
Root smiled sweetly. "But you don't."
"Shouldn't you be heading back to your workplace?"
Root shrugged. "I'm stationed here for the rest of the day. My company is partnered with every school in the county and, for the time being, I'm Mayfield's IT tech. Think of me as an on-call computer guru," she quipped. "So, what do you say? Want to get lunch?"
"Did the lunch bell even ring yet?"
"It will in four seconds," Root informed her. And just like clockwork, exactly four seconds later, the lunch bell rang. Root smirked at Shaw's unimpressed look and rose from the desk, holding her hand out for Shaw to take. "So…?"
Shaw rolled her eyes, slapped away Root's hand, and rose from her chair. "Fine, but you're buying."
Root grinned and made her way toward the office door, sending a wink over her shoulder at the shorter brunette. "I wouldn't have it any other way, wifey."
Part 2 of Shaw's first day.
Her eyes were alight with joy, her body hummed with anticipation, and her mouth salivated with hunger; she'd never seen a more beautiful sight. It was as if she was witness to Picasso's first masterpiece. She was aching to touch, taste, devour. A part of her wanted to savor the moment and allow her eyes to drink in the beautiful image for just a moment longer. But a larger part of her could no longer deny herself of it. She needed to have it. She needed to consume it.
So she did.
Shaw grabbed the glistening rack of barbequed ribs with care, holding it cautiously over its takeout container, and took a large, savory bite. She hummed in content; she'd never tasted anything so delicious. She'd been infatuated with the steak from Saint Louis, but she was downright smitten with the ribs from the hole-in-the wall barbeque joint located just three blocks over. Her taste buds sang with joy as the tender meat melted in her mouth and the smoky barbeque left a pleasant taste on her tongue. She moaned happily as she took another bite, and then another, devouring the rack within minutes.
"That good, huh?" a voice snorted in amusement, snapping Shaw out of her food-induced haze.
Shaw snapped her eyes open, not sure when she'd even closed them, and was met with the sight of a smirking Root, the lanky brunette lounging about in the office chair opposite hers with a small container of salad resting atop her lap. Shaw placed the rib remains into the Styrofoam takeout container and brought her fingers to her lips, licking each digit slowly and thoroughly. She watched as Root's eyes zeroed in on her mouth - the woman's eyes darkening a shade - and internally smirked. She took her time with licking each digit clean, enjoying the look of pure, unadulterated lust reflected in the hacker's eyes.
Shaw wasn't sure which of the two she enjoyed more: the ribs or Root's lustful gaze. As she licked her last digit clean - this time in not such a sensual manner - she came to the conclusion that she definitely enjoyed the ribs more. The ribs had warmed her cold, surprisingly still beating heart, and had filled her with a warmth that only Bear had ever been able to elicit. Root only filled her with anxiety, dread, and confusion…and sometimes horniness, but that was a discussion for another time.
"Your coworkers have great taste in barbeque joints," said Shaw.
Root smirked, self-satisfied, and took a bite of her salad. "Thanks for the compliment, Sam. It took me hours to find a place I thought you'd enjoy. I know how much you love your barbeque."
"I thought you said your coworkers recommended it?" asked Shaw, her brow furrowed in confusion.
Root snorted. "As if I'd waste my time conversing with those idiots."
Shaw rolled her eyes at the admission and grabbed an alcohol wipe out of the open plastic bag resting beside the container, using it to wipe her hands clean. She focused on her hands and ignored the tingling sensation on her face (the telltale sign of Root's unsubtle gaze). She knew why Root was staring at her; she was waiting for acknowledgment, a vocalization of a job well-done. After a moment of silence, Shaw threw the soiled wipe into the empty container and closed it, raising her eyes to meet Root's expectant gaze.
"You chose well," Shaw gritted out, her tongue feeling like lead as she paid the compliment.
Root released a silent chuckle and allowed the corners of her lips to tilt upward. "Thank you, Shaw. How kind of you to say."
Shaw watched Root closely, noticing, for the first time, how the woman was mostly picking at her food instead of eating it. "You've been picking at that salad for the last twenty minutes," said Shaw pointedly, nodding to the half-full salad bowl, "you really should eat more than that. It's been, like, fourteen hours since your last meal."
The hacker's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You keep track of when I eat?"
"Well, you sure as hell don't," Shaw snapped defensively. "So someone has to. I'm not doing it because I care or anything. I'm doing it because I don't want to have to explain to Harold why you passed out on the job," Shaw silently cursed herself for the outburst and fidgeted under Root's unwavering gaze, clenching her jaw in annoyance at the insufferable smirk finding purchase on the hacker's lips. "What?"
"You care about my health," Root teased.
Well, she's not wrong, Shaw noted.
Shaw just wanted Root to start taking better care of herself. Root had begun eating less and less within the last year, right around the time Control deafened her in her right ear. Shaw didn't know if her lack of eating was a coping mechanism of sorts, or a side effect of the depression the woman had undoubtedly fallen into, but Root's change in attitude seemed to be obvious only to her and Harold. Root tried covering up her depression with incessant flirting and infuriating smirks, but Shaw saw through her façade, and was less than impressed by it.
As time progressed, Root became withdrawn, which only caused Shaw's worry to increase. But, instead of showing or voicing her concern, Shaw responded with her usual hostility and snark. It was the only way to keep things between them as normal as possible. Shaw knew it, and a part of her believed that Root knew it too.
"I have a gun in my purse," Shaw threatened half-heartedly, "don't think I won't hesitate to use it."
Root smiled. "Whatever you say, Sam."
Shaw opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a knock on her office door. Before she had the chance to respond to the knock, Root had already called for the person to enter. Shaw rolled her eyes at the woman taking over her office as if it were her own, but said nothing. Instead, she focused on the familiar teen who walked into her office with a lunch tray in hand.
"Hey, Josh," Root greeted, patting the empty seat beside her (a seat the secretary had brought in while she and Root had gone out for lunch, as well as a stack of plastic chairs that were neatly stacked in the corner of the office). "What brings you by?"
Josh plopped down on the office chair and placed his tray of food atop his lap. "I was wondering if Daniela and I could have lunch with you guys. You know, since it's your first day." He said more to his tray of food than to Shaw.
Shaw shrugged and made a 'go ahead' gesture.
"Where is Daniela?" Root asked.
"She's coming, she just has to grab her lunch from her locker and she should be right over."
The two women nodded at that and watched as the boy grabbed an appetizing-looking chicken sandwich off his lunch tray. Shaw wished school lunch looked like that when she was in high school (but, then again, the lunch her mom made her was a million times better than the processed crap schools often served). Shaw watched – slightly impressed and slightly disgusted – as Josh stuffed more than half the sandwich in his mouth, not taking much time to chew before shoveling the remaining piece into his mouth.
Shaw noticed Root wrinkle her nose in disgust at the sight and chuckled at the hacker's expression. Root grabbed the water bottle off of Josh's tray, unscrewed the top, and handed it over to chewing boy, waving the bottle insistently in his face. Josh took the bottle from Root's grasp and brought it to his lips, taking a long, hearty gulp to wash down the remains of his lunch. The look of relief that crossed Root's features caused a small smile to grace Shaw's lips, but she quickly wiped it off as Root turned her attention to her, and focused on her blank computer screen instead. Root chuckled, and Shaw knew she had been caught.
"So, did I interrupt your lunch date?" Josh asked as he relaxed back in his chair, looking between the two women curiously.
"No." said Shaw. "Yes." Root responded at the same time.
Josh looked between the two women in amusement and sniggered at the frown on Shaw's lips and the smirk on Root's. "Anyway," he started, looking to Shaw, "how's your first day going?"
"Slow. I haven't had one student come in all day. Isn't it the second week of the semester? Shouldn't there be a long line of kids wanting schedule changes?"
"Well, yeah," Josh replied awkwardly, "but Mayfield doesn't exactly have the best track record with guidance counselors."
Shaw shot the boy a puzzled look. That was news to her. "What do you mean?"
"It's just that you're the fifth guidance counselor we – those of us with last names that begin with the letters A through M – have had in the last two years. We've been stuck with guidance counselors who bail after just a few months and, for the few months that they are here, they're usually no help," said Josh. "It'll take a few days, at most, for students to start coming to you. Until then, you're going to have a pretty empty office, and much more free time than you're probably used to."
Shaw internally groaned. "Just fucking great."
At that moment, a timid knock sounded on the door. Shaw called out for, who she assumed was Daniela, to enter. A familiar face soon peeked into the room and Root readily rose from her chair, gesturing for the girl to take her vacated seat. Daniela offered a nod of thanks and took the seat next to her brother, a small paper bag and a water bottle in her grasp.
"How was class?" Josh asked his sister as she settled into the seat beside him.
Daniela briefly glanced at Root and Shaw, then brought her attention back to her brother and shrugged.
Root looked to Shaw, a disappointed look on her face; they'd known Daniela for two days and have not heard so much as a peep from the girl. Shaw would almost believe the girl was mute if it weren't for the fact that her brother had suggested otherwise. It was obvious that earning Daniela's trust was the only way they'd ever get her to talk to them. But Shaw understood that; she and Root were practically strangers to the girl. Just because she was forced to live with them, didn't mean that she owed them anything. Daniela was thrust into an undesirable situation, with an irritating hacker, and an amazing freelance agent. Shaw wasn't going to force the girl to speak with them unless it was absolutely crucial for her to do so. Although, a part of her wished she could just force the girl to talk.
While Josh was a chatty fellow who would probably provide them with whatever information they'd need regarding the danger he and his sister were in, Shaw was one-hundred percent sure that he didn't actually know anything. Daniela, on the other hand, probably did know something, and the more she kept her silence, the more Shaw believed she wasn't as innocent as she seemed. As Shaw studied Daniela, who was demurely nibbling away at a PB&J sandwich, she could tell there was a raging storm hidden beneath the girl's quiet exterior.
It was only a matter of time before lightning struck.
The rest of the day went by as dully as it had started. Root was paged back to Mason Tech. at the start of seventh period, Daniela and Josh went off to their respective classes after lunch had ended, and no other student or faculty member came by to meet with her.
Shaw felt like a professional pariah.
She was new, sure, but she had expected at least a staff member to come by and see how she was settling in. Shaw, after learning of the guidance counselor curse from Josh, understood the lack of students coming to see her, but what kind of staff didn't come to greet their new coworker? Shaw was used to annoying, overly friendly people, but it seemed as though the staff at this school couldn't give two fucks about her or the fact that she'd be working with them. Not that Shaw was one for small talk or unnecessary socialization, but she could have used a distraction to combat the boredom. She'd tried listening in on top secret conversations between John and Harold, but it looked as though neither man returned to the station after their cryptic conversation from earlier.
Shaw still hadn't managed to decipher their conversation, and a part of her felt that it was for the best. Who knew who "she" and "he" were, and what "dates" matched up? If it didn't have to do with her or her mission, then why should she care?
It was now the end of her first day, and Shaw found herself walking through the crowded hallways of Mayfield Charter. She confidently strode through the halls, head up, chest out, and purse hanging loosely off of her shoulder. She ignored the gawks, the glares, the hoots, and the hollers as she made her way to the school's front entrance, keeping her eyes peeled for the familiar faces of her 'foster kids'.
As Shaw made her way through the front double doors, she noticed several students standing on and around the front lawn, talking amongst themselves, no doubt about the newest junior and senior high gossip. Or, judging by the unsubtle glances aimed at her, the new guidance counselor. Shaw would be lying if she said she wasn't the least bit curious as to what wild tales they'd spun about her, but as she finally caught sight of Daniela, her curiosity died away.
Shaw discreetly watched Daniela from afar – half-focusing her attention on her cell phone screen so she didn't look like a pervert who was blatantly staring at a thirteen year old girl – and watched as the girl in question sat beneath a tree on the front lawn with her face buried in a book, and her backpack propped against the body of the tree. Not once, in the ten minutes that Shaw observed her, did Daniela look away from her book. People walked around her, stood near her and conversed, and one boy, who looked no older than Daniela, even sat beside her. But she never looked away from her book. Shaw had to admire the girl's laser focus; it wasn't easy focusing on a task when you were in the midst of a bustling area.
Shaw watched Daniela for a moment longer before allowing her gaze to stray from her, to the rest of her surroundings. She walked down the school's front steps and surveilled the area. Nothing looked out-of-place, and everyone looked to be preoccupied with either their friends or their smartphones.
Outside the building across the street, Shaw spotted the familiar smile of one Josh Ahmadi, who looked to be deep in conversation with a group of rough looking guys. They appeared to be wearing matching blue and white football jerseys, unlike Josh who was now sporting a blue and white basketball jersey. Shaw almost forgot that he was on the team (he'd bragged to her the day prior about how he was promoted to co-captain).
But what was a basketball player doing surrounded by a group of football players? And what were they doing across the street, isolated from the rest of the student body, on the opposite side of where their respective practice areas were being held?
When Josh was suddenly pushed by one of the larger players, a blonde-haired boy with short, spiky hair, and muscles bigger than Josh's head, Shaw took a cautious step forward, debating on whether or not she should intervene. When Josh looked nonplussed by the push, Shaw stood her ground, and clicked on her communication line.
"Hey, Root, I need a favor."
"Miss me already, sweetie?"
Shaw clenched her jaw, "Now is not the time for verbal foreplay," she hissed. "I need you to tap into the microphone on Josh's phone."
Shaw heard a chuckle, followed by a rapid tapping noise. "Done. You're welcome."
"I didn't say thank you," said Shaw, clicking off her earpiece before Root had the chance to voice her comeback.
Taking out her phone, she successfully paired her phone with Josh's and brought the device to her ear. She was immediately greeted by frustrated voices and impatient growls.
"I don't care if you just moved. Get me my stuff, Ahmadi," A deep voice growled. From her spot across the street, Shaw guessed the voice belonged to the bulky blond who had his finger pointed threateningly at Josh.
Who the fuck actually thought that pointing a finger looked threatening? All it did was make the pointer look like a huge jackass, which Shaw had no doubt that the blond guy was, if his constipated expression that looked more humorous than frightening was anything to go by.
"How about you chill out and I'll get it to you when I can," came Josh's calm and collected voice.
"You have until the end of the week."
"Or what? You'll beat me to a pulp?" Josh mocked. "This ain't the karate kid, Mack. Just because you look like an 80's villain, doesn't mean you are one. Like I said, I'll bring you your stuff when I find it. Until then, hold onto your jock strap and be patient."
"You have four days, Ahmadi."
"And you have however long I take to bring it you. Anyway," Josh mused, taking his phone out of his basketball shorts' pocket, "I'm late for practice. I'll see you boys later."
And, just like that, Shaw watched Josh walk away completely unscathed, leaving four disgruntled football players in his wake.
So maybe Josh wasn't as lame as she thought he was, she'll admit that. But his casual and calm demeanor in a situation that managed to leave four large individuals angry and looking to harm him didn't exactly bode well for him or his sister's safety. Whatever it was that Josh had in his possession was enough to cause those boys to corner him in a shaded parking lot, located off of campus.
Shaw turned on her comm. again. "Root."
"Don't call me that."
Root sighed. "You're such a party pooper, Sam. Is there a reason you're contacting me again? Or did you miss the sound of my voice?"
Shaw ignored her. "I was listening in on Josh's conversation with some football players and apparently he has something that they want. Did his files say anything about past drug use?"
"No, his records are squeaky clean, as are his doctor's records. He hasn't had so much as a cold in the last five years," Root told her. Shaw walked further down the sidewalk, flicking her eyes in the direction she'd seen Daniela earlier, only to see that girl hadn't moved and was still invested in her book. "Josh is a good kid, Sam. I'm sure whatever he has isn't illegal."
"I hope you're right, Root."
"I always am. Speaking of Josh, I promised him I'd pick him up after practice. I told Daniela that she'd be going home with you once school let out, which it did," there was a short pause "twenty-three minutes ago. I told her to wait for you on the front lawn."
"I know, I already see her," Shaw informed her. "Oh, and Root?"
"It'd be nice if you informed me of these things beforehand and not at the moment I'm expected to do it."
"Sure thing, wifey. I'll see you when I get home."
And then the line went silent.
Shaw looked over to Daniela and was surprised to see the girl already looking in her direction. They locked eyes and Shaw gestured for the girl to follow her. Daniela closed her book, grabbed her backpack, and made her way over to Shaw, keeping her head down as she walked past the waiting woman and made her way toward the staff parking lot.
Shaw sighed and followed after her. She was in for a long, uncomfortably silent drive.
"Do you want me to make you something to eat?" Shaw asked Daniela as she entered the kitchen. Daniela, who was seated at the counter with textbooks and notebooks strewn atop the countertop, shrugged her shoulders. "Are you hungry?" Shaw tried again. Daniella just shrugged. Shaw resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the girl and looked through the refrigerator and freezer, taking out the ingredients she needed for the dish she had in mind. "I hope you like chicken alfredo."
In response, instead of the shrug Shaw was expecting, she received a nod. Progress, Shaw thought with a self-satisfied smirk.
Shaw placed the frozen chicken she'd gotten from the freezer into the sink to thaw, and grabbed a cutting board and a knife for the vegetables she'd gotten from the refrigerator. As she begun mincing some garlic, a thought suddenly occurred to her. She paused her actions and tuned to face the quiet teen. "Hey, Daniela?" the girl looked up at her. "Would you like to help me slice some vegetables?"
The teen pondered the question for a moment, her bottom lip trapped between her teeth, before nodding and making her way around the counter toward Shaw. Shaw smiled and handed the girl a knife, two bell peppers, and a spare cutting board and watched as she immediately got to work with slicing the bell peppers into thin, even slices.
"A girl with a strong work ethic. I like that." Shaw complimented, smiling to herself when she spotted a small blush rising on Daniela's cheeks. "Do you like to cook?" Shaw asked, receiving a demure nod in response. "When I was younger, my mom would recruit me for chopping and stirring duty while she prepared the more difficult parts of the meal. Whenever I cooked with her, she would proudly say to my dad that 'azize delam has helped me prepare this dish with love'. She used that term often when referring to me." Shaw chuckled, noticing the slight pause in the other girl's movements. "You okay?"
Daniela nodded, and resumed her chopping.
The two continued working around each other, chopping and dicing up vegetables, placing them aside as they went along. They went on like that until all the vegetables were chopped and the chicken was fully thawed. As Shaw got to work on cleaning the chicken, an unfamiliar voice distracted her from her task.
"My mom used to call me that too," Daniela said quietly, her voice not at all how Shaw imagined it would sound. Where she thought it'd be sharp and husky, it was soft and sweet. Almost like a caress.
Shaw turned to look at the girl. "What?"
"Azize delam. My mom used to call me that, too."
And with that, Daniela walked around the counter, reclaimed her seat, and ignored Shaw's heavy gaze.
"My dad died when I was around your age," Shaw started, noticing how Daniela rose her head to meet her gaze, a surprised look on her face. "He died in a car accident, and I was in the car with him. I know that we don't know each other very well, and that you probably don't trust me – which is understandable – but I want you to know that while I may not understand the full extent of what you're going through, I am familiar with loss. I'm not expecting you to pour your heart out to me, or even talk to me if you don't want to. I just want you to know that if you ever find yourself wanting someone other than your brother to talk to, that Samantha and I are here."
Daniela looked to be considering Shaw's offer and, after a few silent moments, she nodded and allowed a small, close-mouthed smile to grace her lips.
Shaw smiled. "Good."
"And you say you don't know how to talk to kids."
Shaw clenched her jaw and turned her attention back to the chicken in the sink. Under her breath, she muttered, "Did you bug the kitchen?"
"Root," Shaw muttered through clenched teeth.
"Gotta go, Sam. I'm picking up Josh soon. You just keep doing what you're doing and maybe we'll find out if she knows anything."
"Root," Shaw growled, but the line went silent; Root had already clicked off her comm. "Fucking hell, Root," Shaw mumbled under her breath. Plastering on a forced smile, Shaw turned toward the silent girl diligently working on her homework, and cleared her throat. When Daniela looked up at her, an expectant expression on her face, Shaw gestured to the chicken in the sink. "Would you like to help me prepare the chicken?"
The girl nodded and walked over to the sink, using the liquid soap placed near the faucet to wash her hands.
Progress, Shaw mused, this was definitely progress. If she could get this type of response from three hours alone with the girl, how much could she get out of her after a week?
Shaw just hoped all of the unanswered questions that's been building up over the last two days would be answered. And soon.
For all of their sakes.
Shaw needed a cigarette. She didn't smoke, but dealing with this student was making her want to start. She felt antsy and restless, as if her very soul was itching to rip free of her body. Her hands itched for something to squeeze - well, strangle - and her eyes fought their natural impulse to roll. The more this student talked, the more Shaw became aware of her discomfort. Shaw could only hope her discomfort wasn't noticeable to the blathering teen (though she doubted they'd notice anything other than the flapping of their lips).
The four days of silence, inactivity, and boredom seemed like a vacation compared to her current guidance session. Those peaceful days were now a distant memory, and Shaw felt almost wistful.
"I can't tell them that I'm gay. I just can't. They'd lose their shit!" Jill Anderson, a loquacious junior with absolutely no filter, stressed to Shaw. "My brother is going to flip when he finds out I fucked his girlfriend. Fuck, my parents are going to flip when they find out I fucked his girlfriend. My brother has been with her for five years and my parents literally just warmed up to her."
Shaw released an exasperated sigh, grabbed the stress ball Root had placed on her desk earlier that week ('you never know when you're going to need it, sweetie', she'd said), and squeezed the ball until her knuckles turned white. She was imagining the stress ball was Motor Mouth's neck.
"You're gay, right? How did you come out to your parents?"
"I didn't," said Shaw in a bored tone.
When Sameen was sixteen, her mother caught her making out with their next door neighbor, Alexa Lopez. There was no screaming, lecturing, or disowning involved. Instead, her mother had enforced an open door policy, told her she wanted to meet her girlfriend in a more appropriate setting, shrugged, and then went about her business as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. After the incident, her mother continued treating her the way she always had, except, instead of asking her just about boys and possible boyfriends, she'd expanded her range of concerns to girls and possible girlfriends. Sameen didn't have a tough coming out; her mom was more than okay with her being who she was. 'Well, azize delam, you've just doubled your chances of finding a mate,' her mother had said with, quite possibly, the largest grin Sameen had ever seen.
Jill - or Motor Mouth, as Shaw would now refer to her as - stared at Shaw in surprise. "So, what, did you just randomly bring a woman home and that was it? They didn't question you or freak out?"
"Pretty much," Shaw shrugged, wanting, more than anything, to conclude this guidance session. She'd had enough.
"Do you think my—"
"Look, Jill, I'm a guidance counselor, not a gay therapist. When it comes to coming out, my only advice is that you should come out when you're ready, and only when you are ready. Coming out isn't a one-time thing, kid; it's an everyday hassle that you'll have to deal with for the rest of your life. And when it comes to your brother and his girlfriend, do what you feel is right. Okay?"
"Do I even need to come out? Hell, do I even need to tell my brother?" Jill asked, completely ignoring Shaw's sound advice.
Shaw exhaled a long, steadying breath and counted down from twenty in her head. She could strangle the girl, she really could, but strangulation of students was highly frowned upon in most, if not all, societies. The last thing Shaw wanted was to end up in prison for attacking a minor. Not only would that be a new low for her, but it would also jeopardize the mission, which she would not, under any circumstance, do.
However, the more Motor Mouth talked, the more Shaw wanted to say 'fuck the mission' and attack. Her self-restraint was beginning to wane, and she needed to end the session before she snapped.
The stress ball would only help for so long.
"Look, kid, I'm not here to listen to your personal problems," Shaw snapped, slamming the stress ball atop her desk, and cutting the girl off mid-rant. "I'm here to help you with your class schedule and your academic concerns. That's it."
"Stop talking," said Shaw sharply, watching in satisfaction as the girl complied. "I don't care about who you've fucked or don't want to fuck and, honestly, fucking your brother's long-term girlfriend? Really? That was a dick move and if I were your brother, I'd disown your ass. I can't tell you what to do, Jill, and neither can anyone else. If you're ready to tell your parents that you're gay, then tell them. If you're not, then wait. If you don't want to, then don't. It is that simple," advised Shaw, feeling much lighter than she had moments earlier. "Now, unless you have any questions regarding your schedule, I think we're done here."
Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Motor Mouth sat in stunned silence. She stared at Shaw in wonder, as if someone having the audacity to dismiss her was unusual. Just by looking at the girl, with her Louis Vuitton handbag and her J. Crew cashmere sweater that probably cost more than Shaw's first car, being dismissed probably was unusual for her. She looked two seconds away from throwing a rich girl tantrum, and Shaw was not prepared to commit a homicide today.
She needed to get this girl out of her office. And quickly.
"Okay, session over! I'll write you a pass for your next class," said Shaw as she pulled out a stack of pre-signed hall passes and slid one toward the girl, flashing the scowling teen a saccharine smile. "Have a great day! Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Motor Mouth scoffed and forcefully snatched the pass off of Shaw's desk. "Thanks for nothing, bitch" she muttered, stomping her way out of the guidance office.
"Thanks for being a pain in the-"Shaw cut herself off when Root suddenly appeared in her doorway.
"Bad session, sweetie?"
"I'm sure you heard every word, considering the fact that you probably already bugged my office."
"Believe it or not, I haven't," said Root as she entered the office and took the previously abandoned seat. "But now I regret not doing it. Have all of your sessions ended that badly?"
"What were you two even talking about?"
"Well, because of that stupid wedding photo," Shaw pointed to The Machine's photoshopped picture of her and Root on their 'wedding day', "I have students either coming out to me, or telling me of their sexual escapades with the same sex. I was two seconds away from strangling the last three students that came in here."
Root looked to the stress ball on Shaw's desk, staring at the noticeable indentations left in the foam-like rubber. "I can see that."
"You should have been the guidance counselor and I should have been the tech nerd."
Root snorted. "Being a tech nerd requires more than typing two words a minute and knowing how to navigate Google Chrome, Sameen."
"Whatever," Shaw scoffed. "Shouldn't you be at work or something?"
"I should be, but I came by to give you this," Root reached into a purse Shaw didn't even notice she was carrying, and took out a familiar white paper bag. "While the rest of your day might suck, at least your lunch won't."
Knowing what was inside the bag - a pulled pork sandwich from the barbeque joint down the road - Shaw's eyes lit up and, before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "You are the best wife ever."
Over the span of the next few seconds, Shaw watched Root's expression go from stunned to pleased. The smile that stretched across Root's lips was the most genuine smile Shaw had ever seen on the hacker's face. Knowing that she was responsible for that smile caused Shaw great discomfort.
"That's probably the nicest thing you've ever said to me, wifey."
"Don't call me that," Shaw groaned, already regretting her slip-up.
"Well, you just referred to me as your wife, so shouldn't I be able to do the same?" Root teased, a mirthful glint in her eye.
Shaw rose from her seat, leaned over her desk, and snatched the paper bag out of Root's hand. "Thanks for the food, nerd, now beat it."
Root smiled - the genuineness of it causing Shaw's teeth to ache – and made her way toward the office door. "See you later, Sameen."
And then she was gone, leaving Shaw with an unpleasant feeling in her chest, and a sandwich that was already unwrapped and halfway to her mouth.
As the lunch period rolled around, Shaw found herself surveying the school's front lawn. Daniela and Josh were sitting together under a nearby tree with two of Josh's friends and one of Daniela's. All five looked to be fully immersed in their meals, with the occasional verbal exchange occurring between bites. There were the occasional laughs and playful shoves exchanged between Josh and his friends, and the occasional mini-food fight that sporadically broke out between Daniela and hers; but none of that was out of the ordinary. Shaw did a final once-over of the surrounding area and came to the conclusion that the kids weren't in any immediate danger. Whoever was after them was not on that front lawn.
While Shaw was happy that the kids were safe and not in any immediate danger, she was dying for a fight. Where was John with a shootout when she needed one?
Sighing to herself, Shaw walked down the school's front steps and scrutinized every car that drove past. None of the drivers looked suspicious, nor did any of them linger near the school for an inordinate amount of time; they all just went on their merry way to wherever it was they were headed. There was one car, however, that was parked nearby and strategically hidden behind a particularly tall hedge. Shaw knew that car - and the driver currently playing around on his cell phone - all too well. Creeping up beside the car, Shaw quietly opened the backdoor and got in.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd see you here," said Shaw as she slid into the backseat of the familiar unmarked police car, causing the unaware driver to jump in fright with his gun drawn and pointed in her direction.
When the man in question noticed it was her, he lowered his gun and released an irritated huff. "Geez, give a guy a break, why don't you? I could have shot you."
Shaw smiled condescendingly. "Sure you could, Lionel."
"I'm a good shot!" said Lionel defensively, carefully placing his gun back into the holster hidden beneath his suit jacket. Turning around in his seat to face the smug woman, Lionel glowered. "Shouldn't you be listening to teenage sob stories or something?"
"It's my free period," said Shaw dismissively, looking up at the school building with disdain. "Besides, I need a break from all of the teenage angst. If I didn't know any better, I'd say half the drama going on with those kids was scripted."
"Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you," Lionel remarked. "Speaking of work, how are the wife and kids?"
"How's your Jenny Craig diet going?" Shaw deflected.
"That good, huh?" Fusco teased, ignoring the jab at his weight. "You know," he started, pulling out a brown wallet from his pants' pocket. Opening the wallet, he pulled out a small picture hidden behind a $100 bill and held it in Shaw's line of sight, releasing a boisterous laugh at the displeased frown pulling at her lips. "I always pegged you as more of a pantsuit type of girl."
Shaw snatched the photo out of Lionel's hand and crumbled it in her fist. "Fuck you, Lionel."
"No thanks, you're not my type," he quipped. "Oh, and for the record, that wasn't my only copy; I made over two dozen. Just in case."
Shaw groaned. "If you show anyone else that stupid photo, I will end you."
Lionel smirked. "Uh-huh."
"Root placed that stupid picture on my work desk and, add that to the fact that it's also in my apartment, and I can't seem to escape it," Shaw groaned. "When did my life become a living hell, Lionel?"
"When you thought it was okay to sleep with Cocoa Puffs," Lionel unhelpfully supplied, snickering at Shaw's disgruntled expression. "You and banana nut crunch haven't exactly been discreet about your sex life. The entire team has heard you guys going at it more than once over the comms," Shaw noticeably paled. "Yeah, that was our reaction too."
Awkwardly clearing her throat, Shaw changed the subject. "Okay, enough about that. Do you have any new information about our numbers?"
"That's why I'm here."
Lionel grabbed a manila folder resting atop the passenger's seat and handed it over to Shaw. Shaw opened the folder and scanned over the documents, noting the things she already knew about the kids' parents and the things she didn't. Nothing really stuck out to her as odd or significant…until she reached the final page.
"Abdul Ahmadi had a lawsuit filed against him for extortion of funds?" Shaw read aloud. "Why wasn't any of this mentioned in the first set of files?"
"Because the charges were dropped a few days after they were filed and were later expunged from his records. The station had a hardcopy stored in the archives," Lionel told her. "The charges were filed by the owners of a small book company called Read 'Em and Weep. The owners, Jonathan Khan and Elizabeth Small, claimed that Abdul was blackmailing them and demanding seventy percent of the company's revenue in exchange for his silence."
"What did he have over them?" asked Shaw, not liking what she was hearing.
"Both Khan and Small were married but, as it turned out, they were having an affair with each other."
"So, what made them drop the charges?"
"The allegations were false," Lionel told her, noticing Shaw's obvious relief, but not commenting on it. "It turns out that Small and Khan were soliciting funds from the Russian mob and when Abdul found out, he threatened to report them. So, in retaliation, they filed these false claims to tarnish his word and credibility. But, when Abdul managed to obtain concrete evidence of their illegal activity, they realized they were fighting a losing battle and dropped the charges."
Shaw took in the new information and felt her blood run cold. The fucking mob was involved? It felt as if all the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together to form the bigger picture. Could the Russian mob actually be after Daniela and Josh because of the actions of their father? Could the mob be responsible for the car accident that killed Sanaa and Abdul? Shaw didn't doubt it.
Closing the folder, Shaw released a heavy sigh and thanked Fusco. "You're a lifesaver, Lionel. I definitely owe you one."
"Well, now that you mention it…" the detective trailed off, a sheepish smile forming on his face.
"What do you need, Lionel?" Shaw asked warily, already regretting her offer.
"I need you to introduce me to that gorgeous gal over there," said Lionel, pointing to a familiar blonde leaning against the school building with a cigarette hanging between her lips, and a cell phone in her hand.
"Gal? Seriously, Lionel? Get with the times."
"You know what I mean."
"Unfortunately," she muttered, looking over to the woman in question. "That's the principal."
"Well, I wouldn't mind spending detention with her," Lionel joked, chortling at Shaw's disgusted expression. "Is she single?"
"Well, judging by the bedroom eyes she sent me on my first day, I'd say so. You could do much better than her, Fusco."
"Are you saying that because it's true or because you don't want to play matchmaker for me?"
"Both," she jested. Getting out of the car, with the folder held tightly in her grasp, Shaw said, "If you find anything else, you know where to find me."
"Will do. Kiss the wife for me."
Shaw slammed the car door harder than necessary and flipped Lionel off, making her way toward the school building without sparing the snickering man a backward glance.
"You're back again," Shaw deadpanned, unsurprised by the woman's reappearance. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
Root shrugged and took a seat on the edge of Shaw's desk, staring down at the scowling woman with a wide smile on her face. "Well, what can I say? I have much more fun in your presence."
"I can't say the same."
"Don't be like that, Sameen. You know you enjoy my company just as much as I enjoy yours."
"I highly doubt that," Shaw countered. "But since you're here, I have something I need to discuss with you."
"Oh, really? Are you finally going to admit that you like me?"
Shaw rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. "I'm a sociopath, Root. I don't like anyone."
"Oh, I beg to differ."
"I am not talking to you about this right now," Shaw snapped, not in the mood for Root's games. "We need to discuss the kids' parents. Their father, specifically."
Root immediately straightened up. "Did you find new information?"
Shaw nodded and grabbed the manila folder off of her desk, handing it over to Root. "Read the last page."
Root quickly scanned over the file, her facial expression stony and unreadable. After a few moments, she closed the folder and said a simple, "Wow."
"Wow?" Shaw asked in disbelief. "Is that all you have to say? How about 'holy fuck, the Russian mob might be after the kids!'?", and then it hit her. "Why don't you seem shocked by this information? What do you know?"
Root bit her lip nervously. "I don't know much more than you."
"But you know something," Shaw accused. "How? Lionel said the charges were expunged from Abdul's records, which I'm assuming includes his electronic records, too."
Root slid off the desk and heavily leaned against it, her arms crossed protectively over her chest as she avoided Shaw's scrutinizing gaze. "Nothing is gone forever, Sam. When you delete something off of a computer, it gets sent to the recycling bin. In the DA's electronic database, the same thing applies. They may have deleted the file from Abdul's records, but it still remains in a recycling bin of sorts."
"How did you even know what to look for?"
"Well, yesterday Harold received this list from Zoe," Root pulled out a folded piece of paper from her back pocket and handed it to Shaw. "That's a full, detailed list of every company Abdul has ever been associated with. The list we had before only included the big name companies and clients, all of whom checked out fine, but this one has everyone. When I looked up Jonathan Khan and Elizabeth Small, I saw that both were arrested for soliciting funds from the Russian mob. A few days after their arrest, a judge set their bail at $30,000 and an anonymous donor posted their bail, just a day after the amount was set. Other than Harold, who do we know with that type of money?"
Shaw blanched, an uneasy feeling settling in her gut. "You don't think…"
"I think Abdul had much more to worry about than just two, small-time bookstore owners and the Russian Mob."
"I guess that rules Daniela and Josh out as the perpetrators."
"Speaking of the kids, John and I are going to stake out Jonathan Khan's place tonight. I'm going to need you to look after them," Root casually informed her, causing a displeased frown to pull at Shaw's lips. Shaw opened her mouth to argue, but was cut off by a chaste kiss to her lips. "I'm sorry, Sam, I don't make the rules."
Shaw huffed angrily and used the back of her hand to wipe off her mouth. "Why do I have to be the babysitter?"
"Because you're great with kids," Root smirked. "And because my fingers haven't had any action in over two weeks, and I'll take any opportunity I can get to use them for something enjoyable."
Shaw scowled at the dig, and Root smiled innocently.
"I'll see you later, Sam. Remember to pick Josh up from his basketball practice," said Root, slyly stealing another kiss from Shaw. Backing away before the shorter woman could physically shove her, Root headed toward the door and called over her shoulder, "Practice ends at seven! Don't be late!"
"I hate my life," Shaw angrily grumbled to herself as she stirred the sauce for the grilled lamb chops she was preparing for dinner. How could Harold leave me out of a stakeout and send Root and John instead, she thought bitterly. Shaw had been dying to gain back a sense of normalcy in her day-to-day life (i.e., being the badass agent she was supposed to be, blowing the kneecaps off of bad guys, going on long stakeouts outside of some creep's home while she snacked on heart attack-inducing foods, getting to beat the shit out of assholes, etc.).
Instead, she was stuck in the suburbs, cooking dinner for her two foster kids as they worked on their homework, wearing a pink apron that read, 'world's greatest wife'. Root and John were probably out there hiding behind a car door as they shielded themselves from a spray of bullets, while she was stuck playing the role of June Cleaver. Shaw should be out there kicking ass, not in here kissing it. As she meticulously poured the sauce over the cooked lamb, Shaw thought back to the times when her life made sense.
"Dinner's ready," Shaw called out, listening for the telltale sounds of oncoming footsteps. Daniela and Josh appeared a moment later and entered the kitchen, grabbing plates and forks to dish out their food.
"This smells great, Sameen," Josh complimented.
"I agree," mumbled Daniela, looking at Shaw shyly.
Shaw smiled at the girl and mumbled a low, "thanks."
Since the first time Shaw had gotten Daniela to speak, the girl had been allowing herself to be more vocal around her. They weren't having full-fledged conversations or anything, but it was more than Shaw could have hoped for this early on in their mission.
But there was still something about the girl that troubled Shaw. Though her conversations with Lionel and Root had ruled out any possibility of Daniela or Josh being the perpetrator, Shaw just couldn't shake the feeling that Daniela knew something. Shaw didn't know what that something could be, but she had a feeling it could be a vital piece of information. One that could possibly complete the already-forming puzzle in her mind.
"Sameen," Root's voice buzzed in her ear.
Shaw grabbed a paper plate from the counter, took a lamb chop from the serving tray, and made her way into the living room. She plopped down on the couch, placed her feet onto the coffee table, and tersely responded, "Root," A pained grunt sounded through the line and Shaw furrowed her brow. "Root?" she said again, this time with a tinge of worry.
A deeper voice came through the line this time, "Shaw, Root's been shot."
Root's injuries weren't as bad as John had made them out to be. His urgent tone had instilled a slight sense of panic in Shaw but, as it turned out, while Root did get shot, she wasn't fatally wounded. Root was grazed by two bullets in two different areas of her body, but she wasn't lying on a street corner bleeding to death with a bullet lodged in her gut like John's urgent, yet extremely vague tone, had suggested.
When Shaw arrived at the subway station, John greeted her at the entrance and led her to the backroom where Root was lying atop a small cot with a sleeping Bear resting at her side. At the sight, Shaw punched John in the arm. Hard. She was relieved that Root was - for the most part – okay, but she did her best not to show it, not wanting to deal with John's unabashed smugness. The mission had been underway for the last two weeks and John's teasing had been relentless. Shaw often felt tempted to take a page out of Root's book and just tase the arrogant asshole every time he so much as opened his mouth. John was five comments away from getting wounded, by her hand, and Shaw was sure he was testing her patience for his own, sick enjoyment.
"Ouch," groaned John in a pained voice, exaggeratedly rubbing at his arm "What was that for?"
"Big baby," Shaw muttered under her breath, pointedly glaring at the man. "You sounded all Bruce Wayne over the comms and made it seem like she was bleeding to death on a sidewalk or something," Shaw whispered harshly, careful not to wake the sleeping woman and canine, gesturing toward the cot, "she sure looks fine to me."
"She was grazed in the right bicep and has one hell of a flesh wound on her side. Her injuries may not be life threatening, but she's in a lot of pain. I'm sorry I worried you, but I know how much you love protecting your wife," John mocked, barely biting back a smirk.
Shaw punched him again, this punch much harder than the last, and smirked at the genuine look of pain ghosting over his features. "Get lost, John."
John rolled his eyes, rubbing at the newly throbbing spot on his arm, and made his way out of the room, his heavy footfalls waking Bear from his slumber. Upon seeing Shaw, the canine excitedly wagged his tail, perched himself onto all fours, and trotted toward her, his excited panting bringing a small smile to Shaw's face.
Shaw knelt before the excited dog and gently scratched behind his ear, grinning from ear-to-ear when he nuzzled his head under her chin. "I missed you too, buddy," she said softly, placing a small kiss to his wet nose. "How would you feel about coming home with me for a few days? Being away from you is torture," Bear moved his head from under Shaw's chin and licked her cheek, his hot breath ghosting over her face. "You missed me too, huh?"
"I'd miss you if I didn't get to see you every day, too."
Shaw and Bear's heads whipped toward the groggy voice, noticing Root, now wide awake, trying to pull herself into an upright position. Shaw quickly rose to her feet and made her way over to the cot, gently pushing Root back down on the mattress. Bear hopped onto the cot and rested at the foot of the thin mattress, his body draping over Root's feet like a warm and fuzzy blanket. Shaw almost smiled at the sight.
"Don't get up," Shaw gently advised, "You might pull your stitches."
Root sighed and allowed her head to fall back on the pillow with a muffled thump. "How long have I been out?"
"From what John told me, three hours," she told her, scanning the hacker's face for any sign of discomfort. When Root tried shifting to her right side, Shaw immediately spotted the pained look on her face. "Lay flat on your back."
Root raised a questioning eyebrow at the command.
Shaw rolled her eyes and gave the woman a pointed look, her expression stern and unrelenting. Grimacing, Root complied and did as she was told, arms resting stiffly at her side. Shaw lifted the tattered, white t-shirt draped over Root's torso -which no doubt belonged to John, given how long and baggy it was - and spotted the blood-stained gauze covering Root's wound. Looking to the table placed beside the cot, Shaw spotted a hospital-issued first-aid kit resting atop it, no doubt stolen from the local hospital by Leon. She, then, removed the stained gauze off of Root's wound, revealing the sloppily done stiches barely keeping the wound closed. John must've done these stitches in a hurry, Shaw thought in annoyance.
"How's it looking, doc?"
"Like an idiot did your stitches."
"That idiot would be John."
"Like I said, it looks like an idiot did your stitches," Shaw deadpanned, causing Root to chuckle. "I'm going to stitch you up properly. There's no way this wound will heal properly with stitches like these. I can only imagine how bad the stitches in your arm are."
"Well, patch me up, doc. Do what you have to do and, please, take your time," drawled Root suggestively, attempting to sound coy but, instead, sounding tired. Attempting to curl her right arm beneath her head, Root halted her movements and hissed, slowly lowering her arm back down to her side with a pout.
Shaw gently placed her hand atop Root's injured bicep, offering the woman a reassuring smile. "Stay still and let me do my thing, okay? Any sudden movements will cause your crappily done stitches to pull out."
Root breathed heavily through her nose and nodded, her jaw clenched in pain.
Grabbing peroxide, a small scissors, a new thread and needle, and an unstained pad of gauze, Shaw got to work. Root watched the woman work through half-lidded eyes, the gentle hands and rhythmic movements of the ex-doctor nearly lulling her into a light slumber.
Root watched Shaw for a moment longer and yawned, groggily asking, "What time is it?"
Shaw, who didn't look up from her task, distractedly answered, "3 a.m." Knowing what Root was going to say next, Shaw cut her off, beating her to the punch. "The kids were asleep when I slipped out; they're fine," Shaw assured her, pointing to the cell phone resting on the bed, a live feed of the apartment displayed on the screen. "I planted a few bugs of my own. They're fine."
Shaw hummed and resumed working, the room descending into a comfortable silence.
Root closed her eyes, and Shaw could tell by the evening of her breaths that she was beginning to doze off. Shaw placed the fresh pad of gauze over Root's newly stitched side, tore off a strip of medical tape from the roll she'd found in the first-aid kit, and secured the gauze over the wound. Shaw, then, pulled down Root's shirt and rose to her feet, sparing the slumbering woman one last look before making her way out of the room and into the subway car. There, she found Harold typing furiously on his keyboard, and John sitting beside him, eyes closed, arms crossed over his chest, and posture relaxed.
It was time Shaw got some answers regarding that night's events.
"So is anyone going to fill me in on what happened?" Shaw asked, gaining both men's attention.
"Jonathan Khan is a Samaritan agent," John answered tiredly, his shoulders dropping in defeat, and his eyes focusing on Shaw.
Shaw's eyes widened. "What?"
"Those funds that Khan and Small were allegedly soliciting from the Russian mob?" John inquired, "Yeah, not the Russian mob. Harold tracked the routing number back to an offshore account owned by someone named Vigilance Kane."
Shaw rubbed at her temple, trying to ward off her oncoming migraine. "Well, if that isn't the most obviously fake name there is, I don't know what is. How can you be sure Khan is Samaritan? And what about Elizabeth Small? How does she fit into all of this?"
"Small is also Samaritan," replied John. "After the run in Root and I had with Khan tonight, I am hundred percent sure that we're dealing with Samaritan and not the mob. Who the bank account belongs to is just an educated guess, one that Harold and I have made due to recent events pointing towards it. If we're right, then your kids are in a lot of danger, Shaw, and this is much bigger than any of us could have imagined."
"Yep," John agreed gravely before continuing, "and to make matters worse, Samaritan now knows that Root and I are still alive and in the city. It'll only be a matter of time before they track us down, finding you and Harold in the process."
"So, I guess those blind spots meant to protect us were pretty fucking useless, huh?"
"Well, while Samaritan can't see us, its agents certainly can. They do have eyes, Miss Shaw," Harold supplied, turning around in his seat to face her. Shaw hadn't realized that he stopped typing. "Our pictures are in their possession, and I am 100 percent certain that Greer has had his agents on the lookout for us since we disappeared."
"Plus, during our stakeout of Khan's place, Root and I realized, much too late, that his place was practically swarming with Samaritan operatives. Martine, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Small were all there, standing with Khan outside of his apartment building, discussing something we didn't get the chance to hear. They were the first to spot us, and the first to begin shooting. Root didn't duck in time and-"
"And that's why she's the only idiot injured," Shaw finished for him, sighing. "So not only is Samaritan looking for an opportunity to attack the kids, but they now know to look for all of us. This is so not how I thought this day would go," Shaw grumbled.
"Look, if Samaritan really is after the kids, which I'm assuming they very might well be, then you and Root are going to need to keep a low profile. Try not to draw too much attention to yourselves, especially not at your jobs. I know how hard it is for you not to strangle the kids at the school, but try extra hard so that we don't get wiped out by a swarm of Samaritan operatives, okay?" said John, shooting Shaw a pointed – almost pleading – look.
Shaw sighed and looked to Harold, noticing that he was sporting a similar expression, though, his was not so much pleading as it was stern.
Shaw raised her hands in mock surrender. "I will do my best not to strangle anyone at work."
"I trust that you will also keep Miss Groves from tasing any of her coworkers," Harold added, his tone severe.
Shaw sighed again, leaning her back against the wall of the subway car, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. "Got it, boss."
"Splendid," Harold exclaimed, clapping his hands together with mock enthusiasm and turning his wrist over to stare at his watch. "It's almost four a.m. and I think you and Miss Groves should be making your way back to your apartment. John will carry her out to your car. We wouldn't want the children to think you've abandoned them, would we?"
If Shaw sighed any more, she'd probably run out of breath so, instead, she gave Harold a tight nod and a sarcastic smile. "Right. Let's roll, John," she said, making her way toward the backroom before stopping in her tracks to look back at Harold. "Oh, and I'm coming back for the dog; he will be staying with me for the remainder of the mission. Just thought you should know."
Much to Shaw's dismay, people were already up and about when she'd entered her apartment building. It was four-thirty in the morning, yet there were swarms of people already dressed in their hideous, unnecessarily bright outfits, sporting overly bright and cheery smiles to match. Shaw walked through the lobby with her head hung low and a passed out Root in her arms. The amused looks she'd received from her neighbors was beyond mortifying.
So much for not drawing attention to themselves.
"You and your wife party hard last night?" a blond man joked as Shaw entered the elevator, offering her and the unconscious woman in her arms a friendly smile.
Shaw smiled – grimaced – and nodded, forcing out a laugh that sounded annoyingly shrill. She tried not to glower at the fact that such an ungodly sound could even come from her mouth. "Yeah, this one sure knows how to get hammered."
"Sounds a lot like my wife," he jested. "I'm Tim Monahan," he introduced himself, offering his hand to Shaw before remembering her predicament and dropping his hand sheepishly.
"I'm Sameen," Shaw told him, internally groaning at the fact that this interaction was even taking place. "This is my wife Samantha," she gestured to the woman in her arms with her chin, releasing a relieved sigh when the elevator doors opened to her floor. "And this is my stop."
"Mine too," Tim informed her, that annoyingly friendly smile still on his face. "So, Sameen, how are you liking the area? I've noticed you and your family around here, but I've never gotten the chance to properly introduce myself; you guys are always in such a hurry. Where'd you guys move here from? I know everyone in the area, so I know you're new."
Tim didn't wait for her to answer; he continued his one-sided conversation without pause, testing Shaw's already limited patience. With Tim's loquaciousness there to fill in the empty gaps, Shaw's trek to her apartment took twice as long, despite the fact that she was standing just three doors away from it. Tim sure picked a great time to be neighborly. Shaw made a note to ask Harold to do a background check on the verbose man.
As they – finally - reached Shaw's apartment, Shaw turned to Tim and gave him a strained smile. "Well, this is me. I hate to cut this conversation short, but I really need to tuck this one into bed. Maybe we can continue this chat another time?"
Tim nodded enthusiastically, a large grin taking over his face. It was four-thirty in the fucking morning. No one should be that alert or happy at four in the fucking morning. Shaw hated that this was now her life. "Yeah, no, sure, that's fine. Maybe you and the family could come over to our place for dinner one of these days? Maybe tonight?" he offered, looking hopeful.
Over your dead body, Shaw mused.
"I'll have to ask the wife and kids. You know how it goes," Shaw joked, hating herself more by the second. She wondered if the badass she used to be was even still there.
"I sure do," Tim chortled, nodding his agreement. "Well, we live in apartment 212, just a few doors down. We usually eat dinner at six, so if you decide to come by, just knock. It was nice meeting you, Sameen. Hope to see you all later," he chirped, making his way down the hall and out of Shaw's sight.
"Take care, Tim," she called after him in a friendly voice, rolling her eyes at herself as she turned to face apartment 201.
Before Shaw had even made a move to retrieve the keys to the apartment, Root had already grabbed them from her jacket pocket and unlocked the door. Shaw looked down at the woman in her arms and saw the amused smirk making its way onto her lips.
"How long have you been awake?" Shaw whispered harshly as she entered the apartment, Root still held firmly her arms, closing the door behind her with her heel.
"Long enough to hear you participating in small talk with a neighbor. And a cheery one at that. Cheeriness and small talk are two of the things you hate the most. I must say, Sam, I'm impressed."
Instead of dignifying Root's statement with a response, Shaw walked them to their bedroom, quietly closed the door behind them using her back, and then unceremoniously dropped Root onto their bed, taking great satisfaction in the horrified expression that crossed the hacker's face.
"Didn't you just give me a lecture about not pulling my stitches?"
"Did you pull your stitches?"
"Well, I don't think so…"
"Then I don't care," Shaw shrugged, ignoring Root's deepening pout. "You're still annoying and it's still before five a.m. I have to be up in half an hour and, thanks to you, I know I'm going to be more exhausted than usual at work today. I may not be able to honor my vow to Harold and John if any annoying teens come into my office."
Root sighed and laid on her back, turning her head to the side to face Shaw as the shorter woman settled in beside her. "The kids are in grave danger, Sam," Root whispered.
Shaw rolled her head to the side and looked at Root. "I know."
"What's wrong with Sam?" Josh asked as he took a bite of his scrambled eggs.
Shaw sipped from her mug of coffee and leaned against the counter. "She has food poisoning. She must have gotten it from the food she ate last night."
"Right," Josh drawled. "From that dinner she had with her mysterious cousin, Ralphie, right?"
"Yup," Shaw responded with narrowed eyes, not liking his suspicious tone.
"I see. Well, are you sure she isn't just hungover? She sure looked hungover when you carried her into the apartment at four in the morning," Josh said, smirking knowingly at Shaw's deer-in-the-headlights expression. "I heard you two coming in this morning and peeked out into the hall when you were heading to the bedroom. She looked wasted. I guess Ralphie sure knows how to party," Josh joked.
Shaw forced a grin – it seemed she was doing a lot of that lately – and shrugged, as if to say "you caught me".
"Well, what can I say? Sam really doesn't know how to hold her liquor. Speaking of Sam, let me go check on her and see how she's holding up."
"Iv er m bsst," Josh mumbled, his voice muffled by the three slices of bacon he'd stuffed in his mouth.
"I'll make sure to do that," Shaw chuckled, pulling the car keys from her back pocket and handing them to Daniela, who was seated quietly at the counter, wrinkling her nose in disgust at her brother's lack of table manners. Daniela looked at Shaw questioningly and Shaw shrugged. "When you guys are finished here, go wait in the car. I'll be down in a minute."
Daniela nodded and looked to her brother, urging him to hurry up. Josh rolled his eyes, chugged down his orange juice, and placed his empty plate in the sink. Daniela smirked and shouldered her bag, Josh following closely behind her, yelling out a "see you in a few" over his shoulder as they exited the apartment.
Shaw shook her head in amusement and made her way down the corridor toward the master bedroom, rolling her eyes at the sight that greeted her. Root was trying to get dressed for work, the woman trying (and failing) to pull off the baggy, white t-shirt she'd slept in, her arms not able to raise more than an inch above her navel. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Trying to get ready for work," Root replied gruffly, obviously frustrated with her limited range of motion. Shaw removed and redid the stiches in her right bicep before she'd gotten ready for work and it was obvious that Root didn't care if she pulled them out.
Shaw walked over to Root and pulled her arms down to her sides, shooting her a reproachful look. "If you pull your stitches again, you're on your own. Keep your arms down," Rolling her eyes, Root nodded her agreement, but Shaw knew it was mostly just to appease her. "Good. And, just so you know, you're staying home today."
"And why is that?"
"Because you're injured and number one on Samaritan's shit list. I think you should lay low for a while."
Root scoffed. "I appreciate the suggestion, Sam, but I think I'm going to go to work."
Shaw placed a firm hand on Root's shoulder as the hacker tried to get up again. "It wasn't a suggestion."
Root stared at her in disbelief. "Are you ordering me?"
"I can and I just did," Shaw interrupted, her tone dour. "I already have the kids to worry about, Root. I don't have time to worry about you too."
"I can handle myself."
"I know you can, but I'd rather you not have to handle anything today. Just, as a favor to me, stay here."
"You know, the more you say things like that, the more convinced I am that you-"
Cutting Root off again, this time by placing her hand over the hacker's mouth, Shaw murmured a weak, "don't." Root sighed against her palm and Shaw removed her hand, wiping it off against the soft fabric of her gray pencil skirt. "The kids are waiting for me in the car, so I should get going. Just, please, for my sake, stay in the apartment. You can roam around all you want tomorrow," she promised. "I'll see you when I get back."
"Okay," Shaw nodded, turning to exit the bedroom. She got halfway down the corridor before three whispered words caught her attention, causing her to briefly stop in her tracks. Shaking her head and swallowing nervously, Shaw resumed her trek down the corridor and left the apartment, ignoring the furious pounding of her heart beneath her chest.
Shaw was bored, irritated, and hungry. Root had been calling her once an hour just to chat; John checked in every few hours to make sure Shaw hadn't strangled any of her students; and Harold had hacked into the school's security cameras to look for any possible threats, alerting Shaw of every 'odd' person he'd spotted roaming the halls. More often than not, that 'odd' person Harold was referring to was just a student cutting class or roaming the halls out of boredom.
At this point, Shaw wished that there actually was a threat lurking the halls. If there was, she'd get the most action she'd had in weeks and would no longer have use for the stupid stress ball she'd already worn out. When did her life become so dull?
Shaw's attention drifted away from the stress ball in her hand and toward the open office door. Principal Gibbons stood there, a timid smile on her face and a brown, paper bag in her hand. Shaw's curiosity was officially piqued. "Come in," Shaw invited, watching as the woman placed the mysterious paper bag on her desk and sat in the chair opposite her. "What can I do for you, Principal Gibbons?"
"Oh, nothing, I just wanted to see how you were doing. You've been working here for a few weeks now and the students seem to be quite taken with you already. I would even go as far as saying that some of them, specifically the female students, have developed quite the crush on you. You seem to be doing a wonderful job here, Mrs. Johnson," Gibbons raved. "So, as a thank you for your great work, I brought you lunch."
Shaw raised a questioning eyebrow, glancing suspiciously at the brown paper bag on her desk. "What is it?"
"Well, open it, silly."
Cautiously, Shaw pulled the bag toward her and peeked inside of the bag to view its contents. The grease staining the bottom of the bag made her stomach growl, but the sandwich inside of the bag made her heart scream with joy. "You brought me a Philly cheesesteak sub from Marco's? If I didn't know any better, Principal Gibbons, I'd say you were trying to seduce me," Shaw joked, her tone coming out much flirtier than she'd intended.
What could she say? Her heart lived in her stomach.
Gibbons chuckled, shaking her head amusedly. "No, I am not trying to seduce you. I'm just grateful to you for breaking our unlucky streak with guidance counselors. Even if you don't end up staying for a full-term, you've managed to make a large impact on the students and, for that, I am grateful. So thank you."
Shaw didn't mention the fact that the only reason the students probably liked her was because she was hot, young, and in a monogamous relationship with another woman. This was New York City; almost everyone and their mother had experimented or felt as if they were part of the LGBTQ community. The students liked her because they identified with her, not because she was actually helpful. Of course, Shaw didn't say any of that; she wasn't going to risk getting her sandwich taken away.
"Yeah, sure, no problem. Glad to help."
Gibbons hummed in acknowledgment and leaned back in the chair, making herself comfortable. Shaw swallowed the exasperated sigh threatening to escape her throat. She supposed today would be the day she was forced to socialize with the boss. "So, where's the wife?"
"Home sick. She has a bad case of food poisoning."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Shaw could tell from the forced 'concern' in her voice that she was not sorry at all.
"So, what are your plans for the weekend?"
Small talk. Shaw hated it. But, just like she had earlier that morning with Tom (or whatever his name was), she decided to indulge the woman. It wasn't like she had anything better to do.
"I plan to stay in, maybe catch up on some sleep," Shaw shrugged, before politely asking, "What about you?"
"I have a date with this guy I met at the supermarket. His name is Kevin and he's a surgeon. He's tall, dark, and handsome, and looks like he'd be quite the lover-"
Shaw's disgusted look stopped Gibbons from continuing.
Looking sheepish, Gibbons blushed and played with her fingers. "Right, sorry. I just…I haven't had a date in over three months. My crazy ex sort of scared away all of my potential suitors."
Shaw was sure it was the woman's overbearing personality and intensity that probably contributed to her lack of suitors, but she didn't say that out loud. Sameen Johnson was supposed to be nice and understanding, two of the things that Sameen Shaw was not. Shaw took a page out of Sameen Johnson's book and nodded her understanding, a sympathetic smile pulling at her lips. "Well, that ex is no longer an issue. I'm glad you've found the courage to get back out there. Not many women would have the courage to do so, especially not women who've been through the things you have."
"That means a lot, Sameen, thank you for your words of encouragement. It means a lot."
Shaw swallowed her discomfort. "Of course."
"So, anyway, I guess I'll let you get back to work. Hope you have a wonderful weekend."
"Why do I get the feeling that she'd pounce on you if given the chance?" Root's voice buzzed in her ear.
"So you bugged my office, after all, huh?" Shaw asked once Gibbons exited her office and closed the door behind her.
"No, I just cloned your phone and tapped into your microphone. I'm bored and I figured that your day would be much more interesting than mine. I guess I was right."
Root's tone was mostly playful, but Shaw could hear the slight edge in her voice. And then Shaw remembered what Root whispered earlier that morning when she thought Shaw couldn't hear her. She decided to go easy on the other woman. "I got a free lunch, not sex."
"Well, you'd be getting sex regularly if you stopped being stubborn."
"You know my reasoning, Root. Can we talk about something else?"
"What do you mean no?"
"I mean that I'm tired of you constantly dismissing my feelings just because they're an inconvenience to you."
"Can we save this conversation for a later time?" Shaw asked exasperatedly.
"This is later, Sameen," Root snapped, taking Shaw by surprise. "I could have died last night and yet, here you are, still denying the fact that there is something between us."
"You didn't die, though," Shaw argued weakly.
"So, what, are you going to wait until I'm on my deathbed to finally have this conversation?"
Before Shaw could answer, a new, hesitant voice joined the line. "I'm sorry to interrupt, ladies, but I ran a search on your neighbor, Tim Monahan, and he's clean. He owns a bike shop on Main Street and is married to Tina Monahan, a third grade teacher at Mayfield Charter Elementary. Just thought you'd like to know."
Mortified, Shaw quietly said, "Thanks, Harold." A beat of silence ensued following the interruption and Shaw could only imagine the frustrated expression marring Root's face. "Root?"
"Save your excuses, Shaw. I'm just….tired," And she sounded tired, Shaw noted, "I understand that you don't love the same as the rest of us. I understand that you're probably not even capable of it. But you can't keep protecting me and looking out for me and taking care of me, and doing these sweet, considerate things, just to tell me that it means nothing. You may not have a heart, Shaw, but I do."
"I'll see you at home."
Shaw groaned. In the span of fifteen hours, her life had spiraled out of control.
Her day couldn't possibly get any worse.
Shaw had spoken too soon. Of course she had.
As she entered the apartment later that afternoon, Joshua and Daniela following closely behind her, and Bear ambling beside her (John had dropped him off at the school during her lunch break), the sight that greeted her caused her to come to a standstill. Where she'd expected to see a grumpy Root lounging on the loveseat, hacking into some secret government database or something from her laptop, she saw a group of unfamiliar women engaging her in conversation instead.
There were women everywhere, dressed in bright colors, toting around designer handbags, eating what looked to be quiche. Root couldn't cook to save her life, save for basic breakfast foods like eggs and bacon, so where the fuck did she get quiche? And since when did she even eat quiche?
"Hey, everyone, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Sameen, and our foster kids, Joshua and Daniela," Root said, introducing the trio as they made their way into the apartment. Looking down at the panting companion at Shaw's side, Root grinned, chuckling as said companion trotted toward her and rested their paws atop her lap. "And this beautiful boy is Bear."
"Aww, you have such a beautiful family, Samantha," a blonde woman with abnormally tall hair and a nasally voice said, shooting Shaw an almost lascivious grin, before turning to Root and sending her a playful wink. "You were right about your wife being gorgeous."
"Okay!" Shaw exclaimed, clapping her hands together in order to gain the women's attention. "As much as I'd love to get to know each and every one of you, I need to start preparing dinner."
"Oh, of course, darling," the nasally blonde said kindly, rising from her seat, the other women quickly following suit. "It was nice meeting you. I hope to get the chance to know you all. My husband, Tim, said he asked you to join us for dinner tonight. The offer still stands, and it'd save you from dealing with dirty dishes for the night."
Shaw narrowed her eyes. "You're Tina?"
"Sure am, sweet cheeks. And you are Sameen," she stated, looking over her shoulder at Root, then back to Shaw with a gleam in her eyes. "Samantha and Sameen. Oh, that is just too precious," the woman cooed.
"Yeah," Shaw halfheartedly agreed. "Very precious. And, as for tonight, we're going to have to take a raincheck on that dinner, but maybe some other time."
"Definitely," Tina concurred, happily. "See you guys around!"
And then they were gone, leaving Shaw in the living room with just Root and Bear; Josh and Daniela must have made their escape while she was occupied, she figured.
"What the fuck was that, Root?" Shaw hissed, plopping down beside Root on the couch. "You're supposed to be keeping a low profile, not inviting everyone and their mother into our apartment. You could have just invited the enemy into our home. "
Root rolled her eyes, her jaw clenched in annoyance. "Our? Since when were we in this together? You've made it very clear that you and I are separate people with different wants and needs. And your lack of faith in me is astounding. All the women I invited here were persons of interest. You think I wanted to spend the last three hours of my precious time with a group of rich, stuck up women?"
"Harold sent me a list of everyone in the apartment building who had a rap sheet and asked me to check them out. Tina Monahan wasn't one of them, but she seems to be friendly with everyone, hence why she was here."
"And did you find out anything?"
"Nope," Root said tiredly, her eyes narrowed and staring into Shaw's with a startling level of intensity. "At least, not about them."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I'm tired and need a nap. So, if you'll excuse me…"Root trailed off as she rose from her spot on the couch and made her way to the bedroom.
Shaw remained seated on the couch, watching Root widen the distance between them. Bear clambered into the spot beside her and rested his head on her lap. "I'm an asshole, aren't I?"
Bear raised his head to look at her and whined his agreement.
Shaw sighed. "Yeah, I thought so. I guess Samaritan isn't the only big bad I'm going to have to deal with on this mission, huh?"
It was a rhetorical question, but Bear's animated bark was answer enough.
Shaw tossed and turned, her back stiff and limbs aching. The pillow beneath her head slid out from under her as she attempted to shift into a comfortable position, the action causing her head to drop onto the cold, hard ground with a muffled thud. Shaw groaned, pulling herself into an upright position, and rested her back against the nightstand behind her. Shaw looked to her left, her eyes just barely skimming over the side of the mattress, and saw Root and Bear cuddled together, Root sprawled across her side of the mattress with Bear's head resting on top of her thighs and Bear's hind legs curled near the foot of the bed. Their soft snores and evened breaths filled the room, and Shaw felt almost envious of their unconscious state.
It was five in the morning and Shaw had gotten approximately forty-three minutes of sleep. Her joints were cramped and her limbs were sore and all she wanted in that moment was to throw caution to the wind and reclaim her empty side of the bed. But she couldn't. As much as she wanted to get a good night's rest, she couldn't risk being near Root; not when the woman was in such a vulnerable state because of her. So, she'd banished herself to the floor as a way to create a much-needed distance between them. Her back and aching joints hated her for it, but she wanted to stop rocking the boat of Root's emotions; at that point, the boat was practically tipped sideways and ready to plunge headfirst into icy waters.
While Shaw understood that Root was hurt, she also couldn't help but think that the timing of her hurt feelings were extremely inconvenient. They were currently in the midst of solving one of the biggest cases they'd ever had and were responsible for the safety of two children. Now was not the time for emotional, touchy feely talks and broken hearts.
Shaw had warned Root, before they'd even had their first sexual encounter, that their arrangement would be purely physical. No strings attached. Clearly, Root had fallen in too deep, developing feelings Shaw had desperately hoped would never come to pass. But, in an unfortunate twist of events, Shaw had developed feelings as well, and the only person who couldn't seem to see that was Root.
Shaw wasn't one to address her feelings, but not because she was a heartless bitch who didn't have feelings, but because she was emotionally inept and couldn't truly comprehend what she was feeling. She wasn't wired like everyone else and she knew that. Up until the last twenty hours, Shaw had believed that Root knew it, too. A part of Shaw thought that maybe Root even understood it….understood her. But Shaw was wrong and Root had proven to be just like everyone else she'd ever gotten involved with.
Root had expected too much and assumed that Shaw was broken and unfeeling when Shaw fell short of her expectations. But Shaw wasn't broken and unfeeling, she was just different. She didn't feel enough so, logically, that made her heartless. Shaw thought she'd be used to that accusation by now.
Shaw was sixteen when she'd had her first significant other, and sixteen when she'd had her last. Her girlfriend, at the time, had broken up with her after three months of dating, claiming that Shaw's lack of emotion frightened her. She didn't see a future for them, and Shaw had felt inclined to agree. Shaw responded to the news with a stilted nod, a careless shrug, and walked away without sparing the girl a backwards glance. Later that night, her mother, as a way to distract her from her first breakup, told her the story of a friend of hers back in Iran named Sabella. The woman she described was headstrong, tough, a little closed off, a little violent, and everything that Sameen considered herself to be. Her mother had spoken of her friend in a soft, wistful tone, her eyes glazing over with a faraway look. She missed her friend, that much Shaw could tell, but after that night, her mother had never mentioned her again.
But when Shaw thought back to that night and recalled the smile on her mother's face and the softness of her voice when she spoke of her friend, she'd felt something akin to hope blossoming in her chest. If her mother could speak so fondly of a person who others had branded as cold and heartless, then maybe, one day, someone would speak of her the same way.
Glancing over the side of the mattress, Shaw watched the steady rise and fall of Root's chest with watchful eyes and bit back an annoyed groan.
Pulling herself away from dangerous thoughts, Shaw rose from her spot on the ground, stretched out the kinks in her back and neck, and walked toward the bathroom, intent on having a long, scalding hot shower. She'd need it if she wanted to get through another day of ignoring the niggling feeling of guilt that Root's hurt and disappointed looks elicited.
"Beer in the morning? Can I have one?" Josh asked as he entered the kitchen, his shortly cropped hair sticking out every which way in a serious case of bedhead. Shaw took a long drag from her beer bottle and ignored him. "Can I take your silence as a yes?"
Shaw threw the half-empty bottle in the trash and shot the teen a pointed look. "No."
Josh shot her a challenging look, a smirk curling his lips. "Does Sam know that beer is your morning beverage of choice?"
"Sam isn't my mother, so I don't care what she thinks," Shaw mumbled under breath grumpily, but Josh had heard every word, if his small frown and furrowed brow was anything to go by.
"Did you guys have a fight?" he asked gently.
Shaw shrugged noncommittally and opened the fridge to grab a few breakfast items. "We're fine," she eventually settled on.
"Why don't I believe that?"
"That's your problem, not mine," Shaw told him tiredly.
"Okay," he shrugged, knowing that he wasn't going to get anything else out of her. "Do you need help making breakfast?"
"Sure," Shaw said, handing him a carton of eggs and a package of bacon. "You can make the scrambled eggs and bacon while I make the pancakes."
"Got it, boss," he winked, placing the egg carton and bacon package on the counter while he retrieved a frying pan from the cupboard.
Shaw poured her premade pancake batter into the sizzling frying pan and watched Josh do the same with the eggs. The stovetop was small and the space between them as they did their separate tasks was almost nonexistent. Their elbows bumped, their hips touched, and their arms brushed, but neither complained. They worked together in companionable silence, and Shaw thought that it was almost nice. She internally shuddered at the thought. When did my life become a Hallmark movie? She groaned.
"You know, my dad and I used to cook breakfast together most weekends," said Josh, breaking the comfortable silence of their small breakfast making bubble. "Dani and I cooked with my mom throughout the week, but over the weekend, when my dad was actually free from work, he and I would wake up early in the morning and bring my mom breakfast in bed."
"Your parents sound like lovely people," Shaw commented as she flipped the first pancake, bumping shoulders with Josh as she did so.
Josh, nonplussed by the unintentional shove, plated the scrambled eggs into a large dish placed beside the stove. "They were," he told her. "My dad was the most loving guy there was. He believed that everyone should embrace their emotions and accept them for what they were."
"And your mom?"
"My mom wasn't like everyone else," said Josh hesitantly. "She loved us all very much. That much was obvious. It was just that…" he paused, brow furrowing as he wracked his brain for the right words. "She just loved differently than the rest of us. When it came to love, she was much better at showing than telling."
"What do you mean?" Shaw asked, her curiosity piqued.
"I just mean," he paused, placing a few strips of bacon in the pan before continuing, "She didn't always say the words 'I love you'. She was always better at showing than telling. She showed it in the way she cursed out people who told us we weren't good enough, or the way she baked laxative chocolate chip cookies for my sixth grade gym teacher who failed me because he didn't like me. She showed it in the way she would hug Daniela and I for just a moment too long and just a smidge too tight," Josh said wistfully, unshed tears gathering at the corner of his eyes. "I just wish I got more than thirteen years with her, ya know?"
Shaw nodded. "I do."
"This bacon is burnt," Josh chuckled, gesturing to the black strips of bacon in the pan. Shaw subtly averted her gaze when he used the neckline of his shirt to wipe away his tears.
"Make some more," she shrugged, offering him a small smile when his shirt dropped back into place. Josh nodded and threw the burnt slices in the trash, placing new ones in the pan.
The sizzling sound of cooking bacon was a welcomed sound, and Shaw was glad for the new distraction. A tearful Root was one thing, but a tearful teenager was another. Shaw quickly made her last two pancakes and placed them atop the large stack resting on the plate beside her, eager to distance herself from the ball of emotions threatening to smother her. She turned off the burner, left the pan to cool, and stepped away from the stove, taking a seat at the counter. She watched Josh make the entire package of bacon, before turning off his burner and placing the rest of the bacon in the plate with the scrambled eggs. He, then, placed his hot pan in the sink and filled it with water, causing smoke to billow out of the heated cast iron.
Once the smoke cleared, Josh turned off the faucet and walked around the counter, taking a seat on the stool next to Shaw. He stared at her appraisingly.
"What?" asked Shaw.
"You and Sam remind me a lot of my parents," he said, shrugging. "You remind me a lot of my mom, and Sam reminds me a lot of my dad. If I'm right about this, then you two won't be fighting for much longer."
"What? Do you think we're going to kiss and make up or have a deep discussion about our feelings?" Shaw said snidely.
Josh chuckled. "No, I just think you'll eventually see things from each other's perspectives and everything will fall into place. You guys are awesome foster moms so far, and part of that has to do with your ability to communicate with each other. So, go do that and have awesome make up sex," said Josh slyly, a lopsided grin on his face. Shaw shoved him in the shoulder playfully and he laughed. "I'm going to go take a shower. I hope you and Sam have made up by the time I get out."
Shaw watched Josh slide off of the stool and make his way toward the hallway bathroom. A sixteen year old boy was giving her relationship advice, and sound advice, at that. It was six-thirty a.m. and Shaw was already mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Heartless, her ass.
"Hey, Shaw, you up for an adventure?" John's husky voice buzzed through her earpiece
Shaw, who was helping Josh search for something in his room, waited until Josh was out of earshot before replying in a low voice, "My hands are tied at the moment."
As it turned out, Josh had bet his limited edition Captain America comic book in a game of Euchre and lost. He now owed that meathead football player, Mack, the comic book, but had misplaced it in the move. Shaw was disappointed to learn that Josh's entire, heated exchange with those football players was over a fucking comic book. Just when she thought Josh might've been cooler than she'd given him credit for, he just went and fucked it all up.
"Will your hands be untied in fifteen minutes? Harold gave me the keys to the Lamborghini."
Shaw nearly moaned at the thought of driving Harold's sacred Lamborghini - the one he'd only allowed her and John to drive once – and felt herself shiver with anticipation. Shaw still had dreams about the sleek, leather interior, the loud purr of the engine when she floored the gas pedal, and the way her seat buzzed beneath her rear as she weaved in and out of traffic. Her mouth salivated at the thought.
"That can be arranged," Shaw husked into the microphone as Josh disappeared into his closet.
"Pick you up in fifteen."
"Make sure you're in the passenger's seat by the time I come down."
John chuckled. "I would expect nothing less."
"Hey, Josh?" Shaw called out to the teen, dropping the box she'd been rummaging through on the floor. Josh popped his head out of the closet and looked at her expectantly. "I think I'm going to go out for a walk."
Josh nodded, a quiet sigh escaping his lips. "Yeah, that's cool. I'll just keep looking. Maybe Daniela knows where I put it."
"Yeah, maybe," Shaw shrugged. "I'm going to go change into something more…" she trailed off, looking down at her tight tank top and boxers, "…appropriate for the outdoors."
Josh smirked. "I'm sure the neighbors wouldn't complain about what you're wearing," he teased. Shaw picked up a plushy toy resting atop Josh's bed and threw it at his head with impressive precision, hitting him square in the face. Josh chortled and caught the plushy as it bounced off the tip of his nose. "It was a compliment, Sameen!"
"I know," said Shaw with a smirk as she sauntered out of the teen's room and down the hall to her own.
Walking into the master bedroom, Shaw was greeted with the sight of Root, wide awake, with her laptop perched atop her lap. Bear laid beside her, his head resting atop Shaw's pillow, and his eyes focused on Root's computer screen. Root looked entranced by whatever was on the screen and, had they been on speaking terms, Shaw would have asked her what she was doing. But they weren't on speaking terms, so Shaw quietly made her way to the dresser and pulled out a hoodie, a t-shirt, and a black pair of jeans. Not bothering to change in the bathroom, Shaw stood in the middle of the room and stripped out of her PJ's, slipping into her clothes for the day. She could feel Root's gaze on her the entire time, but ignored it.
Once she pulled the hoodie over her head, she walked toward her nightstand and grabbed her phone. Bear jumped off of the bed and looked up at her with bright eyes and a waggling tail, his erratic breathing bringing an involuntary smile to Shaw's face. Shaw kneeled before him and took his head between her hands, using her fingers to scratch behind his ears.
"I'll see you later, sexy. I'm going on a small trip with Uncle John and will be back before you know it," Shaw promised the canine, scrunching up her nose as he licked her cheek. "Be good for Root," she said as she rose to her feet, briefly glancing over her shoulder to see Root already looking at her. Shaw opened her mouth to say something – anything, really - but no words came out.
Settling on a quick, acknowledging nod in Root's direction, Shaw left, making her way out of the apartment and through the building without running into any overly friendly neighbors. Once outside the building, Shaw released a breath of relief and immediately spotted John standing in the valet area, his back resting against the exterior of the familiar red Lamborghini, with the keys dangling loosely from his fingers.
"What took you so long?" asked John, tossing the keys to Shaw as she approached him.
Shaw deftly caught the keys and walked over to the driver's side, just as John got settled in the passenger's seat.
"I was tied up."
"Literally or figuratively?" Shaw glared at him and started the car, flooring the gas pedal as she swerved sloppily onto the semi-busy street. "So, figuratively, then."
"Fuck you, John," Shaw hissed.
"I'm sure Root is the only person you want to be fucking right now," John quipped.
"That was a good one, pretty boy," Lionel's voice said through the comms, evoking a low growl from Shaw.
"I thought so," John said proudly, smirking at Shaw, who was practically foaming at the mouth.
"You two are idiots," Shaw huffed.
"At least we're not idiots who have private, non-work related conversations over our shared communications line. You and crazy pants really need to start using your private line."
"I have to agree with Lionel," John shrugged, ignoring Shaw's look of warning. "We've all heard much more than we've ever wanted to."
"Unless you want me to crash your side of the car into a building, killing you on impact, you should be very careful about what you say next," Shaw threatened, her voice low and dangerous.
John raised his hands in mock surrender and made a show of locking his lips and throwing away the key. Shaw rolled her eyes at the man and refocused her attention on the road, her jaw clenching in annoyance. "Where are we going anyway?"
"Downtown Brooklyn. There's a storage unit where Abdul and Sanaa's personal belongings were relocated after their deaths," John told her.
"Do Josh and Daniela know about this storage unit?"
"They have a key," John confirmed. "But the key is in the possession of their caseworker until Josh's eighteenth birthday, per Josh's request. They are free to access the storage unit any time they want, but Josh wanted her to have the key for safekeeping."
"How do you even know any of this?" Shaw asked, glancing briefly at John through her peripheral vision as she weaved through traffic.
"Root told me. The caseworker went over this with you two when she dropped off the kids," relayed John, "You didn't listen to her, did you?"
Shaw only remembered wanting to punch the smile off of that woman's face. Blocking out her overly cheery attitude and high-pitched voice was the only thing keeping her from succumbing to her brewing rage so, no, she hadn't listened to a word the old, obnoxiously happy woman had said.
"Make a right at this upcoming light."
Shaw made a sharp right at the light, nearly swiping a man on the sidewalk off of his bike, and grinned at an exasperated John.
The storage unit was situated inside of a small warehouse, located in a seedy part of town. The area was surrounded by abandoned warehouses, pawn shops on every street corner, and men with fake guns settled in the waistbands of their jeans. Shaw noticed a group of men stopping fifteen feet short of her, roaming their eyes over her body appreciatively. Shaw grabbed the rifle from the car's backseat and held it in her grasp, watching in amusement as their predatory smirks turned into fearful expressions. As they scurried away, Shaw put the rifle back into its rightful duffle bag and handed it over to John, who held out his hands expectantly.
"We're supposed to be laying low," John admonished, like a strict father to his unruly child.
"Says the guy who pulled a glock out on a guy who shoved a woman out of her place in line at a hotdog cart just last night," Shaw smirked at his dumbfounded expression and pointed to the small, black dot attached to the collar of his gray suit jacket. "For a camera the size of an ant, it sure has an expansive field of view."
John plucked the camera from his jacket collar and dropped it to the floor. "You and Root are a match made in hell. I hope you know that."
Shaw's smirk turned into a scowl as she followed the man out of the parking lot and into the warehouse. Metal doors lined the walls, reminding Shaw of the locker cabinets that lined the walls of a school hallway. She spotted Lionel standing at the end of the corridor, standing before a red, metal door with a key chain held tightly in his grasp. As John and Shaw walked toward Lionel, he spotted them and shot them an exasperated look.
"What took you guys so long?" he grumbled, inserting the key into the lock and pushing open the door.
"It takes thirty minutes to get here from the suburbs, yet I got here in ten," Shaw scoffed, pushing past the man and into the storage unit. "Maybe you should go home for your nap. You seem a little cranky," she sneered.
"Someone is sounding a little heartless today," Lionel sneered back.
"Have you ever been shanked by a key, Lionel?" Shaw asked as she stalked closer to the pudgy man and pulled the car key out of her hoodie pocket, holding the key up to his neck as if it were a blade.
John stepped between the two bickering adults. "Now, children, we are here strictly for business. Save your tantrums for another time."
Shaw pocketed the car key and glared at Lionel. Lionel rolled his eyes and turned toward a stack of boxes, while Shaw made her way toward a small filing cabinet settled in the corner of the room. "What are we looking for exactly?" she asked as she opened the top drawer, revealing an organized, alphabetized stack of manila folders. She picked up the first folder and flipped through it, noticing the copious amounts of graphs, progress reports, and pie charts within it. Closing the folder, she put it back in its place and looked up at John and Lionel, who were already rummaging through random boxes.
"Anything that looks like it could be of interest," John answered, placing a deflated soccer ball back into its respective box.
"Can't I just take these files home with me and look through them there?" Shaw inquired. "I have better things to do than spending my Saturday in a storage locker."
"Like what? Getting the silent treatment from your wife and being nagged to death by your kids?"
"No, like kicking your ass and pointing out how you haven't gotten laid in years," Shaw retorted.
John smirked, coughing to hide his laugh at Lionel's affronted look. "That was a low blow," Lionel grunted.
Shaw shrugged, "You started it."
Lionel grumbled under his breath and continued rifling through the boxes, while John flipped through an aged photo album. Shaw moved away from the filing cabinet, opting to look through that last, and made her way toward a ping pong table in the corner of the room. The wood of the tabletop looked worn and abused. The original dark green color of the table had scratch marks slashed across it, causing the table to appear more brown than green in some parts. Shaw traced the scratches on the table with the pad of her index finger, halting her movements when her finger pushed against a patch of the tabletop that wobbled from the pressure of her touch.
Shaw pushed against the patch again, noticing the way it wiggled slightly, as if it didn't belong there but was intentionally placed there. Rapping her knuckles against the area, Shaw heard a hollowness that was inconsistent with the rest of the table. Pulling out the car key from her pocket, Shaw dug the tip of the key into the scratch mark surrounding the small patch and pried at it until a six by six rectangular patch of wood slotted out of place. Inside of the small crevice was a Ziploc bag. When Shaw retrieved the bag and looked through its contents, her eyes widened.
"I found something," Shaw called out, heavy footsteps making their way toward her in response.
"What is it?" Lionel questioned.
Shaw spilled the contents of the bag onto the ping pong table, gesturing toward the various passports and identification cards splayed before them. Amar Muhammed. Mason Carter. Amir Tehrani. Bardia Gilani. Different names, different locations, same man.
Abdul Ahmadi's picture was plastered on them all.
"Looks like Abdul Ahmadi isn't as innocent as we thought."
I was thinking of possibly making next chapter Root-centric. Would you guys be interested in that? Thanks for reading!
So, this is a Root-centered chapter. This chapter goes over the course of the mission thus far, leading up to present time in the story. I've been up all night writing and attempting to edit this chapter, and if I edited or rewrote this anymore, I would never update lol. All mistakes made are mine. Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Columbia City, Oregon - 1998
She'd chosen the destination with her eyes closed.
She packed up all of her things – all of her belongings had fit into one suitcase, unsurprisingly – and fled town the moment her mother was laid to rest. There was nothing left for her in Bishop; nothing tethering her to the place she'd once felt trapped. The only thing that kept her in Bishop was her sick mother, whose chain-smoking habits had caught up to her in the form of bronchogenic carcinomas, and now her mother was gone. The shackles that chained her to the trashcan she once called home were unlocked and tossed aside, freeing her from her own personal prison.
Freedom had never tasted so sweet.
Taking the blue pickup truck her mother had left to her in her will, Sam Groves unfolded the map of Oregon she purchased at the age of twelve (Hanna's obsession with Oregon Trail spurring on the impulsive purchase), closed her eyes, and pointed to a random spot on the map. Columbia City, Oregon was where her finger landed, so Columbia City, Oregon was where she went.
Sam Groves came to Oregon in search of a new life; a life that she'd once envisioned for her and Hanna. But Oregon was nothing like she'd envisioned. It was hot, humid, gloomy, and not unlike her hometown of Bishop, Texas. Hanna would have booked them the next bus ticket to Portland, had she seen the place. But Hanna wasn't here. Sam Groves (Phoebe Sanders, to anyone who asked), was nineteen years old, alone, and without a friend in the world.
As she sat on her motel room's makeshift balcony, staring at the flickering sign of the gentlemen's club across the street and the old, sleazy men drunkenly stumbling through the club's swinging saloon doors, she knew she was destined for something much greater than the town of Columbia City and its bare, two-star motel.
She had 12.8 million dollars, twenty carefully crafted identities, and hacker skills that even Vladimir Levin would envy at her immediate disposal. She could be anywhere in the world right now - she could be anyone - yet Columbia City, Oregon was where she'd ended up. Her mother, on her deathbed, told her to follow her talents. Being whistled at by the man on the neighboring balcony as he roamed his eyes over her body was definitely not what her mother had meant, nor was trading one unfulfilling small town life for another. Alana Groves was probably rolling in her grave.
In Bishop, Sam's intelligence had frightened her former classmates, her disinterest in boys had disgusted the narrow-minded townsfolk she'd been raised around, and her view of individuals as bad code had kept her from pursuing new friendships. Samantha Groves had never wanted a simple life, and now Samantha Groves no longer existed. But neither did Phoebe Sanders.
Phoebe Sanders was only temporary; just one identity out of the many she could hide behind as she became who she was destined to be. Hanna once told her that the world was her oyster. All that was left for her to do was grab the pearl.
And that's where Root came in.
Sam was eleven when she'd created the pseudonym, except now it was no longer just a pseudonym. It was an identity. Her identity. Root gave her strength in times of weakness, light in times of darkness, and confidence in times of self-doubt. When Hanna went missing and her mother fell ill, Root gave her the courage she needed to go on. When the teachers wrote her off as mentally unstable and troubled, and her classmates taunted her about all of her misfortunes, Root gave her the platform to stand up for herself by making those who caused her pain suffer a fate worse than death (usually by tarnishing their good name, draining their bank accounts, or leaking concrete proof of their extramarital affairs. Root pulled no punches).
Unlike Sam, Root was not a victim. She was a vigilante looking to push self-proclaimed gods off of their sky high pedestals. Sam Groves was dead to this world, but Root stood tall in her place. She was a ghost, drifting through cyberspace and the physical world unseen. She was everywhere and nowhere, just like it should be.
Why search for a home, when you could create one within yourself?
The mission was supposed to be simple - take the children into custody, locate the perpetrator, and neutralize the threat. Hook, line, and sinker. Instead, what the team received was an inordinately long mission where the perpetrator disappeared as soon as they'd appeared, leaving the team to wonder if they'd even existed in the first place.
Joshua and Daniela's numbers appeared three times a week, disappearing less than two hours after their appearance, like clockwork. The perpetrator was playing them, and Root suspected their will-they-won't-they routine was intentional. These perps knew about The Machine and it was almost as if they were testing the response time of Her agents. After receiving Abdul's full client list from Zoe and finding a connection between the Read 'Em and Weep employees and Abdul, things had begun to fall into place. A dark and complicated place. This mission was unlike any of the others they'd been assigned and only John, Harold, and Root knew why.
It was a game of cat and mouse, and Team Machine was already in the cat's clutches.
"Is it possible a vigilante may be involved?" asked John one day over coffee, as he and Root sat across each other at a corner booth in a Midtown diner. "Maybe someone is tracking the perps and taking them out before they get the chance to attack?"
"But how would they know that unless they had access to The Machine? That's the only way they could predict our actions and our exact location," Root countered.
"What if they didn't need access to The Machine?" argued John, his eyes widening as an idea suddenly occurred to him. "What if they had access to another ASI?"
Root felt her stomach bottom out. "Samaritan," she said.
"I think Greer is testing our response time," said John, voicing her internal concerns.
"I think Greer is testing much more than that," Root told him, her stomach clenching uncomfortably at the thought of Samaritan being involved. "I think he's testing the response time of The Machine."
"How did Abdul manage to get himself targeted by Greer? And why is Greer targeting the kids now? What do they have to do with this?" John wondered aloud to himself, before looking to Root.
A thought suddenly occurred to Root, one that chilled her from the inside-out. "You don't think Samaritan knows of the relation between the kids and…" she trailed off.
"No," John answered. "Not even she knows about this. If they did know, then that would mean they had access to her family records and all of her former aliases, including this one. Samaritan agents would be swarming the school if that were the case."
Root looked to the camera perched on the wall next to their booth and stared into the lens. "Is Sameen's cover still intact?"
Yoruba. Esther. Sierra.
"She says Sameen is fine, so Samaritan targeting the kids has nothing to do with her."
"So, what do we do?"
"We stakeout Jonathan Khan's apartment and find out whatever we can about him. If it turns out that he's Samaritan and not, in fact, in contact with the Russian mob, then the kids aren't the only ones in danger," she told him as she pulled out her cell phone to check the time.
"You have somewhere else to be?"
Root nodded, slid out of the booth, and readjusted her leather jacket. "I need to let Sameen know that she'll have to babysit the kids tonight."
John smirked and gave her a knowing look. "And you need to go all the way to the school to tell her? We have cell phones for a reason."
Root smirked back and shrugged self-deprecatingly. "What can I say, John? Her grumpy face makes my day."
John chuckled and shook his head in thinly-veiled amusement. "You two are a match made in hell."
"Meet me in the front of Scarsdale High in an hour," instructed Root, humming to herself as he nodded his agreement. With a half wave to John, Root made her way out of the diner and toward Mayfield Charter School.
"So, about Shaw…" John trailed off, taking a sip from the travel coffee mug Root gave him last Christmas, as he surveyed the area.
Root bit back a smile at the cartoon ape displayed on the mug. (Her exact words to John as she gifted him the mug were, "Hey, big lug, I found travel mug just for you. It has your face on it and everything." She remembered him taking the mug with a half-smile on his face. He'd given her a taser the next day with the words 'Mrs. Shaw' scrawled in white marker on the underside of it. Shaw had not been amused.)
Staring at their suspect from her spot in the passenger's seat, Root watched the man as he stood motionlessly in front of his apartment building, his eyes trained down the empty road, as if he were waiting for someone to appear. Root tried cloning his phone, but the man had kept not only his Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connection off, but his phone as well. He was smart, Root would give him that, but he was obvious.
John cleared his throat awkwardly, breaking Root's attention from the suspect. "Yes, John?" she asked.
"Have you told Shaw about the-"
Root cut him off with a shake of her head. "No, not yet. I'll tell her soon, I promise
"She deserves to know before all hell breaks loose."
"And she will," Root assured him. "Just not yet. She said it's not time."
John shrugged and returned his attention to the suspect. "Looks like Khan brought some friends," John husked out as he withdrew his gun from his suit pocket and stared at the approaching trio. Root followed his line of sight and spotted Elizabeth Small, trailed by Greer's favorite helper monkeys, Agent Lambert and Agent Rousseau.
Well, that answers the 'is Khan working for Samaritan' question, Root mused to herself.
Focusing back on the scene unfolding in front of her, Root watched the trio join Khan on the sidewalk, engaging in what looked to be a work-related conversation, their backs facing the black sedan Root and John were currently sheathed in. Khan cautiously glanced around the street as Lambert pulled a folded manila envelope out of his black coat pocket, something Root assumed was a file, and watched him take the proffered envelope, swiftly placing the file into the interior pocket of his gray pea coat.
"What do you think is in that envelope?" John asked as he snapped photos of the suspects with his phone camera and sent the pictures to Harold for review.
She wanted to hear what the group was discussing, so they could finally shed some light on the already dark and hazy mission. But she couldn't. Greer had somehow managed to make their phones resistant to cloning, arming them with a firewall unlike anything she'd ever seen on a mobile device. Its encryption was intricate, and though Root had no doubt that she could eventually bypass the phone's firewall and decrypt the code, she knew it wasn't something she'd be able to figure out within the next 30 seconds. Judging by the insistent warnings buzzing in her ear, they'd already run out of time.
Root looked to John, withdrew the gun from the waistband of her jeans, and told him, "We've been spotted."
John looked straight ahead toward the Samaritan agents for confirmation and could see four sets of eyes staring directly at them, their weapons already drawn. A second later, bullets sprayed over their vehicle, bullet holes penetrating the front glass. John and Root got out of the car and used their car doors as shields. Every so often, John would peek out from behind the door and exchange shots with the agents, ducking back behind the safety of the car door once they'd begun shooting back.
Eleven O' Clock, came the choppy, automated voice in her ear. Root popped up from behind the passenger door and positioned her gun slightly to the left, hitting Lambert in the thigh. The man winced and shot at Root before she could duck back to safety, his bullet grazing her right bicep, taking a large chunk of flesh and leather with it. Root let out a pained groan.
"Root, are you okay?" came John's worried voice through their comms.
"I'm fine," she grunted out, popping up from her car door shield to take a shot at Small, who she'd managed to hit in the arm. A bullet suddenly punctured the window of the passenger car door and grazed Root's side, the stinging pain of copper and broken glass searing across her skin, causing her to double over in pain. She heard John shout over to her from his spot near the driver's side, asking her if she'd been hit. She grumbled her confirmation at him and turned on her line to Shaw.
"Sameen," she'd managed to force out, the pain in her arm and side becoming more prominent by the second.
After a second of silence, Shaw's voice buzzed over the line. "Root," came her terse voice. Root smiled, despite her pain, and attempted to respond, but John, who'd suddenly appeared before her, attempted to heave her back into the passenger's seat, causing another grunt of pain to escape her throat. "Root," came Shaw's voice again, the terseness in her tone replaced by concern.
John clicked on his earpiece as he lifted her limp body into the car, and answered for her. "Shaw, Root's been shot."
"What the fuck, guys? You were supposed to be discreet," Shaw hissed in disapproval.
"Scold us later. Meet us at the subway station after the kids fall asleep," said John as he made his way around the car and hopped into the driver's seat, skillfully dodging the hail of bullets threatening to embed themselves into his flesh. After quickly closing the door and ducking his head out of sight, John turned the key in the ignition and sped away from the firing agents.
Bullets bounced off the back bumper and shot out the rear glass, but they'd managed to escape before any more damage could be done to them or the car.
"That went well," Root wheezed out, holding onto her bloody side, while ignoring the stinging pain in her bicep.
"Hold tight. Try not to bleed all over the leather."
Releasing a pained chuckle, Root looked at the shot out windows and bullet-riddled interior. She was sure the car's exterior was a million times worse. The low humming in her ear confirmed as much. "I'm sure blood on the seats will be the least of Harry's worries."
John glanced over at her and flashed a wry smile.
Two hours later, Root found herself splayed across the cot in the station's backroom, dressed in one of John's large, white t shirts, with Bear's head resting on her thighs as he guarded her from unseen threats. From outside the room, she could hear Shaw quietly berating John for overplaying Root's injuries. She sounded worried. Root smiled to herself.
John brought her to safety, Bear felt the need to protect her, and Shaw was worried about her. An unexpected warmth filled her chest, bringing a soft smile to her lips.
For the second time in the last few weeks, the thought manifested itself before she could squash it: she finally felt like she belonged.
She'd been placed on bedrest, at Shaw's behest.
Due to recent injuries and her inability to move without eliciting some type of sharp pain from her wounds, Root found herself feeling bored, annoyed, and abandoned. She'd tapped into the microphone of Shaw's phone to entertain herself with Shaw's latest student drama but was, instead, greeted by Cheryl Gibbons' shameless attempt at flirting. Shaw's weak attempt to deflect said woman's flirting was entertaining at first, but then Root heard the rustling of a paper bag and knew Shaw was a goner. If there was one thing Root knew about Shaw, it was that she could never reject food. Ever.
Gibbons played on Shaw's weakness and Shaw fell right into her trap. Root wasn't one to get easily jealous, but the combination of prescription drugs, throbbing pain, annoyance, and restlessness ignited something nasty inside of her.
Before she could stop herself, she'd clicked on her earpiece and began talking at Shaw as if she did something wrong. She regretted opening her mouth the moment she called Sameen heartless.
She didn't mean it, of course, but there was no taking it back now. The words were out, and they'd haunted her ever since. She'd called Sameen heartless.
Sameen, the person who biked across state lines to a Samaritan facility located in the middle of nowhere just to make sure she was safe. Sameen, the person who'd shielded Root's body with her own when a gunman was ready to shoot Root's brains out. Sameen, the person who kept track of her eating habits and made sure she got three decent meals a day. Sameen, the person who defended her to Harold and John when they refused her help, despite the fact that she had deserved their distrust and harsh words.
Shaw was many things, but heartless was not one of them. Shaw claimed to be emotionally stunted, unable to care for others. To an extent, that was true. But she'd managed to contradict herself on multiple occasions by showing how much she cared for the team, for the kids, for Gen…for her.
Given Root's track record of murdering people for pay, without sparing any regard to how their deaths would have affected their loved ones, it was obvious which of the two were heartless. Sameen Shaw was far from heartless, and she'd shown that.
And now Root was paying the price for her harsh words.
She was punishing her, Root was sure.
A day that Root had planned to spend hacking into the Pentagon's database, had turned into a wild goose chase for former female offenders around the apartment complex. First came a list of names from Harold in her email, followed by vague instructions given to her by The Machine.
She'd found her first four targets in the elevator, listening to the women as they discussed where their next book club meeting would be held. Her voice buzzed in Root's ear, telling her to engage the women in conversation. Root didn't know what the point of the mission was, but she complied. Like always.
"Excuse me, I'm sorry to intrude on your conversation, but did I hear something about a book club?" Root had asked in her most friendly voice, flashing that practiced smile of hers that could dazzle even the nastiest of people.
"Why, yes. Yes you did," answered the shortest member of the group, a nasally blonde. "Hey, aren't you the woman who recently moved into Apartment 201?"
Root nodded, a tight-lipped smile on her lips. "That's me."
"Oh, you have such a beautiful family. I've seen you and your wife?" the woman paused, waiting for Root's correction in case she'd assumed wrong.
"Yes, she's my wife," Root informed her, ignoring the stuttering in her chest at the false statement. If only it were true, she thought to herself. Root smiled and held a hand out to the nasally blonde. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? I'm Sam Johnson."
The blonde took her hand, enveloping Root's callused hands in her velvety soft palms. The woman had obviously never done any type of hard labor in her life. "I'm Tina Monahan. These are my friends Beth, Linda, and Maura," she'd relayed, pointing to a plump redhead, a tall brunette, and a short, dirty blonde.
From there on, getting the women to trust her was easy. They'd invited her out to lunch, easily welcoming her into the fold. Root listened to them gossip about the swingers living in 4a and the alleged drug dealer living in 120. They'd discussed their sex lives with their husbands (and wife, in the case of Linda), and what new things they'd tried in the bedroom (Root had excused herself from the conversation more than once to gag).
Root nodded along to whatever the women were saying, as if she'd actually been listening, and focused on the low buzzing in her ear feeding her their life stories.
Beth Monroe was convicted of armed robbery at the age of sixteen in St. Paul, Minnesota, but was released on a ten-thousand dollar bail. Linda Manning was convicted of petty theft at age fifteen; she'd stolen three silver bracelets from a jewelry store in Albany, but was only charged a four hundred dollar fine and a week of community service as punishment. Maura Simmons was convicted of aggravated battery at the age of twenty-two; apparently she'd beaten the crap out of her boyfriend's mistress, leaving the woman hospitalized with three broken ribs, a fractured tibia, and a broken nose. She'd done one month in a low-security prison and was released for 'good behavior'. Apparently good behavior was code for a ten thousand dollar bribe from her rich father to the judge.
It was amazing how much you could get away with when you had money.
These were the type of women Root had steered clear of in Bishop, and now Harold and The Machine were forcing her to interact with them. Her cheeks hurt from the forced smile plastered on her face. The stabbing pain in her arm and side only caused her lips to strain more, transforming her seemingly sweet smile into a pained grimace. Of course, none of the women had noticed, given that they were too busy ridiculing soccer mom Nancy from 10C who had gained twenty pounds since her divorce.
Root wanted to escape back to the apartment and distance herself from the Real Housewives of Suburban New York, but She had other plans.
And that was how Root found herself back in her apartment, with four snobby women and a quiche one of them had retrieved from their apartment. She entertained their small talk, answering their questions regarding her 'personal life', and even showed them pictures from her 'wedding day'. She told them how she and Shaw had 'met' ("she beat the crap out of the guy who couldn't take the hint, and I swear it was love at first punch.") and even relayed the same story she'd told the caseworker about her and Shaw trying and failing to have children of their own.
They ate it up as if it were the best gossip they'd heard in days. After listening to their conversations over lunch, it wouldn't have surprised her if it was.
"Why am I doing this?" Root muttered under breath as the women preoccupied themselves with a bottle of wine Root hadn't even seen them bring in.
Stay the course.
"What course? What does the mission have to do with these women?" Root huffed out in frustration.
"What was that, Sam?" Tina asked, bringing her wine glass to her lips.
"I wasn't talking to you," said Root automatically, before retrieving her phone from her pocket and holding it up as an explanation. "I was just reading aloud a text from my wife. Don't mind me."
Tina shrugged and turned back to the other three, resuming their afternoon gossip.
"Why did you and Harold have me bring them here?" Root tried again.
Stay the course.
Root let out a resigned sigh, collapsed onto the nearest loveseat, and plucked a mini quiche from the nearby platter. She was staying the course, all right. As long as it ended with the bigger picture displayed clearly for her to see.
There was no bigger picture.
Root ventured out into the community, chasing after former felons, and it was all for naught. She had given Root busy work to take her mind off of Sameen (the emailed list hadn't even come from Harold, it came from her). She cared about the well-being of her assets far more than the rest of the team gave her credit for. Sometimes Root just wanted to shake them– John, Sameen, and especially Harold – and open their eyes so they could finally acknowledge her true power. She wasn't just a machine or an ASI. She was a God. Root's God.
But more than that, She was Root's friend.
And a meddlesome one, at that, judging by the low buzzing of her cochlear implant that startled her awake.
Primary Asset. Asleep on floor.
Root blinked through sleep-blurred eyes, her eyes adjusting to the darkness of the room as the sounds of soft snores filled her ears. Looking to her left, in the spot where Sameen would usually be lying, was Bear, sound asleep with his head resting on her lap. Root gently ran her palm over his head and peeked over the edge of the mattress. There, on the floor, covered by a flimsy throw blanket, was Sameen, tossing and turning as she tried to find comfort on the hard floor. The digital clock on Sameen's nightstand read 2:23 AM.
Sameen wasn't in the room when Root fell asleep, but the fact that she would rather sleep on the floor than next to Root showed how much the other woman respected her boundaries. Shaw may have not been completely in tune with her own emotions, but she was always in tune with Root's.
She was beautiful.
"Sameen," Root whispered, her voice obscured by Bear's loudening snores. Patting the canine's head softly, she smiled as his snores quieted. "Shaw," she tried again.
The only response she received was addled muttering, the ruffling of a pillow, and the telltale sign of a fist meeting wood. Shrugging, Root slid back down the mattress and laid flat on her back, readjusting Bear's head on her thighs.
She woke up to a tray of food resting on her nightstand, with a note written in a childlike scrawl saying, "EAT". Root smiled and sluggishly pulled herself up in bed, noticing that Bear had relocated to the foot of the bed, where he was chewing on the new squeaky toy Shaw had gotten him the day before. Root could already tell it was his new favorite toy. It looked like the tug of war rope she bought him has been tossed aside and forgotten. She couldn't blame him, though. The braided rope had already started to unwind, and it was more spit than it was rope at this point.
Shrugging off the thought, Root pulled the tray onto her lap, grabbed the fork from her plate, and began eating at a leisurely pace.
Shaw had given her a single pancake, a tablespoon of scrambled eggs, and two slices of crispy bacon. Given her injuries and the side effects of the pain medication Sameen had put her on, her appetite had severely decreased. She'd be lying if she said her lack of appetite was more of a recent development, because it wasn't. It had been going on for months, right after Samaritan went online and The Machine silenced herself. She spoke to her when it mattered, of course, but the choppy, automated voice that used to buzz in her ear at all hours of the day limited itself to only communicating with Root in times of need.
The Machine giving Root busy work and waking her up in the middle of the night to inform her of Sameen's discomfort was a new development. But not an entirely unwelcome one. It almost seemed as if She were playing matchmaker for her and Sameen. She was known to work in mysterious ways, Root wouldn't put it past Her.
Finishing her food, Root placed the tray back on the nightstand and opened the top drawer, pulling out her laptop. Unfolding the computer and starting it up, she smiled at the computer's screensaver. The picture of her and Shaw on the bench at Central Park from over a year ago, not long after they'd started sleeping together, stared back at her. Root furrowed her brow. Maybe She had been playing matchmaker for much longer than Root had realized.
"You take sneakiness to a new level," Root smirked, staring into the laptop's webcam. If She had a face, Root was sure she'd be mischievously smirking back at her.
Root continued staring at the picture, completely entranced by the looks on her and Sameen's faces. It was such a carefree and unguarded photo of Shaw, and one of the very few she had in her possession. And by very few, Root meant it was the only one. She'd been so transfixed by the picture on the screen, that she hadn't noticed Bear suddenly lying beside her, his eyes trained to the screen and his head resting atop Shaw's pillow. Root smiled at him and rested her hand on his head, stroking the coarse fur absently.
Shaw entered the room a moment later, stripping out of her PJ's and changing into her usual street clothes – her beloved hoodie, her over-worn t-shirt and her already fading black jeans – keeping her back to Root the entire time. Once fully dressed, Root watched her walk toward her nightstand to grab her phone, only pausing her stride when Bear went up to her, excitedly wagging his tail at the sight of her. Shaw cradled his face with a gentleness reserved only for him and informed him (and Root by extension) that she'd be out with John. Then she looked at Root, her mouth opening and closing as she looked for words to say. She said nothing. She looked at Root, nodded at her, and left.
And Root watched her leave, wondering why she hadn't opened her mouth to speak instead.
She found herself in the living room with Daniela and Bear half an hour later, Josh napping in his room after spending two hours looking for a comic book he lost in a bet. Daniela put on some superhero movie playing on HBO, but instead of watching it, the girl was preoccupied by a game on her laptop. Bear was lying at the girl's feet, whining contentedly every time Daniela reached a hand down to pet him. Bear licked her hand as she absently rested her hand on his snout, eliciting an affectionate smile from the normally stone-faced thirteen year old.
Root chuckled. "I didn't know you were a dog person."
Daniela looked up from Bear and smiled bashfully at Root. "We, uh, we used to have one. A puppy," she said quietly.
"Oh? What was their name?"
"Miles. He was a shih tzu," she told Root, a wistful smile on her face at the mention of her dog. "He was run over by a drunk driver."
The wistful smile on her face morphed into a frown and Root felt herself pitying the girl. "I'm sorry," Root said. "I know what it's like to lose a pet. I had a cat named Bizarro. I had her for four years, and until I was eleven, she had been my only friend. Her loss was one of the few that I truly felt."
And she was telling the truth. Bizzaro was the stray kitten Root found in her backyard at the age of seven. Her mother worked three jobs and was never home, her father had been out of the picture since she was two, and Root's only company had been the stray kitten who kept showing up in her backyard every night, looking for food and warmth. So, Root took her in and gave her a home, even though said home had never felt much like one to her.
"What happened to her?" Daniela asked.
"She got ran over by a tractor," Root recalled, remembering the tractor tire marks indented in the grass of her front lawn and the furry, gray cat sprawled on the grass, unmoving. She remembered crying over the cat's carcass and sitting on the front lawn until sunset. She'd only moved from that spot because her new next door neighbor, Hanna, had coaxed her inside. She'd invited herself into Root's (Sam's) house and made her hot cocoa to calm her down. From that night on, she came over every day after school and offered little Sam Groves a friendship she couldn't refuse. Sam had found it hard to mourn the cat again after that. After all, Bizarro's death was the reason she'd found her best friend.
Daniela's face looked sullen at the revelation. "Oh."
"But that was a long time ago. Now, we have Bear," Root amended, her tone light.
Daniela smiled and nodded, looking at Bear as she scratched behind his ear, her computer tossed aside and long forgotten.
Root watched Daniela play with Bear and it only served as a reminder of what she knew that Sameen didn't. It was only a matter of time before Sameen figured it out for herself. Root knew Shaw would never forgive her if she found out that she had voluntarily withheld vital information from her. Sameen didn't get sad or distraught or scared. She got angry and aggressive.
Root once believed that the only home she had was within herself. After Hanna's death, she hadn't been able to find a place where she felt she belonged. But, now, she was sure that her home was here, with The Machine, Shaw, and Bear. This was the home she'd felt safe in.
But safety was only temporary.
Root wasn't sure how safe she was going to feel when Sameen found out they'd been protecting two biological cousins she didn't even know had, from an aunt she didn't even know existed. Add that to the fact that Samaritan agents were on the lookout for both Team Machine and the kids, and they were all practically walking targets.
Root wasn't sure who'd take her out first, Sameen for keeping this secret from her, or Samaritan. Her bet was Sameen.
Home sweet home.
Be sure to check out the prequel for this story "The Beginning of the End".
It's four in the morning and this chapter is probably riddled with mistakes, so I apologize for that in advance. There are probably four or so chapters left in this story, so I hope you guys stick with me until then. Think of this chapter as the calm before the storm.
"You really expect me to waste my Saturday on this?" asked Shaw as she exited the car.
John shrugged and pointed to the bulky bag in the backseat of the car; one that matched the bag currently hanging from Shaw's hands. "You're not the only one who has to sacrifice the next few hours of their life on paperwork, Shaw."
"Well, at least you'll have help."
John sighed and placed what he probably thought was a comforting hand on her shoulder. Shaw immediately shrugged him off. John dropped his hand but remained in place, eyeing Shaw with an earnest look. "You and Root need to kiss and make up already. We need both of you to have your head in the game. She'll help you."
"Helping me will involve her actually talking to me, which she won't."
"Have you even tried talking to her?" John asked wittingly.
Shaw muttered something inaudible under her breath and walked away from him without uttering another word. She adjusted the strap of the black duffel bag on her shoulder and made her way into the apartment building. She avoided the elevator at all costs and decided to take the stairs, only to run into someone as soon as she reached the third step.
"It's Sameen, right?" came the nasally voice she remembered hearing in her apartment the day before.
Shaw looked up and locked eyes with none other than Tina Monahan, who smiled at her with a smile that was far too wide to be genuine. There was something off about her. Not 'secret Samaritan operative' type of off, but more like an 'I'm smiling, but inside I'm judging you' type of off.
Shaw offered the woman a tight-lipped smile and nodded. "Yes, and your Tim's wife. Tina, is it?"
Tina's smile widened even further and Shaw thought it looked almost unnatural. No one, especially someone with lips that thin, should be able to stretch them that wide. A smile that wide, with lips that thin, seemed almost unbecoming on such a narrow face.
"Yes, that's me," the woman giggled. Shaw bit back a grimace at the grating sound. "I was with your wife yesterday. She's such a lovely woman. You two have the most beautiful family."
"Thanks," Shaw muttered, glancing past the woman toward the empty stairwell. She thought about walking around her and just ignoring her existence, but Sameen Johnson was supposed to be pleasant and polite. Sameen Shaw, however, would have no such qualms.
"I'm very glad I caught you, actually. What are your plans for dinner tonight?"
"Um, we're just going to order in tonight. Sam and I have a lot of work to catch up on."
Tina looked almost disappointed. She probably wanted to dig up some dirt on her and Root; something for her and her friends to gossip about during their next brunch, probably. Shaw had grown up around women like that all her life; in Qatar, in Germany, in Belgium, and in Dallas, the region didn't matter. Women like that were global. They were like an infectious rash; no matter how much ointment you applied to the affected area, the rash just kept on coming back, sometimes in an even more aggressive form. Tina Monahan and co. were no exception.
"Oh, well that's too bad. Maybe tomorrow night?"
"Yeah, I'll think about it," Shaw said politely, looking pointedly at the stairs now. "Well, I'll see you around."
"Count on it."
The way she said it almost sounded like a threat. Not a violent threat, but a threat saying that Shaw would, indeed, have to see her again and actually talk to her. Shaw would have preferred a threat of violence. Violence she could deal with. Talking to a stuck up woman and having to act like she cared what she had to say? Not so much.
Not wanting to waste any more time loitering on the steps – the last thing she wanted was to run into another Monahan – Shaw climbed the steps two at a time until she reached her floor. She thrust open the door leading to the second floor hallway and made her way toward Apartment 201 with her keys at the ready. Once she unlocked the door, she pushed it open and stepped inside, allowing the stillness of the apartment to wash over her.
She kicked off her shoes and entered the living room, and was immediately greeted with the sight of a sleeping Daniela, who was laid across the couch with a tablet resting on her thighs and Bear's head resting atop her chest. The Malinois' obnoxious snores echoed around the living room, filling in the empty, soundless spaces. Shaw noticed a small dent on the other end of the couch and the bunny slippers Root usually wore resting in front of said spot. It was covered in slobber and drool, meaning she'd left it there to keep Bear occupied while she snuck off to the room. Judging by the shallowness of the dent, Root hadn't retreated long ago.
Shaw quietly tiptoed past the sleeping pair, pausing her stride to brush a hand over Bear's head, and walked down the small corridor leading to the master bedroom. Inside, she found Root sitting upright, leaning against the headboard with her computer on her lap and a look of concentration on her face. Shaw stood at the foot of the bed, causing Root to look up from her computer, and unzipped the duffel bag on her shoulder. She held the bag in her hands and emptied its contents onto the mattress, exasperatedly gesturing to the stacks of scattered papers and thick folders that spilled out of it.
In the storage unit, they'd found twelve separate IDs and passports for Abdul Ahmadi. Same picture, different names and addresses. This kind of thing wasn't new to her - given the fact that their entire team (minus Lionel and Bear) had several aliases themselves - but this was something else entirely. Harold hacked into the ISA and CIA databases and found zero records of Abdul Ahmadi (or his twelve other aliases). The man didn't leave much of a digital footprint. He was like a ghost, moving from identity-to-identity, without leaving so much as a trace. He was good. Too good to be an amateur. He obviously worked for a major organization, but figuring out which one proved to be tricky. Hence why she, John, and Lionel grabbed everything they could from the storage unit and took it with them to look over.
"What's all this?" Root asked, eyes widening at the amount of documents being dumped on the mattress.
It was like the duffle bag was producing a never-ending stream of papers, unhappiness, and sleep deprivation. Shaw just wanted to grab a beer – or several – and hide out in her actual apartment. She wasn't one to shirk responsibility, but the thought of going through all of the documents made her want to put a bullet into the nearest surface.
"This is all of the important documents we found in the Ahmadi's storage unit," Shaw told her.
Root's eyes narrowed at the sight of the large pile. "And we're, what, supposed to go through all of these?"
Root sounded exasperated, and rightfully so. Even Shaw had felt the slightest bit of discomfort at the thought of sacrificing the rest of her day to go through all of the paperwork. If she was feeling uncomfortable, then everyone else should be bracing for the worst.
"Going through all of this could take days, Shaw," Root informed her, as if she wasn't already aware of how long going through all if this could take. Root leaned over from her spot on the mattress to pick up a stray manila folder.
Shaw noticed Root's small wince as she grabbed the folder, and the hand that immediately clutched her side as she leaned back in her spot to exhale a shaky breath.
"Have you been taking your pain medication?" inquired Shaw.
Root peered at her over the screen of her laptop and nodded. "I have."
"You're supposed to take the medication every six hours. When was your last dose?" Shaw challenged, already knowing the answer. She'd counted the amount of pills left in the bottle earlier that morning and if her calculations were correct (which she knew they were), then Root had skipped her last three doses.
"That doesn't matter right now," Root rebutted and pointed to the papers. "Can we discuss the task at hand, please?"
"We can," Shaw acquiesced, "but right now we're talking about you. Have you at least taken the other medications?"
Root sighed and closed the lid of her laptop, placing the computer on her nightstand. "Yes, Shaw."
Shaw heard more tiredness in her voice than she did hostility. Root was no longer ignoring her, which she took as a positive sign, but she was wincing every so often and clenching her jaw with each miniscule movement she made (or attempted to make). Shaw rolled her eyes at the stubborn woman and walked into the master bathroom, grabbing the pain medication from the counter. She walked back into the room a moment later and threw the pill bottle at Root - who hadn't anticipated the action - and watched in amusement as the bottle smacked into the unsuspecting woman's chin.
"Ow," Root whined quietly, picking up the bottle from where it landed on her lap. "I don't want to take these; I'm fine without them."
"Well, you're going to and no, you're not fine without them. You're obviously in pain and only an idiot would let their pain worsen during a mission."
"Says the woman who got shot, walked around a pale and bloody mess, and stole blood from a guy in the Russian mob. And, from what I've heard, you then proceeded to go after the perps, even though you were at, what, fifty percent strength?" Root recalled, her expression equal parts impressed and amused. Shaw shot her a questioning look, to which Root answered with a shrug. "John tells me things."
Shaw scoffed and grabbed one of the folders from the bed to absently flick through its contents. "A kid's life was on the line. That was different." And then. "Since when the hell are you and John so chummy? I thought you two hated each other."
Root shrugged nonchalantly. "We've reached an impasse. I care about you and Harry, and so does he. No point in arguing when you want the same things." Root told her, as if it were old news. Shaw thought back to the gifts Root and John exchanged last Christmas, and the inside jokes that only they seemed to understand. Maybe it was old news. They hadn't been at each other's throats in months.
"Hmm," Shaw offered in lieu of an actual reply.
Root rolled her eyes and got back on topic. "Look, my point is that there are two kids whose lives are at stake right now. How was your situation any different than mine?"
"As of now, the kids aren't in any immediate danger, Root." Shaw scoffed. "That's the difference. When Samaritan comes after us, we'll need you cranked to one hundred. Take your damn medication and stop whining."
Shaw watched in satisfaction as Root grabbed a water bottle from her nightstand drawer (which Shaw had placed there the previous day) and unscrewed her pill bottle, popping two pills in her mouth. Shaw watched her closely and nodded to herself as Root took a large swig of water to wash them down. Root opened her mouth and lifted her tongue, moving it from side-to-side to show that she'd taken them.
Shaw rolled her eyes at the woman's actions and walked over to her side of the bed. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, can we begin?"
Root grabbed the pair of glasses she kept atop her nightstand, slipped them over her eyes, and leaned over to retrieve a handful of folders from the foot of the bed. In an overly sugary voice, Root drawled, "After you, Sam."
"Please tell me you've cracked some type of secret code hidden in these pie charts," Shaw groaned as she closed her tenth folder and added it to the growing 'reviewed' pile they'd stacked in the center of the mattress.
Root closed the folder in her hand and added it to the growing pile, exhaling a drawn-out breath. "Afraid not, sweetie."
"Is there some way we can speed this up? I have things I'd rather be doing."
Root rolled her head toward Shaw, a coy smile playing at the corner of her lips. "Care to elaborate?"
Shaw groaned at the coquettish smile being aimed at her and scowled. "Yesterday, you were calling me heartless and ignoring my existence, today you're flirting with me as if nothing happened."
The smile on Root's face dropped at the bluntness of the statement and she took a deep breath, looking properly chastised. "I know."
"Care to explain what that freak out was about?"
"Too much meds, not enough sleep," Root shrugged, grabbing a new folder from the unviewed pile. Shaw continued to stare at her until Root sighed and dropped the folder on her lap. Root returned Shaw's gaze and earnestly uttered, "I think you're perfect the way you are, Sameen. There's nothing I would change about you or our relationship."
It was said with an impassioned simplicity that left Shaw gaping. She was used to Root speaking in that irrevocably sure tone when talking about The Machine; Shaw never thought she'd hear Root speak so fiercely about her. It made her shift uncomfortably in her spot.
"Right, so, we're good then?" Shaw questioned uneasily.
"Yes, Sam, we're good."
Root smiled at her and Shaw glanced away, grabbing a new folder from the unviewed pile.
"So, your new friend, Tina, cornered me in the stairwell today. What's your read on her?"
Root looked up from the folder in her hands and shrugged. "Besides the fact that she's a rich snob who treats gossiping as a sport, nothing. I can't detect anything suspicious about her. The Machine doesn't view her as a threat, so I don't think we have to worry about her. What'd she talk to you about?"
"She just wanted to know if we were available for dinner tonight."
"You told her no, right?"
Shaw shot her a pointed look.
Root snorted. "Right, of course you did."
Shaw rolled her eyes and flipped open the folder in her hand, examining the documents inside. Instead of finding yet another colorful pie chart, Shaw found immigration papers dated back to 1989 with two unfamiliar names scribbled at the top in loopy cursive. Sabella Rahmani and Abdullahi Ahmadi Najafi.
"Was there a Sabella Rahmani or an Abdullahi Najafi mentioned in the Ahmadi's file?" Shaw inquired, eyes scanning over the immigration papers with interest.
From her peripheral view she saw Root give pause. Shaw opened her mouth to repeat the question when Root cleared her throat and flashed her an awkward smile.
She knew something.
"What do you know, Root?"
Root said nothing. Judging by the way the woman's eyes looked everywhere but at her, whatever she knew must've been something crucial to the mission. Root was usually one to keep her cool – it was far more infuriating than it was impressive at times– and this time was no exception.
"Root," Shaw growled threateningly.
Root opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead, her brow furrowed in concentration as she listened to the undoubtable buzzing flowing through her cochlear implant. Shaw strained her ears to hear what was being relayed, but she knew it was of no use. Only Root held that connection to Her.
"What's She telling you?" Shaw demanded.
"She wants you to read through those immigration documents carefully and for you to draw your own conclusions," Root recited to her after a moment of silence.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Just read it and you'll see the bigger picture."
Shaw looked over the file – the words mostly blurring together – until her eyes caught sight of a familiar name. Well, two familiar names.
"No fucking way," she breathed out, her head whipping toward Root with a snarl curling her lips. "What the hell is this?"
"To be fair, I haven't known much longer than you."
"But you knew and you didn't tell me? Did everyone know?" Shaw asked, not liking the turn of events. Seeing the names Azar Rahmani and Carl Shahzad listed as relatives on the original copy of the Ahmadi's immigration papers made her blood boil. "I'm guessing they legally changed their names not long after entering the U.S."
"We – Harold, John, and I – weren't one hundred percent sure that you were, um, you know…related to them, but after a little more research…"
Shaw blocked out Root's scattered explanation and continued staring at the names on the paper. Seeing her mother and father's names listed as Sabella – Sanaa's – relatives was odd. Seeing her mother listed as Sabella's sister was even odder. Shaw didn't even know her mother had a sister, let alone one she knew migrated to the U.S.
Shaw continued reading over the document, her brow wrinkling with every word she read. Sanaa and Abdul not only moved to the U.S ten years after her mother had, but they'd moved to Dallas, just fifteen minutes away from where Shaw had lived with her parents. Shaw would bet that she'd even met them in passing once or twice without even realizing it.
There went everything she thought she knew about her family.
"So, Daniela and Josh are..." Shaw trailed off, her tongue feeling as if it were being weighed down by lead as she tried to say the words she knew would make the situation all too real.
"Yes, Sameen. Josh and Daniela are your cousins."
"Do you think Samaritan knows?"
"I can assure you that they don't."
Following that statement, she compartmentalized everything in that moment. Focus on the mission now, worry about everything else later. Completing the mission and keeping the numbers out of harm's way was the priority. Everything else she considered secondary.
"Good," Shaw said in a clipped tone. "We can continue focusing on the mission then."
Shaw could feel Root's eyes burning into the side of her skull but ignored her and instead threw the folder in her hand into the reviewed pile. She picked up a new folder from the unviewed pile and flipped it open, groaning when she was faced with yet another pie chart.
"Is that all you're going to say? You just found out that we've been protecting your long lost cousins that you didn't even know existed and all you have to say is 'good'? Even you have to admit that it's pretty crazy."
Shaw threw the folder aside and fixed her glare on Root. "Look, right now we can't afford to let anything distract us from keeping our numbers safe. When the mission is complete, then we can discuss what the next steps to take should be. Okay?"
Root nodded and dropped the subject. Of course, with it being Root, the subject only stayed dropped for approximately ten minutes before it was brought up again.
"Aren't you the least bit curious about what the kids may know about you-"
"Root," Shaw warned.
Root continued, nonplussed by Shaw's threating tone. "Look, I'm not saying that you need to outright ask them about anything, but-"
"We are not talking about this right now. Let's just get through the rest of these documents and see if we can find what Samaritan may be looking for, all right?"
"Okay," Root agreed, holding her hands up in mock surrender. "We'll do it your way, Sameen."
"Miss Shaw, I think we know where Abdul was employed," came Harold's voice over the comms.
"You got a hit, Harry?" Root asked.
"Yes. I've hacked into the NSA database and got a hit on one of Abdul's aliases. His records indicate that he had been employed by the NSA from 2003 to 2012. His job as a stockbroker seems to have just been a cover job, but one that he was highly qualified for and got of his own volition."
"A man that gets a lame day job to cover his tracks. Now that's dedication," Root supplied unnecessarily.
"My bet is that he found some incriminating evidence relating to Small and Khan and their business with Greer. It wasn't just the soliciting of funds that he had over them."
"You would be correct in that assumption, Miss Shaw. The NSA appointed Abdul to surveil all of Khan and Small's actions after catching wind of a weapons trade going on between them and an unidentified source in Taiwan. Abdul's job was to monitor and decrypt any incoming and outgoing emails, money transfers, and text messages shared between them and any international contacts. Judging by this file, Abdul had gathered enough intel to put them away for life."
"So why aren't they behind bars?" asked Shaw.
"Abdul kept all of his findings on a USB drive. He was going to submit the USB as evidence before Khan and Small's original court date. But then he and his wife died and the USB was never found, resulting in those charges being dropped. Before his death, he'd managed to submit some evidence of illegal activity. Had their bail remained unpaid, the information Abdul had on them could have been enough to put them away for at least a few years."
"The soliciting of funds," Shaw recalled.
"Correct. Except, as we know by now, those funds weren't coming from the Russian mob, they were coming from Decima. If Abdul was as good at his job as his employment records suggest, then he would have traced the routing number and found that the account had belonged to someone unrelated to the mob. He would have kept digging and decrypting and analyzing every email, every text message, and every bank transfer that Small and Khan had received or sent out."
"So, one of the kids must know where the USB is. That's why Samaritan is after them. If the authorities ever caught wind of the evidence on the USB, it would expose not only Khan and Small's illegal activity, but Greer's as well," Root remarked.
"My money's on Daniela."
"Or Abdul has another storage unit and Greer is betting that one of the kids knows where it is."
"We're scouring every storage unit in the Tri-state area for a storage locker under one of Abdul's aliases, along with any that could be under Sanaa, Daniela, or Joshua's names. So far I've come up short, but I will keep looking."
"What if one of the kids has the USB here?" Shaw voiced, turning to Root. "After the kids and I leave for school on Monday morning, you need to look through their things; see if you can find the USB anywhere."
Root gasped, playfully held a hand to her chest, and said in a faux disapproving voice, "That would be invading their privacy, Sam."
"Since when did that bother you?"
Root smirked. "Fine, I guess I'll be calling in sick again. You know they're going to fire me."
Shaw rolled her eyes. "As if you actually cared about your job."
"If you two are done flirting, Harold and I will continue our search. We'll check back with you two later," interrupted John, before adding, "So glad to hear that you two have made up. Hopefully you two will remember to turn off your comms when you decide to take your making up to the next level."
"Fuck off, John," Shaw hissed and clicked off her earpiece.
Root smiled at her, eyes twinkling with mischief, and opened her mouth to say something she knew would cause Shaw to groan in annoyance. Shaw held her hand up to silence her and Root closed her mouth, chortling as she tossed aside the folder in her hand.
"Are you hungry?" Root asked as she rose from the bed and cautiously stretched out her limbs, the wince from earlier lessened to just a look of mild discomfort.
"I could eat."
"I'll make you something," offered Root, who had already begun moving toward the door.
"You can't cook, Root."
Root smiled at Shaw over her shoulder with one hand already on the doorknob. "We'll see about that."
Shaw watched the woman exit the room and tossed aside the folder in her hand.
Once they find the USB, this will all be over. She couldn't wait for this nightmare of a mission to be complete.
As it turned out, Root actually could cook. All those times Root had almost burned down the safe house kitchen were all a ruse. An act. A reason for her to have Shaw hold her hand and 'teach' her how to make an edible meal. She'd played Shaw, and Shaw had fallen for it. Root was an amazing hacker, but the woman should have considered pursuing a career in acting. She was great at projecting false images of herself and making people believe them; the innocent face, the sweet lilt to her voice, and the smile that could melt anyone into a puddle was all part of her charm. A charm that seemed to work on everyone but Shaw.
"Enjoying your meal, Sam?" Root asked knowingly as Shaw practically inhaled the chicken piccata Root had prepared for dinner.
Shaw took another bite of her dinner to avoid answering. She supposed that was answer enough, given Root's self-satisfied grin.
Shaw's eyes cut to Daniela and Josh as they ate their meals. Josh stuffed his face and chewed with his mouth open, while Daniela glared at him in disgust and picked daintily at her own plate. Shaw hated herself for finding similarities between her and the two teens, but they were there, and they were noticeable. Root seemed to be thinking along the same lines, because she shot her a shit-eating grin from across the counter when the kids weren't looking.
Shaw just glared at her and petulantly chewed her food.
"I didn't know you could cook, Sam. This is delicious," Josh complimented with a full mouth. Daniella nodded her agreement.
Root beamed at them and looked pointedly at Shaw. "Thanks, kids. What do you think, Sameen? Are you enjoying it?" She asked again.
The kids turned to Shaw as well, putting her completely on the spot. With her mouth full and unable to offer a verbal response, Shaw shrugged and continued chewing.
"I'll take that as a yes, sweetie," Root winked.
Shaw swallowed her mouthful and took a swig of her beer. "Whatever," she mumbled. Taking the final bite of her dinner, she rose from her seat and made her way to the kitchen sink. She heard a chair scrape across the tile a second later and released an annoyed sigh at the body sidling up next to her.
"So, how was it?" Root whispered in her ear.
Shaw placed her plate in the sink and turned around to berate the woman, only to have her front pressed flush against Root's, the taller woman's nose brushing against her brow. She hadn't realized Root was that close, but she wasn't surprised.
"You knew how to cook all this time."
"I was saving my skills for a rainy day."
Shaw glanced out the open kitchen window. "It's not raining," she stated monotonously.
"It's a figure of speech, Sam," Root husked and spoke lowly into her ear. "I was thinking you could take the kids out for some ice cream. Why wait to search for the USB tomorrow when we can look for it today?"
Shaw looked over Root's shoulder and saw the kids still seated at the counter, seemingly in their own little bubble. Josh was taking seconds of mashed potatoes, while Daniela was still working on finishing her chicken. Josh said something to Daniela that warranted a hard smack to his shoulder.
Shaw met Root's expectant gaze. "Fine, I'll do it. If I were you, I'd check Daniela's room first. Her room is orderly, so if you're going to tear it apart, you're going to need to put everything back where you found it."
"I'm no stranger to snooping, Shaw," said Root smugly. "How do you think I discovered the spare set of handcuffs you keep in your weapons drawer?"
Shaw clenched her jaw and slipped out from where Root had her pinned to the sink. "I can give you one hour tops. Call the guys if you need extra hands."
Root smirked. "Got it, boss."
Shaw rolled her eyes and walked over to the counter. "I have a bit of a sweet tooth right now. How do you two feel about getting some ice cream?"
Josh picked up the empty plates from the table and walked them over to the sink. "I can go for a sundae," he replied. "How about you, Dani?"
Daniela shrugged. "Sure."
"All right, go put on your jackets while I grab my keys," she advised them. Once they disappeared into their rooms, she turned to Root, who was at the sink washing the dishes. "One hour," Shaw hissed at the woman's back.
Root raised a soapy hand from the sink and waved her off.
The kids came out of their rooms a moment later with their matching, black pea coats buttoned all the way up. Shaw walked toward the front door and grabbed her purse and the jacket she kept on the coat rack that only she seemed to use. She exited the apartment with the kids following closely behind her and glanced over her shoulder at Root – who turned away from the sink to watch them leave - and flashed the woman a meaningful look. Root dried her hands on the nearest kitchen towel and began striding toward the rooms. Shaw ushered the kids into the hallway and locked the door behind them, hoping Root's search wouldn't be all for naught.
Forty-five minutes and two ice cream cones later, Shaw had received the message that the USB had not been in either child's room.
Ten minutes later, and she found herself discreetly ducking down in the driver's seat of her car as Rousseau and Lambert walked past her parking spot and made their way into the ice cream parlor she'd just left.
"Everything okay, Sameen?" Josh asked from the backseat.
Shaw turned in her seat and smiled. "Everything is fine, kid," she assured him. Facing forward, she turned the keys in the ignition, pulled out of the parking space, and sped home.
Everything was not fine. Everything was about to take a turn for the worst.
Shaw discreetly rolled her eyes at the rambling teen seated across from her; it was taking everything inside of her to remain calm. She was a guidance counselor, not a fucking therapist. She was there to discuss academics with the students, not their troubled childhoods or their girl troubles. She had more important things to worry about – things that included two teenagers who were being actively pursued by highly-trained Samaritan agents. The tight smile on her face was only getting tighter as she forced her lips to remain spread and still.
The scowl that threatened to break free was getting more difficult to keep at bay, and the kid wasn't making it any better; he just wouldn't shut up. He was worse than Root and Harold when they got carried away with their techno-babble. At least when they rambled, it had something to do with a mission that could possibly save several lives. For a moment, the kid stopped talking and glanced at Shaw curiously. Shaw almost breathed a sigh of relief at it being over until he asked if she was still with him. With a strangled noise, she nodded, giving him the illusion that she was still paying attention. The kid was so self-absorbed that he hadn't realized she'd checked out of his monologue forty minutes ago. He was overstaying his welcome, but he had no problem with that.
It was only her valuable time that he was wasting. No big deal.
Under her desk, her right hand squeezed at the gripper in her grasp repeatedly. The stress ball could only work for so long; the squishy material had only made her more frustrated, but the solid material from the gripper helped rein in her annoyance. She'd lasted forty-three minutes without blowing up at this kid, and it was a record for the books.
"Hey, sweetie, you busy?" came the flirty voice through her earpiece.
Shaw took that opportunity to place her cell phone on the desk, sending a text to Root that read: Call me now.
Her phone buzzed a moment later and the blathering teen across from her stopped talking, eyes zeroing in on the vibrating phone. Shaw looked up at him apologetically (or as apologetic as she could look with her downturned lips and pinched eyes).
"I'm sorry, that's my wife. I have to take this, Connor. We'll continue this talk another time," Shaw promised.
The dark-haired boy squinted his eyes at her, looking annoyed. "My name is Colin," he corrected tersely.
Shaw shrugged, looking unperturbed by her mistake. "Connor, Colin, Conrad; they all sound the same to me. Sorry," she said, not sounding sorry at all. Her phone stopped buzzing, only to start buzzing again a moment later. "Look, kid, just make an appointment at a later date." Shaw picked up a blank hall pass and filled it out, sliding it across the desk. Connor took it and stood from his chair. Shaw gave him a half-hearted wave and muttered out a strained, "bye."
Connor grumbled back a similar sentiment and threw the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulders. He walked out of the office a moment later, closing the door behind him.
Shaw breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back in her chair, tossing the gripper atop her desk.
"Did you review the surveillance footage from the ice cream parlor?" Shaw asked, knowing Root was still connected to their private line.
"Yes," came Root's clipped answer. "Hi to you, too, Sam."
Shaw furrowed her brow, rolled her eyes, and ignored the woman's snappy tone. "Cut the crap, Root. What did you see?"
Root sighed, sounding resigned, and recalled what she'd seen on the surveillance tapes. "Rousseau and Lambert entered the parlor approximately forty-two seconds after you and the kids left. The first thing they did was question the cashier, pointing to a picture of Josh and Daniela that Rousseau had pulled out of her pocket. The man nodded, obviously saying that he'd seen them, and they continued talking for exactly thirty seconds more. They left soon after and got into a gray sedan."
Shaw groaned. "Great. They're closing in on us. Anything else?"
"The surveillance cameras don't have audio, but I'm assuming they didn't give too much away. The agents are obviously watching the monitors more closely now. The temporary covers The Machine gave the kids to hide them from Samaritan's gaze has obviously been blown. It's only a matter of time before Greer traces everything back to us."
"Even better," Shaw grunted.
Root sighed. "Have you heard or seen anything on your end?"
"All I've heard or seen in the last hour is a whiny teenage boy with a lopsided Bieber cut - via 2009 - who came to complain to me about his girl troubles. Other than that, there has been radio silence on my end. I have access to all the security feeds in the school and, right now, all feeds are clear." Shaw said as she looked to her computer monitor, where her screen was divided into modules showing camera feeds from different locations inside of the school. They were all clear.
"What are we going to do, Sam?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you that? You're the one with the all-knowing, all-seeing god in your ear. Hasn't she told you what steps we need to take?"
Shaw heard Root sigh. "You know that's not how it works."
"So, until your almighty ruler gives us an idea of how to proceed, we're screwed."
After a moment of silence, Root's quiet voice came through the line. "Pretty much."
From her computer monitor, she watched the kids converse with their friends while they ate their lunches on the front lawn. They looked so blissful and carefree and completely unaware that their lives were in danger. If Shaw had been their age and she'd been told that she was being hunted down by government assassins, she'd probably be buzzing with energy. Sameen Shaw, as a kid, lived for danger. After her father died, that thirst for danger only grew stronger, and it took its toll on her mother. For her mother's sake, she'd suppressed the urge.
Until she joined the Marines. It was game over from there.
"You look lost in thought," said a deep voice.
Shaw looked away from the monitor and saw John standing in the doorway with a paper bag in one hand and a bottled water in the other. "Is that for me? Because if it isn't, it's unfair of you to tease me with food."
A corner of John's mouth lifted in a crooked, close-mouthed smile, and he stepped further into the office, placing the items on the desk. "Yes, they're for you."
Shaw smiled and opened the bag, seeing two, foil-wrapped burgers staring back at her. "Greasy burgers from Howie's. You're a saint, Reese."
John smirked and took a seat across from Shaw, staring at her while she unwrapped her burger and took a large bite out of it. "I searched the kids' lockers before their lunch period," John announced.
Shaw rolled her eyes; she'd been watching the monitors when he entered the school and she'd still been watching when he broke into the kids' lockers. She swallowed down the food in her mouth and unscrewed the top off of her bottled water. After taking a large gulp, she stared at John, annoyed, waiting for him to continue. He didn't.
"And?" she prompted impatiently.
"And…" John trailed off, pulling out something from his inner jacket pocket. In his hand were two rolled up magazines. When he unrolled them, Shaw snorted. There was a copy of a Playboy magazine… and a Playgirl magazine. "I got these out of Josh's locker. Seems that you two have more in common than just your DNA."
Shaw couldn't help it, she laughed. Who knew Reese was capable of being clever?
"Okay, so you snagged two dirty magazines from a teenage boy's locker. What's so special about them?"
"Well, nothing, at first glance. But then, when I opened them," John opened the Playgirl, revealing a small, cut out compartment. Inside of the compartment was a USB. "I found this." John placed the USB on Shaw's desk and then opened the Playboy, revealing a similar compartment and a second USB. "And this."
"But that's not all," continued Reese, who pulled out a third and a fourth USB from his pocket. "At the back of his locker, hidden in the brick wall behind the lockers, was a loose brick. Behind that loose brick, were these two USBs. The kid managed to cut an eight-inch-wide, six-inch-long sheet out of the back of his locker to get to the wall. To an untrained eye, the back of the locker would look completely intact, but to someone like us or a trained Samaritan agent, it's fairly noticeable."
Joshua Ahmadi was definitely more than just a nerdy sixteen-year-old boy. This boy was much more intelligent than Shaw had given him credit for. They were definitely related.
Shaw clicked on her earpiece. "Root."
"John already told me about his findings," came Root's voice. "I should be entering your office right..." Root opened Shaw's office door less than a second later with her laptop bag in hand, and entered the room "Now."
Closing the door behind her, Root walked past John and around Shaw's desk, plopping down onto Shaw's lap, much to her annoyance. If Root noticed Shaw's annoyance, she didn't show it. She was much too focused on fitting the USB into her laptop's USB port. Shaw looked at John, who's smirked widened with every passing second. His suggestive eyebrow wiggle did nothing to douse Shaw's annoyance.
"Root," Shaw growled.
"Patience, Sam," replied Root in a distracted voice. "Okay, let's see what we find."
A window with over a dozen unnamed folders popped up on the laptop screen. John rose from his chair and made his way around the desk, hovering over Root's shoulder to get a better look at the screen. Root clicked on the first folder and was met with a wall of encrypted codes. Root rapidly typed on the keyboard and a moment later, the code began rearranging itself into actual words. Files. Evidence.
There were names, addresses, bank account numbers, routing numbers, badge numbers, etc. Everything. This was the beginning of the end of the mission, and this USB contained only some of the information they were looking for. They still had several more folders and three other USBs to check. Soon, this would be all over.
Or so Shaw thought. She knew this mission would bring about an unavoidable battle.
She just hadn't expected the battle to occur in their apartment just three hours later.
So, this was a very short transition chapter. I actually don't know how many of you are still interested in this story, but I am so sorry for how long I've been away and how short this chapter is and the fact that I've left you on a cliffhanger. Since I'm on break now, I plan to finish this story up within the next few weeks. Hopefully some of you are still interested. Happy Holidays, everyone!
Josh looked distressed. His sister's curious look caused him to rearrange his face into a passive expression (for a moment, that is); a few seconds later, when she wasn't looking, his facial expression reverted into one of distress. His hands fidgeted at his sides, his brow glistened with sweat, and his voice had gone two octaves too high. He was barely holding it together and Shaw almost felt a little bad for him. She'd seen the change in his demeanor go from relaxed to panicked within a few seconds of opening his locker, and she knew that she was partly to blame for his emotional turmoil.
They'd just taken the last remnants a teenage boy had left of his father. Shaw knew what that was like. When Sameen was twelve, she used to carry around her father's army ribbons in her backpack. Wherever she went, the ribbons went. One day, some asshole jock thought it would be funny to go through her bag and steal the ribbons. For a full day, Shaw had been fuming, and when she'd finally caught the perp, she beat the shit out of him, snagging herself a five-day suspension in the process. It had been more than worth it.
Instead of reprimanding her, her mother had cooked her favorite meals for those five days, even taking off work to hang out with her in front of the television as they watched Persian soap operas together in their small living room. As much as her mother hated violence, she never scolded Sameen for what she did. Instead, as she dropped her off to school after her suspension was over, she whispered to Sameen, in her thick Persian accent, "If anyone tries anything like that again, you have my permission to punch them. But do it only once and make it a good one, azize delam." They shared a secret smile and, for the first time since she was a small child, Sameen had leaned over the console in the car separating them, and pressed a kiss to her mother's cheek. It was fleeting and quick, but the warmth radiating off her mother in that moment made Shaw smilingly roll her eyes. Since that day, Shaw made the effort to become more physically affectionate with her mother, even though her mother had never (and would never) ask that of her. Sameen may have lost her father, but her mother was as permanent fixture in her life. Even now.
Joshua and Daniela, however, had no one left, and the team just took away the only things that might have brought them comfort.
For their safety, Shaw reminded herself, remembering the bigger picture. It didn't mean that she couldn't acknowledge how shitty the entire situation was, though.
She'd watched Josh from her monitor after the dismissal bell rang and noticed the tension immediately creep into his bones. He looked to be on the verge of a breakdown. He frantically searched his locker for the USBs that they'd taken, and when he couldn't seem to find them, he slammed his locker shut and took several, steadying breaths. He ran his fingers through his hair and banged the back of his head against his locker. If the hallway wasn't so crowded, Shaw had no doubt he would have slid down the lockers until he was slumped down on the floor. She'd never seen Josh look so small. He looked devastated, and it was a look Shaw had never seen on him before.
He was like Root in many ways; he was annoyingly happy, sickly sweet, extremely witty, and just an overall pest. But he was also insanely smart, resourceful, and strong when need be. Shaw didn't want to test the boundaries of his strength, but she was doing it anyway. Hopefully he kept it together long enough not to draw any attention to himself.
Or to them.
"You're acting very strange," Shaw heard Daniela whisper to her brother as they buckled themselves in the backseat of Shaw's temporary car.
Shaw looked at the pair through her rearview mirror, glanced at Josh's ashen face, and started the car, peeling out of the teacher's parking lot. She continued to eavesdrop on their conversation, hoping Josh wouldn't say anything that could put a ping on Samaritan's radar.
"Josh," Daniela nudged him. He didn't answer, didn't even budge. "Joshua," she tried again, nudging him even harder. Josh finally snapped out of his daze and looked at her. "What happened?"
"I fucked up," he whispered. "I fucked up so bad, Dani."
"What happened?" She repeated, slowly, sounding more like a hard ass drill sergeant than a small, thirteen-year-old girl. In that moment, Shaw had no doubt that Daniela was her cousin; badasses seemed to run in their family.
"I –" he cut himself off, suddenly remembering where he was and that they weren't actually alone. "Nothing, Dani. Nothing."
"Josh…" she said in a low voice. "Tell me."
"It's nothing. I just…have a lot on my mind today, that's all. Just let it go."
And she did, grudgingly so.
Shaw glanced into the rearview mirror when she approached a red light and locked eyes with Daniela, who had been watching her for the last few minutes. She was studying her, so Shaw studied her right back. They stared at each other through the reflection of the mirror until the light turned green and the car behind Shaw began to honk. Rolling her eyes at the impatient driver, Shaw sped through the green light and looked away from Daniela's piercing stare. The girl's eyes never left her and Shaw couldn't find it in herself to care. It was only a matter of time before the truth of their situation came to light, and Shaw knew it would happen sooner rather than later.
Daniela could stare all she wanted until then.
Root was seated at the kitchen counter, her face focused on the screen of her laptop, when they walked through the apartment door. Josh immediately sped to his room, offering Root a quiet, "hey, Sam" in passing, before locking himself away. Daniela watched him go with narrowed eyes and then looked between Root and Shaw as if they knew something she didn't. They did, of course, but Root and Shaw were not amateurs by any means; they schooled their faces into expressions of indifference. Whatever Daniela was looking for on their faces, she didn't find it, so she made her way to her room with a light huff and closed the door behind her.
"Were you like that as a teenager?" Root asked once they were alone, smirking at Shaw.
Shaw ignored the question, and walked around the counter to look over Root's shoulder, her eyes glancing at the computer screen. "Where's Bear?" she asked instead.
"Asleep in our bed. John came by earlier and took him for a jog around Central Park. They got back about an hour ago and the poor thing was exhausted."
Shaw nodded and resisted the urge to check on him. Root's knowing smile told Shaw that she knew exactly what she was thinking. Glaring at the sickly-sweet smile on Root's face, Shaw returned her attention to the computer screen, and said in a low voice, "What did you find?"
"Decima projects, possible perpetrators, and different Decima facility blueprints," Root paused for a brief moment, before continuing. "And while all this information may come in handy later, I think what Samaritan is trying to keep under wraps is this." Root pointed to a spot on the screen.
Shaw read over Root's shoulder and saw Greer's name at the very top of the digital document. Listed below his name was his profession, information about Decima Technologies, products they'd produced, the names of the people who helped create said products, the locations of every known Decima facility, and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary. Shaw looked to where Root pointed on the screen and that's when she understood what Abdul had on Greer.
"He's in cahoots with every gang leader within a five-thousand-mile radius," Shaw observed.
She'd come across several of the leaders listed when she worked for Control, and a few more during her time with the team. She knew these leaders had power when it came to their territories, but to come to power, one must have money and an alliance with someone resourceful with even more powerful. There, on the next page of the file, showed each bank transaction between Decima technologies and fake aliases that Shaw had come across more than once on this job; they were aliases and codenames used for certain gang leaders and their organizations. Of all the things Shaw thought Abdul would have on Greer, she wasn't expecting this. This was enough to put Greer away for at least twenty-four hours (before he talked his way out of prison with his fat pockets); it was whoever he used as his scapegoat that would pay the actual price. Regardless of who was blamed, this information would cause Decima to be put under round the clock surveillance. If Greer and his agents got sloppy, it would be only a matter of time before their extracurricular activities were found out.
"Looks like your uncle was a little too good at his job. He practically signed his own death certificate," Root paused again, then added as an afterthought, "which isn't too far off from what we do in this job."
Shaw said nothing, ignoring how uneasy she felt from Root's suddenly earnest gaze. What she said next caused Shaw to heave a heavy sigh, not from annoyance, but from discomfort.
"Abdul died with regrets and unfinished business. If the worst comes to pass and we get taken down by hundreds of Samaritan agents – which, let's be real, is a very likely possibility - I don't want to die with regrets. Do you, Sam?" Root whispered, looking more serious than Shaw was used to seeing her.
Shaw straightened her stance and shifted uncomfortably where she stood. "Now isn't a good time to be discussing your feelings, Root." Shaw deflected, her jaw clenching at Root's wounded look.
"We've found all of the information we need to get charges filed against Greer, or whoever he uses as his scapegoat. You know as well as I do that we're not going to turn this evidence over to the feds and escape unscathed. If something happens to me, or even worse, you and the kids, I would like to know that this - whatever this is – wasn't completely one-sided."
Shaw clenched and unclenched her jaw, upset at herself for allowing Root to trap her in this position again. What was she supposed to say? She wasn't sure if she had the ability to love, at least, not in the way that normal people did. She knew what it felt like to be fond of someone or to feel so strongly for a person that you'd do anything to protect them (though that was often due to loyalty and not love). If there was anyone that she could recall loving, or as close to love as she could feel, it would be her mom and dad. But Root?
Shaw sighed, closed her eyes, and pinched the bridge of her nose between her index finger and her thumb. Talking about feelings was giving her a migraine. She peeked an eye open and looked at Root, who had turned her attention away from Shaw, her eyes intensely focused on the computer screen again. Shaw knew that she just needed a place to look other than at her (her eyes had been glued to the same spot on the screen for over a minute). Root was disassociating, shutting herself down to everything. Shaw felt a small twinge in her gut at that. Shaw hated seeing Root look so…unlike herself.
Shaw guessed she had her answer.
"Look," Shaw finally said, taking a deep breath before she continued. The action made Root look up at her. "I know what you want from me, Root, and I'm not sure that I can truly give it to you. What I can tell you, however, is that…" Shaw paused, trying to find the right words. "If something were to ever happen to you, I would make sure whoever was the cause of it would catch a bullet between the eyes." A radiant smile blossomed on Root's face and Shaw rolled her eyes for the nth time that day. "Can we go back to focusing on the mission now?"
"Can we just take a moment to acknowledge the fact that you finally admitted that you cared about me?"
"I didn't say that," Shaw growled.
Root's shit-eating grin told Shaw she could see right through her. "Sure, Sameen. If you say so."
"For fuck's sake, Root, let's get back to the task at hand. Martine and Jeremy are onto us and we're running out of time," Shaw hissed. "Let's think of a game plan."
Root smirked, the brightness that had been flickering on and off in her eyes over the last few months shining in full force. If Shaw felt relief at the sight, she wouldn't admit it. "Whatever you say, wifey. I'm going to send this to Harry and see what he thinks we should do next."
"What, She hasn't told you what to do with it yet?"
"She hasn't spoken to me all day."
And, in that moment, the brightness in her eyes dimmed again.
Shaw cooked dinner, with the help of Daniela, who quietly offered a helping hand while Shaw was at the stove, searing chicken in a hot pan. Daniela quietly prepared a salad at the counter, standing only a few feet away from Shaw. Shaw's back was turned to her but she could feel those dark eyes burning into her back, just like they did earlier during the car ride to the apartment. Daniela obviously suspected that she was responsible for Josh's sudden mood change, but she wasn't able to prove it. But did Daniela know about the USBs or only that Josh was upset? Shaw wasn't clear on that and neither was Root. If Daniela was anything like thirteen-year old Shaw, then she'd know more about the subject than she let on. Shaw wouldn't put it past her.
While Daniela was helping in the kitchen, Josh still hadn't come out of his room; he'd locked himself in there with no plans of coming out. Bear had woken up an hour earlier and was standing near Shaw in the kitchen, hoping for scraps of food to fall on the floor. Shaw took pity on him and dropped a few pieces of chicken for him to nibble on, even though she'd fed him twenty minutes' prior. Bear was an endless pit, just like her. Bear was also extremely persistent, judging by how he ran up to Josh's room door every five minutes, lightly scratching and whimpering at the door to be let in. Josh didn't budge and Bear dejectedly relented, reclaiming his post in the kitchen near Shaw's sock-clad feet.
While Josh was locked away and Bear and Daniela were in her company, Root had decided to go to their bedroom for a quick lie down. Or, to be more precise, she was forced to go to the bedroom for a quick lie down after Shaw caught her wincing and clutching at her side. Again. Root was a stubborn one, constantly refusing to take her meds and going through the day in agony just because of said stubbornness. Not that Shaw was one to talk - she'd gone on missions in worse shape. But Shaw was not only built for it, but trained for it. Root was a badass who'd been shot, deafened, and stabbed, but her tolerance for pain had lowered in the time that Shaw had known her. Root needed rest and the only way she was going to do it was if she was forced by Shaw or The Machine.
Shaw knew that Root couldn't be benched for long, however. She had no doubt that Root would be prowling the streets again tomorrow, hunting down Samaritan operatives without any regard to her own safety. It was a fact Shaw had resigned herself to, just as Root had resigned herself to Shaw's refusal of labeling her feelings or the status of their relationship. They were both far too stubborn. Maybe that's why they always clashed.
Before Shaw could continue that line of thought, the sound of shattering glass filled the apartment. Shaw turned off the stove, placed the searing pan onto an unused burner, and went to investigate the noise. Daniela's eyes were wide with fear, but Shaw was already moving toward the noise, venturing into the lit hallway of the apartment. Bear became immediately alert and stood to guard Daniela as Shaw walked past; his teeth were bared and he was ready to attack anyone that came near her. Good boy, Shaw thought fleetingly.
As Shaw passed Josh's room, she heard heavy footfalls on the tiled floor. Josh wasn't alone. Shaw reached her arm behind her and retrieved the gun she kept tucked into the waistband of her pants. Root was beside her in an instant, a gun in each hand, just as she aimed her own gun in front of her. They glanced at each other, nodded, and pushed opened the door.
Inside of Josh's room was Josh, seated on his bed, flanked by two burly men on either side of him. There was shattered glass all over the floor and Josh's bed. It looked like the men had climbed up the fire escape located near Josh's window. The man on Josh's right was slender, Asian, and dressed in a neatly pressed gray suit. He had his arm wrapped around Josh's shoulders, his expression menacing and lethal. The guy on his left was holding up Josh's cellphone in one hand, and a gun in another. The man was white, burly, and dressed in a fitted black suit.
"First mistake your boy made was calling the DA's office and reporting his missing USB drives. Second mistake he made was telling them what the drives contained," black suit said in a gruff voice. "You see, my team and I have been searching for those USBs for the last three years and just when we were about to give up, figuring good ol' Abdul must have sent them to a trusted ally in some untraceable location to guard, your boy calls and puts a blip on our radar. Good on you, Joshua." He mockingly commended, seeming to take satisfaction in Josh's panicked state.
Josh looked frightened out of his wits, looking desperate to shrink into himself and away from the men. He looked so much smaller and younger than Shaw had ever seen him, reminding her that this was a sixteen your old kid, who looked on the verge of sobbing and shitting himself. The man on the left pointed his gun at Josh, causing the boy to whimper.
"My guess is that he didn't lose the USBs, but that you two took it. We've been searching for you two for months. I'm sure Mr. Reese and Mr. Finch aren't too far off, either, huh? Give us the USBs and we will spare the children. Can't say we'll extend the same courtesy to you."
"And who the hell are you?" Shaw questioned, seething at the man's cockiness.
She already knew the answer, but this man seemed the type to love the sound of his own voice. If she kept him talking, she and Root would have an open window to attack. She saw the gun that gray suit was hiding in his left hand, his finger on the trigger, just waiting for his cue to shoot. His hands were trembling, Shaw noticed, and his eyes nervously flittered between Shaw and black suit. He was obviously a new recruit, and not a confident one. He'd never killed before, Shaw could tell.
Black suit smirked. "Where are my manners?" He chuckled maliciously, standing up from his spot on the bed, his gun now pointed at Shaw. "I'm the man that's going to kill you." He clicked off the safety of the gun. "Tell me where the USBs are, and Joshua will live."
Before he could make another move, Root raised her gun and shot him in the shoulder, and then Shaw raised her gun and followed suit, aiming her gun at gray suit, who was about to click off the safety of his own gun. Shaw shot him in his leg and again in his shoulder. Both men dropped to the floor, their wounds bleeding onto the tile as they groaned in agony.
Shaw walked up to black suit and placed her sock-clad feet on his chest, her gun aimed at the spot between his eyes. "I hate it when people are all talk and no action. It gets boring. How many more of you are there?"
The man clutched at his bleeding arm with the hand from his uninjured arm and through gritted teeth said, "As many as it takes to kill you and retrieve the USBs."
"Sameen, we need to move. She says there are six more Samaritan operatives on the way, two of which are pulling up outside as we speak."
Shaw glared down at the man and without warning, put a bullet in his other shoulder, taking satisfaction in his agonized scream. Turning to a deathly pale and shockingly still Josh, Shaw calmly instructed, "Get your sister and Bear, and prepare to run."
Snapping out of his daze, Josh quickly scrambled out of his bedroom and went to the living room, his panicky yelling and Daniela's confused questions floating into the room. Root and Shaw walked over to Josh's broken window, stepping over the two groaning men, and peered out, noticing two black sedans speeding down the street.
"We need to get out of here and fast. She needs to give us a way out of here," Shaw said to Root, who was suddenly quiet and concentrating on the robotic voice in her ear.
After a few seconds, Root looked to Shaw and nodded to the door. "She has an escape route. We have about one minute until the agents come bursting through the door."
Without waiting a second longer, they fled the room, gathered the kids and Bear, slipped on their shoes, and made their way out the front door, making a left down the long corridor. They passed the resident's stairwell, the service elevator Shaw knew was in the janitor's closet, and then made their way to the corner located at the end of the hall. There, in the corner, was a laundry shoot being used by none other than Tina and Tim Monahan. The couple froze as they eyed the scene before them; Shaw had a gun in her right hand, Root had a gun in one hand and another tucked in the waistband of her jeans, and Daniela and Josh stood in front of them with wide-eyed expressions; Bear stood guard in front of the kids, ready to attack if necessary. The couple gaped, nervously eyeing the women, the feral canine, and their weapons.
"Trust me, it's not what it looks like," Root quipped, an unnerving smile on her face. "We'll need you to step aside. Now."
Tina and Tim seemed to snap out of their shock and scurried away, leaving behind their laundry bags.
Looking at the laundry shoot, it was big enough for all of them to go down, one-by-one. Root looked to Daniela and nudged her forward. "Go! We have thirty seconds before they reach us."
Daniela, spurred by Root's insistent tone, sprang into action and climbed into the shoot. Once she slid down, Josh soon followed, and Root shouted a command at Bear, the dog going down the shoot with a small whimper. Root prepared to go next, and Shaw heard heavy footfalls down the hall. Peeking around the corner, she spotted three Samaritan agents going toward their apartment. They'd closed the door before they left, but left it unlocked. The agents unnecessarily shot off the doorknob, kicked the door open, and stormed inside. Shaw looked back to the shoot and saw that Root had slid down. Not wanting to waste any more time, she entered the shoot and followed suit.
The shoot was maybe thirty-feet long, incredibly dark and narrow, and cold. At the end of the shoot, there was a bright light, which no doubt belonged to the laundry room. As Shaw reached the end, she saw Root, the kids and Bear surrounded by bags of clothing, waiting for her to exit. Once she did, they quickly made their way through the open laundry room door, and over her shoulder, Root said, "Turn left."
For the next two minutes, Root gave them quiet directions that got them out of the apartment building without being spotted. It wasn't until they found themselves in a dark alleyway that they stopped.
"Why are we stopping?" Josh asked shakily.
"She told me to," Root answered simply.
"She? Who is she and what does she want? And who the hell are you guys? Are you spies?" Josh accused, losing the shakiness in his voice. Shaw rolled her eyes and shot him an annoyed look.
"We're the people trying to save your ass."
"Who are you?" Josh asked again, with Daniela looking at Shaw intently.
Just as Shaw was about to answer, a black Mercedes swerved into the alleyway, and there sat John in the driver's seat, throwing open the passenger door. "Get in! Quick!"
Shaw breathed out a sigh of relief and practically dove into the passenger's seat, closing the door behind her. The kids quickly slid in the backseat and Root commanded Bear to jump in, and then got in behind them, shutting the door. John sped off as soon as he heard the door click. Bear spread out across their laps, his head nestled in Josh's lap and his tail wagging against Root's abdomen. Shaw looked back at him and offered him a small smile.
"Who is this guy?" Josh asked, pointing to John.
He was getting brave now. Shaw would smack him if she wasn't so focused on saving him.
"I'm a friend."
"Your cousin's," John said without thinking. Shaw punched him in the shoulder, causing him to slightly swerve into the next lane. The car next to him honked and he grumbled under his breath, focusing his attention on the road.
"We don't have a cousin," Daniela denied quietly, eyeing Shaw like she was starting to put the puzzle pieces together. Shaw could see that Daniela's denial was fading as the seconds passed and soon realization was beginning to dawn on her.
"Afraid you do, kid," Shaw supplied. "My mom and your mom are sisters. I just found out too."
The car went silent after Shaw's admission. John weaved in and out of traffic, noting the Samaritan agents trying to catch up to them from the street behind them. They were three blocks away from Harold's safe house when Josh opened his mouth, turned to Daniela, and gasped, "Dude, I've been attempting to flirt with our cousin all this time?"
John and Root snickered at his expense, and Shaw glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing that a large furniture truck had cut off the Samaritan operatives' tail. John pulled onto a side road free of traffic cameras, and they continued their way to the safe house. The road was deserted, save for a few trashcans and a few parked cars. After a few minutes of driving, they pulled up to the safe house and exited the car. John, Root, and Shaw surveyed the area, seeing it was free of prying eyes. John quickly ushered the kids inside, Bear hot on their heels, with Root and Shaw following suit, locking the door behind them.
Daniela and Josh stood awkwardly by the couch in the living room as John stood by the windows with Bear at his feet, updating Harold on their whereabouts. Shaw walked to them, gestured for them to sit, and then said in a stern voice, "What do you guys know, and tell me everything."
As Josh began to talk, Shaw looked at Root, who had been watching her the entire time. Shaw glared at her and mentally blamed Root for everything. If Root hadn't tried to have the feelings talk earlier that day, then she wouldn't have jinxed them into having to deal with this until another few days. Root seemed to know what she was thinking because she gave her a knowing smile that made Shaw's blood boil. Shaw's glare only intensified at the action.
Josh may have made the call that put the ping on Samaritan's radar, but Root was the one that just had to have the "if we die" talk earlier. Thanks, Root, Shaw grumpily thought to herself.
Sorry for all the typos and mistakes that are probably in this chapter. It felt nice to finally get this chapter done, so I hope you guys enjoyed it and are looking forward to the last few chapters to come! I know I suck at updating, but hopefully you're all still interested enough to read the rest and stick this out with me lol.
Shaw was getting antsy. The longer they stayed in the safe house, the more she felt like a sitting duck. Greer had his operatives scouring the state for their location, and it was only a matter of time before they were located and forced to protect the kids from ruthless Samaritan operatives, who would have no problem sending a hail of bullets in their direction. Shaw stood at the window, surveying the area as best as she could; the pitch-black darkness surrounding the area made it hard to spot any suspicious activity. John, too, stood at the window, looking for any signs of movement. Samaritan's operatives ranged from ordinary people on the street to fully trained soldiers, so their level of stealth training varied. Shaw had no doubt that Greer was sending out his best agents to track them down.
The chances of all 5 of them making it out alive was slim, but not impossible. But it felt as if the chances were getting slimmer with each passing second.
Feeling her frustration beginning to build, Shaw stepped back from the window and made her way to the living room couch. Daniela and Josh were sat on one end of the couch, holding onto each other as if they were inflatable life rings keeping each other afloat in the deep-end of a pool. It was like they were drowning in a pool of confusion and fear, stuck in the center of the pool, only to realize neither of them could swim and their life ring was deflating in their grasp. They looked ready to bolt at the slightest of sounds and Shaw couldn't help but feel bad for them. This wasn't the type of situation two kids should be dealing with. Acne, crushes, video games, and other teen-related stuff was all Josh and Daniela should have been worrying about, not highly-trained AI-appointed assassins. Yet, here they were, being targeted like criminals. It wasn't fair, but it was the reality of their situation. As it had turned out, Josh and Daniela were clueless about the content of the USBs. All Josh knew was that his father had wanted him to keep them safe and out of the wrong hands, and Daniela had no idea of the USBs existence, but had suspicions about her father's actual line of work.
What a shitty way for everything to have been brought to light, Shaw thought.
Root, who'd been in the kitchen making hot chocolate for the kids, returned with two steaming mugs in her hands, placing the porcelain cups on the wooden coffee table in front of them. The small thud caused by porcelain meeting wood made the teens jump, and Shaw felt herself instinctually placing a gentle hand on Daniela's shoulder. Daniela looked up at her with wide eyes and Shaw gave her a meaningful look.
"We're not going to let anything happen to you guys," Shaw told them, knowing that, even though she couldn't control their fate, that her and the team would do their best to keep them safe and alive.
"You lied to us about who you were," Josh grumbled, refusing to meet Shaw's eyes. "Why should we trust you?"
Shaw scoffed. "Because you would be dead if it weren't for our," Shaw gestured between herself and Root, "protection. Those men in your room were going to kill you, with or without acquiring the USBs. They have orders to retrieve those USBs and dispose of you. Both of you." Shaw paused, allowing a moment for the reality of the situation to sink in. She continued when their expressions reflected conspicuous fear and stunned realization. "The files on those USBs are enough to launch an investigation into the company that employs those men, but not enough to lock them up for good."
Josh and Daniela wore matching frowns at that tidbit of information. Josh spoke again.
"So, if the files on the USBs aren't incriminating enough to send them to prison, then why do they want them so badly?"
Root answered this time.
"If they were anyone else, they'd get life in prison, but these people have a power and a reach that goes beyond anything you can imagine. In other words, they practically control the government and they'll have someone else take the fall for them. If these drives get into the wrong hands, then a lot of innocent people will be wrongly imprisoned, or worse." She said. "These people are ruthless and deadly, and you guys won't be safe until we figure out a way to get these USBs into the right hands. Until that happens, none of us are safe."
Of course, in their line of work, they were never safe, but Shaw felt it wasn't an appropriate time to make that statement.
There was a lull in chatter after that, and neither Shaw nor Root had felt the need to fill in the silence with small talk. Shaw wasn't one for small talk, and she wasn't going to start now. Now was not the time for forced conversation and awkward silences, now was the time to remain vigilant and prepared for battle. Feeling too antsy to remain seated, Shaw rose from the couch and walked over to Bear, who was laid at John's feet. Bear perked up when Shaw kneeled beside him, her fingers lightly scratching behind his ears. Bear let out a pleased whine and snuggled his face into Shaw's chest as she continued to stroke the coarse fur behind his ears.
John moved from his spot near the window and tapped on his communication line. Shaw could hear him muttering something to Finch as he made his way into the bedroom and pulled up the door behind him, leaving it open a tiny crack. Shaw never quite understood John's reason for seeking privacy when speaking into the comms or over the phone; John only ever used his inside voice, as it was rare that he ever spoke above a whisper. If he feared strangers overhearing his conversations, he need not worry. Shaw, who had ears like a hawk, could barely hear John at times and if she couldn't hear him, then there was little hope for those with regular hearing. Samaritan and The Machine were the only ones he'd need to be worried about.
As John continued his hushed conversation in the bedroom, Shaw rose to her feet, Bear whining at the broken contact, and stared out the window once more, surveying the dark street. The street was still empty, not so much as a bicycle rider or a random pedestrian passing by. It almost felt too quiet. Too deserted. Shaw was going to go out of her mind if something didn't happen soon.
As soon as that thought had passed, arms wrapped around her waist from behind and a chin rested on her shoulder. Shaw immediately stiffened.
Closing her eyes and unconsciously relaxing into the surprise embrace, Shaw heaved a heavy sigh.
"What are you doing?" Shaw said, trying to insert some annoyance into her voice but failing.
Shaw felt too antsy and exhausted to be annoyed. Somehow, Root could sense that and chose that moment to capitalize on it.
"Holding you," Root replied, simply.
"Because you look like you're two seconds away from taking out your gun and shooting at the window. I don't want you to draw attention to us or frighten the kids any more than they've been frightened tonight. Be calm, Sameen. She'll let us know when it's time," Root said in a gentle whisper, her breath tickling Shaw's ear with every word.
If Shaw felt a flutter in her stomach, she'd likened it to indigestion.
For the next few moments, nothing more was said. Root and Shaw stood together, looking out the window, with Root holding Shaw from behind and Shaw choosing to remain in her embrace without complaint. They stood like that for a while, listening to Josh and Daniela's hushed reassurances to each other and Bear's even breathing as he fell asleep at their feet. It was only when John reentered the living room that Shaw made to move out of Root's embrace. Root only held tighter and nuzzled her chin deeper into Shaw's shoulder, trapping her where she stood. Shaw rolled her eyes at the shit-eating grin on John's face, but said nothing, nor did she fight Root off like she normally would.
John's eyes were still twinkling with mirth when he approached them, but he'd chosen to remain quiet on Root and Shaw's intimate position. Instead, he'd updated them on what Harold had told him. Samaritan's agents were on the other side of the county looking for them which meant that they were currently in the clear. For how long, no one knew, but Shaw took it as a small, temporary victory.
"Hey, why don't you two try to get some rest?" John suggested to the two, visibly exhausted teens.
Shaw attempted to disentangle herself from Root again and, this time, the taller woman loosened her embrace and allowed Shaw to step away from her.
"B-but what about the people coming after us?" Josh stuttered out, fear and exhaustion evident in his voice.
"Right now, we're in the clear," Shaw told them, stepping toward the two in a placating manner. "You guys should get all the rest that you can get. You're going to need it. We'll wake you up if something happens." Daniela opened her mouth to protest, but Shaw beat her to it. "Us three are keeping watch, and we have people on the outside surveying the area. Get some rest." Shaw said again, her tone leaving no room for argument.
Josh and Daniela exchanged meaningful glances and eventually shared a nod, rising from their seats on the couch as John pointed them toward the bedroom. The two glanced at Root and Shaw for a moment, as if searching for something, probably some semblance of the "foster moms" they'd lived with for the past few months (they didn't seem to find what they were looking for), and then silently walked into the bedroom, leaving the door ajar. Bear had woken from their footsteps and nudged his way through the crack in the bedroom door, leaving John, Root, and Shaw standing by the living room window.
John stared at Root and Shaw for a moment, then said, "I'm going to scope out the area."
"By yourself? I'm coming with you," Shaw insisted, her hand inching toward the gun in her waistband.
"No, you stay here. You two need to be here with the kids in case something happens. If there's danger, I'll contact you through the comms."
With that, John left, leaving Root and Shaw alone in the living room. Root walked over to the couch and sank down into the middle cushion and, with a sigh, Shaw followed suit, dropping into the seat beside Root. Shaw leaned back in her seat and rested her right arm on the armrest of the couch, and her left arm rested in the space between her and Root. Without warning, Root slipped her hand into Shaw's, much to Shaw's discomfort, but she chose not to protest. Now wasn't the time.
Their "if we die" talk from earlier in the day was still fresh in her mind, and considering the situation they were currently in, Shaw knew that the possibility of that occurring was higher than ever.
"This is the second time you've allowed me to hold you tonight," Root noted, her voice quiet.
Shaw waited for Root to say something more. She didn't. Shaw felt hyper-aware of the intimacy of the moment, and Root's unusual graveness. Such a grave expression didn't suit her. One of Root's ill-timed flirtatious lines would have been welcomed, but it never came. They were completely enveloped in silence, their fingers twining together as the silence stretched on and the minutes ticked by.
Twenty minutes had passed, and John had still not returned. After checking on the kids, who were fast asleep with Bear keeping a watchful eye on them, Shaw returned to her previous spot on the couch and leaned back into the cushion, allowing her eyes to slip closed. She felt Root's eyes on her but did not comment on it. She simply waited for Root to say something. Anything would be better than the suffocating silence.
Root seemed to read her mind and began to speak.
"If we get through this alive, have you thought of what we're going to do about Josh and Daniela?"
Shaw opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. She'd thought about what they were going to do with the kids once this was over much more than she'd cared to admit, and there was only one option that truly came to mind whenever the topic reared its head.
"I want to take them to my mom."
Root's eyes widened in surprise. "Really? Do you think that's a wise decision, what with Samaritan being after them?"
Shaw had thought about that, too. If there was anything thing she'd learned from her mom, it was resourcefulness and stealth. Her mom, although well into her 60s, was extremely tech savvy and resourceful. Her mom was a woman that knew how to stay hidden, but also knew how to track people down, regardless of how much they had tried to hide (her mom's ability to figure out her newest phone numbers, despite Shaw never having given them to her, was a testament to that fact). She was no Root or Finch, but she was far more skilled than Shaw in that area, as well as various other areas. There was no one better suited to look after Josh and Daniela than a woman capable of giving them unconditional love, understanding, and a quiet life, far away from prying, all-seeing eyes.
If they got through this and were able to put Daniela and Josh in the clear, there was no one Shaw trusted more to look after them than her mother.
"If we can get these kids off Samaritan's radar, then my mom is my number one choice. If not, they'd probably have to live in Finch's subway or be smuggled out of the country to a camera-less place where they'd live with a random family in either a forest, a desert, or an igloo."
Root's lips quirked up at that. "Say everything does work out and we're able to bring the kids to your mom. Does that mean…" Root trailed off.
Shaw knew what was coming next and braced herself for the inevitable question.
"…that I will be meeting your mom?"
Shaw released a strangled noise. "Root…"
"Are you planning to hide your wife from her mother-in-law?"
And there was that twinkle in Root's eyes that had been absent just moments earlier. Shaw would be lying if she said she wasn't relieved to see it.
"It would probably be best if John or Lionel came with me," Shaw said, ignoring Root's eye roll at her deflective answer.
"Whatever you say, Sam," Root drawled, a small smile playing at her lips. "Whatever you say."
To Shaw's surprise, the subject was dropped almost as soon it had been brought up, and they were plunged into silence once more. Root's hand had snuck its way into Shaw's again. She felt Root stroke the outside of her hand with her thumb and felt her hand relax in Root's grip. It was disconcerting how much Shaw let Root get away with over the last few hours.
As much as she'd like to blame their approaching doom for allowing Root to hug her and hold her hand, she knew their earlier talk had affected her more than she cared to admit. Shaw wasn't one for physical or verbal affection, nor was she the type to say "I love you" or cuddle after sex; these weren't things she sought after or craved.
One thing she knew for sure, however, was that she didn't want to imagine a world where Root didn't exist and wasn't there to annoy her endlessly. Right now, it was just the calm before the storm. If they got out of the battle alive, Shaw would make more of an effort for her and Root's unlabeled…thing.
As Root entwined their fingers and continued stroking the back of her hand with her thumb, Shaw made a vow to try harder, for both of their sake.
Ten minutes later, John returned to the safe house and announced that they were in the clear. He'd taken a seat on the opposite side of the sofa, noticed Root and Shaw's clasped hands, and smiled - not the teasing smile he usually wore to drive Shaw crazy, but a genuine smile. They sat in silence and just looked at each other, as if it were the last time they'd be together. The atmosphere was still and quiet, but there was a heaviness weighing them down.
The calm before the storm, indeed.
Five hours later and the safe house was surrounded. They'd been found.
Root clutched at her bleeding shoulder, eyes watery due to the stinging pain in her barely-healed arm, and stared at Shaw, a strained smile on her face. Ten feet away was John taking cover behind a nearby gray sedan, rising in his position to shoot at their assailants.
"Guess this is it, sweetie," Root said through gritted teeth, the pain evident in her voice.
Shaw, sporting a similar arm wound, a gun in her uninjured hand firing at the four Samaritan operatives at regular intervals from behind the black SUV they were using as a shield, shook her head.
"We are getting out of this alive, Root. All of us."
To be continued…
It's been over a year since my last update, my apologies, everyone. Life simply just got in the way, and I am sorry this upload was not very long, but hopefully it was enjoyable to those of you still reading. I'm sure most of you forgot about this story's existence and have no further interest in it, but I had the sudden motivation to write and update, so I figured I should. This is one story I will not leave unfinished lol.
The silent atmosphere of the safe house had been broken the moment Josh and Daniela woke from their fitful slumber. Root, who had fallen asleep with her head on Shaw's shoulder an hour prior, stirred in her sleep, her eyes now half-open and searching for the source of the heavy footfalls filling the once silent room. Josh and Daniela had stormed their way into the living room with Bear hot on their heels, wearing matching looks of exhausted panic. John, who had situated himself by the window, had immediately turned his attention to the two wide-eyed teens.
"What happened?" Shaw asked.
"W-we heard a noise outside the window," Josh told them shakily. "Would it be okay if we stayed out here with you guys?"
Shaw looked to John, who silently rose from his seat and made his way into the bedroom to find the source of the noise. Shaw looked at the frightened kids in front of her and felt her heart sink into her stomach. On top of losing their parents, their grandparents, and any semblance of normalcy they had tried to acquire, they were now filled with a fear that Shaw knew would stay with them for a very long time. Shaw felt her anger rise, not at them, but at their situation, and she wanted nothing more than to protect them.
In a quiet voice, careful not to wake Root who had dozed off again, she said, "Grab a seat."
The look of relief that appeared on their faces made it evident that they had expected Shaw to deny their request. Shaw's eyes rolled on their own accord; it wasn't like she was a heartless monster who'd say no to them. Although, now that she thought about it, Josh had witnessed her shooting two men, so…there was that.
As soon as the kids settled on the couch uncomfortably seated beside Root with Bear laying protectively at their feet, John reentered the living room.
"There's no one out there, just some stray cats," he announced to the room.
John sounded tired and Shaw knew that it had been a few days since he'd had a full night's rest. The amount of numbers that had come in over the last week was far too much for one person to handle, yet John steadily and single-handedly stopped each potential tragedy from happening. He looked worse for wear, and absolutely sucked at hiding it. His cocky smirks and twinkling eyes were half-assed and not up to their usual annoying standard, but he did his best to keep his calm façade in place.
"John, why don't you get some rest?" Shaw suggested. He just looked at her in response, completely expressionless, as if he was unsure of the response he should give. Shaw didn't let him ponder on the suggestion for too long. "You're exhausted and we need you cranked to 100. Right now, I'd say you're at about a 60 and doing a poor job of hiding it. If something happens, Harold will tell us. Go rest."
John opened his mouth to argue but immediately closed it at Shaw's hard look. His inability to offer a counterargument only further proved Shaw's point. Without saying a word, John avoided Shaw's eyes and made a beeline for the bedroom. He kept the door wide open as he entered the room and Shaw had a feeling he had opted to rest in the chair positioned at the side of the bed, rather than the bed itself. She knew the rest he'd get would be minimal, but it was better than nothing.
"Who is that guy?" Josh quietly asked once John was out of earshot.
"A friend who is trying to save your asses."
Josh went silent for a moment, then looked at Shaw with searching eyes. "How long have you known we were related?"
Shaw released a drawn-out sigh, closed her eyes, and rested the back of her head against the couch cushion. "A few days. I haven't known much longer than you," she told them. And it was the truth.
Shaw opened her eyes and saw Josh and Daniela studying her.
Daniela and Josh exchanged a look and then looked back to Shaw.
"You remind us of our mom. Your looks, your personality…" Josh told her, his eyes taking on a distant look as if he were lost in thought. "I can't believe I didn't see it before… I can't believe I found you hot."
His grimace elicited a chuckle out of Shaw.
"So, are you two really a couple?" Josh gestured between Shaw and a passed out Root.
"Then why is she sleeping on your shoulder? You don't seem like the type of person that allows that sort of thing." Josh asked again, biting back an amused smile.
"She's tired," was Shaw's weak answer. The two kids looked unconvinced and Shaw gritted out a defeated, "whatever".
Root's head nuzzled against Shaw's shoulder, then, almost mockingly. Daniela and Josh's eyes followed Root's movement and Shaw's lack of intention to pull away from the other woman. It was in that moment that Josh's face resembled her own the most; that smug smile that just screamed "I told you so" made Shaw want to push Root off of her just to wipe the smug look from his face. But she couldn't bring herself to do that.
This time, she had no one to blame but herself (and Root). Root was always to blame, even if Shaw knew that was a completely irrational thought to have; she also knew it was a complete copout to evade her true feelings, which she now acknowledged were a thing she could no longer avoid.
As much as Shaw hated to admit it, she was stuck with Root. And a small, microscopic part of her was completely fine with that.
Root's sudden jolt caused Shaw to snap out of her thoughts and turn to the other woman, whose eyes were now wide open as she focused on the low buzzing in her ear. Shaw watched Root curiously, wondering what message The Machine was relaying to her. Shaw noticed Josh and Daniela's startled expressions as they watched Root with wide, curious eyes and Bear, who had been quiet and still since entering the living room, immediately perked up, his attention on Root. After a moment of tensed silence, Root turned to her.
"New operatives have been dispatched to search the city. We're still in the clear for now, but in about two hours, we will be surrounded."
"For fuck's sake," Shaw grunted out, none too pleased.
"Miss Shaw, Miss Groves, Mr. Reese, are you there?" came Harold's voice through the comms.
"I'm guessing you heard the news," Shaw replied dryly, just as John asked, "have we been compromised?"
"Yes, and I've called Lionel to come retrieve the children. He should be there soon, so please, have the kids ready to leave the moment he arrives. He will bring them to the subway station using the shadow map."
"One step ahead of you," Root said.
John entered the room while Root explained to Josh and Daniela that they were being moved to a discreet location by a friend of theirs. Neither teen looked thrilled by the news, nor did they look pleased by the thought of being separated from them. Shaw knew the situation sucked but there was nothing she could do about it. They'd be sitting ducks if they stayed together.
This was for the best, she told herself.
"Be careful, Harold."
"You too, Miss Shaw."
And then the line went silent.
A light knock at the safehouse door gave the kids a fright and Root's assurance that it was just their friend, Lionel, did little to appease them. Shaw opened the door and quickly ushered Lionel in, giving the man an opportunity to read the room and analyze the grave expressions on the team's faces.
"This is it, isn't it?" Lionel asked.
The other adults in the room didn't need any further explanation as to what "it" referred to. John gave a stilted nod in response. The two teens looked around at the adults in the room and Shaw noticed the tensed look that passed between them.
The weight of Lionel's words hung around the room, suffocating…crushing.
Shaw felt the need to break the tension. The kids needed to get far away from the safe house, and she needed to steel herself for the events to come. Shaw put a hand on Daniela and Josh's shoulders and gave them a strained smile.
"It's time to go," was all she said.
It's all she'd needed to say.
"Okay," Daniela said in a small voice, eyes glued on the floor.
"I hope to see you again. Both of you," Josh said, his eyes looking between Root and Shaw.
The two women nodded but said nothing. They knew the likelihood of that happening was unlikely.
"You too, Batman", Josh added, giving John an awkward pat on his tensed shoulders.
Shaw felt something brush against her thigh and looked down to see Bear looking up at her, a slight whine escaping his throat. Shaw knelt down to scratch behind his ears.
"I hope to see you again, big boy," Shaw whispered to him, to which he responded by licking her face. "You be safe, okay? Take care of the kids and Harold." The whimper she got in response was good enough as any promise. Shaw stood up and gave Bear one last scratch behind the ear before turning to Lionel and giving him a slight nod. Lionel nodded back, his expression grim.
"Alright, kids, time to go. Bear, you too," Lionel said, opening the front door and ushering the kids and Bear out the apartment. Pausing at the entryway, Lionel turned back to the team and whispered, "good luck", before closing the door behind him.
With the departure of the kids and Bear, the safehouse was plunged into silence.
"If we make it out of this alive, let's go on a date."
"Why do you have the worst timing?"
"When else would I ask? I might not get another chance."
Shaw, who had been leaning back against the couch cushions, arms crossed over her chest, peered over at Root.
"You'll be around to annoy me for all eternity. We've got nothing but time."
Root smiled despondently. "Can I take your non-answer as a yes?"
"You can take it however you'd like. You'll have many more years to ponder over my 'non-answer'."
Root scooted closer to Shaw then, using one hand to uncross the other woman's arms and taking one hand into her own. Shaw, who had been letting Root get away with all types of physical affection that day, chose not to fight it and allowed her hand to be held.
"Is this new bout of positivity you're on for my sake or yours?"
Shaw squeezed Root's hand in lieu of a response.
Just as Root was about to open her mouth to speak, she suddenly paused. Shaw noticed the look of concentration on her face as she listened to the mechanic voice in her ear, eyes growing wide. John came into the room with his weapons drawn and eyes blazing.
"We've got company."
Root and Shaw stood up from the couch and pulled their guns from their waistbands. They could hear several car doors slamming from the parking lot and Shaw knew it was time.
John peeked out the window. "There's about 15 operatives surrounding the building."
"And many more to come," Root informed them.
The sound of thundering footsteps stomping up and down the halls could be heard a few floors below them. Shaw and Root dropped hands and moved to grab their guns. Clicking off the safety of her gun, Shaw looked to Root and whispered out a small, "maybe".
Root looked confused for a moment until recognition dawned on her. For a brief moment, a small smile played at the corners of her lips. The fluttery feeling that blossomed in the pit of Shaw's stomach was unsettling and definitely not the indigestion she had been dismissing it as for the past few months. If they both made it through this battle, she vowed to turn up the volume on her 'feelings' and listen to what her heart and brain have been telling her.
For now, however, she needed to focus on getting through this battle alive.
"There are three operatives in the building. They'll reach this floor in approximately 20 seconds," Root informed them.
The three of them looked at each other and nodded. They were on the same page about what actions to take next. John walked to the front door, opened it, aimed his gun aimed down the hall and when he heard footsteps turning the corner, he quickly shot the kneecaps of the three men that came into view before they'd even had a chance to pull their own triggers.
John turned to the two women and said, "go."
The three ran out of their now compromised safehouse and made their way down the hall, bending down to take the guns of the groaning operatives on the floor, who were clutching at their bleeding knees. Just as they turned the corner and went through the door leading to the stairs, two more operatives came into view. Shaw shot one of them in the shoulder, while John shot the other in the leg. Both men dropped their guns and crouched in their spots, clutching at their wounds.
The trio moved as a unit and hurried past the injured men, continuing down the stairs.
"The building is clear, but there are twenty Samaritan agents waiting for us outside," Root told them as they reached the third-floor landing.
They paused their stride on the stairs. John looked at them and Shaw could see the gears turning in his head.
"I'll go out first, draw the attention, and take out as many guys as I can. You guys come out after me and take out the remaining operatives. Good luck."
Before either woman could protest, John ran down the remaining flight of stairs. A few seconds later, a parade of gunshots could be heard outside.
That idiot had a death wish. To be fair, death was almost inevitable in their current situation, but this was not the time to go rogue. Root and Shaw exchanged a look and nodded in agreement, running down the stairs to join the chaos.
As soon as they stepped outside, bullets whizzed past them. Both women ran and took cover behind one of the parked cars (their car), occasionally popping up from their shield to shoot at the nearest assailant. Shaw managed to hit three operatives, while Root managed to take down four. But more and more kept appearing, with skidding tires alerting the women to the presence of a new batch of Samaritan operatives at the scene.
Root and Shaw popped up and shot at the two operatives trying to stealthily approach their spot, hitting both assailants in the knees. As the man and woman dropped to the ground, losing their grasp on their guns, Root and Shaw ducked behind their shield as more bullets came toward them.
"There are too many of them and not enough of us. John isn't fairing any better," Shaw told Root as she quickly glanced at John, who was using a neighboring car as a shield, clutching at his bloody arm. Shaw could tell it was just a graze and nothing life-threatening, but with the constant multiplying of opposing agents, she knew they were running on limited time.
"You alright, John?" Shaw asked over the comms.
"Yeah," he grunted out, sounding less than fine. "Just a scratch."
Root interrupted. "You guys, I have a plan."
"What is it?" Shaw asked, before quickly popping up from her spot to empty her clip on three more approaching operatives, successfully hitting her targets. Squatting back down behind the car to reload her gun, she looked at Root expectantly.
Root, who had the keys of the car in her back pocket – Shaw wondered when she'd had time to retrieve them - used the key to unlock the car trunk. She slightly opened the lid of the car trunk from her squatted position and pulled out a rocket launcher from an open duffel bag.
"The rocket launcher," Root said simply. "Let's end this part of the battle."
Shaw finished reloading her gun and nodded. While Root was preparing the launcher for use, Shaw popped up from her spot and exchanged bullets with more approaching agents, landing hits on the three closest to her. Shaw could see John in her peripheral shooting until his clip emptied and shot at the agent she noticed aiming at John, successfully hitting them in the shoulder. John gave Shaw a grateful nod and they both ducked behind their respective cars.
Shaw looked to Root, who was done preparing the rocket launcher.
"I need you both to cover me," said Root.
"Just say when," John replied.
Root and Shaw exchanged looks and nodded to each other.
Shaw and John left their cover and ran out into a hail of bullets, shooting at as many agents as they could while Root came up behind them, the rocker launcher propped on her shoulder and aimed at the crowded street ahead of them. Shaw and John moved aside as Root shot the launcher and watched as the launcher projectile collided with the car nearest to the largest group of operatives, exploding as it made contact. The operatives attempted to run and jump away from the explosion, but still managed to get scratched and impaled by shards of glass, sheets of metal and pieces of rubber. They were all left injured and completely incapacitated. Root walked to the open car trunk and placed the launcher back into its long, black duffel back. After zipping it up and placing the strap of the bag across her chest, she turned to the curious pair watching her.
"Let's go. She has a car we can use."
Neither John nor Shaw questioned it and followed Root.
"How's your arm?" Shaw asked John as they walked through a deserted, camera-less alleyway.
"I'll live. How's yours?"
Shaw looked at him in confusion until she felt the stinging in her right shoulder. She looked down and noticed her slashed shirt and bleeding wound. She hadn't even noticed she'd been shot, but, like John's, it seemed to be a slight graze. It would need a few stitches, but she'd be fine.
The conversation halted there, and they continued following Root in silence. Once they turned the corner and entered a new alleyway, they saw a silver sedan parked near a restaurant's back entrance with the motor still running. On top of the car was a car top sign, reading 'Pizza Delivery'. Root turned to the pair behind her and nodded her head in the car's direction.
The trio quickly walked toward the car, John getting into the driver's seat, Shaw in shotgun and Root in the backseat, and peeled out of the alleyway, using the shadow map that had been ingrained in their brains to reach the nearest safe zone.
"Harry, we're coming to you."
"Keep still," Shaw chided, stitching up John's wound.
They had reached the subway station without further incident and had been laying low for the last few hours as they waited for the other shoe to drop. They knew Samaritan was scouring the city looking for them, but they were in the clear for now. Samaritan had gotten wind of a car jacking a few blocks away from their alleyway battlefield and they'd found said car abandoned about 20 blocks away at a car junk yard. The trio had managed to avoid cameras as they walked the few blocks leading to the entryway of one of the abandoned subway entrances, which led directly to the underground. From there, they walked through the pitch-black underground for a little over a mile, with three phone flashlights being their only source of light leading them to Harold's hideout. By the time they'd reached, they were a panting, bloody mess. To say Josh and Daniela were frightened would be an understatement.
"Ouch," John winced as Shaw pulled the needle to tighten the suture.
Shaw rolled her eyes. "Don't be a baby."
Once she finished up the last suture, she roughly slapped John on his injured, freshly stitched up shoulder, causing him to wince again. "All done."
"Thanks," he said through gritted teeth.
Shaw smirked at his pained expression and watched him rise from the couch to get away from her and her needle. He headed to the subway car where Harold was monitoring Samaritan, and Shaw turned her attention away from him and looked down at her own sutured wound.
"How's the arm?" Root asked, sitting in John's deserted seat.
"It'll heal. How's your arm and your side holding up?" Shaw asked, knowing that Root would mostly be healed by now, but feeling compelled to ask anyway. Root had a habit of trying to hide her injuries from her.
"I'm fine, Sameen," she assured her.
And she seemed fine. Shaw visually scanned the other woman's body, looking for any sign of discomfort that the woman could be hiding from her, but Shaw detected none. Root seemed to have gotten through their newest battle physically unscathed.
Shaw knew the war was far from over. Their covers were blown, and they now had two kids in their custody who were in just as much danger. Where did they go from here?
As if reading her mind, Root spoke up.
"She's making new identities for us and the kids. Samaritan will never stop looking for us, but She's doing her best to make sure we stand a chance against them until the final battle commences. For now, we are in the clear."
"What are we going to do with them?" Shaw wondered aloud, looking at Daniela and Josh who were asleep on the little cot set up at the furthest corner of the room, Josh's arm thrown protectively over his little sister's torso as she stayed close to him, even in their sleep. Bear stayed protectively by their side, laying beside the cot, completely awake and alert.
Noticing where Shaw's attention had gone, Root said to her, "Harry said he'll keep them here for a few days to recover. And then we will take them to a safe place."
Shaw knew where she wanted them to go and, judging by the way Root was looking at her, Root knew something Shaw didn't.
"Root," Shaw said pointedly, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What do you know?"
Root smirked and batted her eyelashes playfully. "I can't wait to meet my mother-in-law, wifey. Also, you owe me a date. How do you feel about Italian?"
The battle was won, the war raged on, yet Root's impeccable timing had remained unchanged.
Shaw knew they had a long war ahead of them that would inevitably result in death and destruction, but the biggest battle she faced in that moment was wiping the self-satisfied smirk off of Root's face. She'd let her guard down during the lead up to their battle and she was doing her best not to regret it. When Root rose from the couch and bent down to place a kiss on her forehead, Shaw did her best to refrain from rolling her eyes. She did this to herself and she was going to accept the consequences. Maybe it was time she finally turned up the volume and listened to the music.
Maybe she'd end up liking the song.
It's been nearly two years since my last update. For that, I am so sorry! Life got in the way. We are finally at the end of this story, although I will be posting an epilogue. Hopefully this chapter didn't feel too rushed as I was having a hard time writing it, but I am finally finished!
I don't know if anyone remembered this story, but if you did and you've read this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it. It's been a wild ride.
Epilogue – One Week Later
The small cottage-styled house in the middle of bumfuck Albany was one Shaw had seen from afar many times over the years. She'd turn on the street where the house sat, park a little further down the road to keep out of view, and watch the shadow of the woman who lived there pass by each window as she went about her day. Shaw often found herself releasing a sigh of relief when she saw that lone shadow pass by the window, because that meant the woman was safe.
For the first time in years, Shaw parked in the home's driveway and greeted the woman whose shadow she'd become accustomed to seeing over the years. She was smaller than Shaw remembered; where they were once of a similar build, the woman before her seemed to have shrunk in size, her clothes a size smaller than they used to be. Where there was once only a single strand of gray in her hair, was now replaced by a full head of salt and pepper colored hair.
Many things about the woman's appearance had changed, but her warm, brown eyes and her kind smile had remained the same. The way she tenderly cupped Shaw's face with her hands felt the same, too.
"Khoshgelam, it's been far too long," the woman said tenderly, her thumb stroking Shaw's cheek.
Shaw smiled. "It's good to see you, mom."
Shaw's mom smiled at her daughter and dropped her hands to gently grab at her hands.
"What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now, huh?" her mom teased. "Imagine my surprise when I got a call from you asking me to take in a niece and nephew I didn't even know I had."
Shaw scoffed. "Imagine my surprise when I learned I had an aunt."
Her mom gave pause at that and Shaw saw guilt flood the older woman's features. "We will need to discuss that soon."
"We will," Shaw agreed, "but not today. Today, I need you to help them settle in."
Josh and Daniela stood ten feet behind Shaw, curiously looking around the unfamiliar neighborhood and warily eyeing Shaw's mom. They clutched at the straps of their backpacks tightly, Josh nervously fiddling with the handle of his suitcase with the hand not holding his backpack strap in a death grip. Daniela looked between Shaw and her mom, as if studying their features to compare to her own. She must have found what she was looking for, because she looked more at ease than she had a few moments prior.
"Do you guys have everything?" came a voice from the behind the car.
"Yes," came Daniela's quiet reply.
"I think so," said Josh unsurely.
"Make sure you do. Check the car again to be sure."
"I think we're good, Sam. Thanks," said Josh, sounding surer this time.
Root closed the trunk of the car and walked up the driveway to join Shaw and her mother.
"Thank you so much for taking the kids on such short notice. We wanted them to be in a safe place and Sameen really wanted them to stay with you," Root revealed, her tone polite and sweet.
"It's not a problem. They're family," Sameen's mother warmly stated.
The moment Shaw dreaded had begun to unfold right before her eyes. Her mom sized up Root and she gave an approving smile. Not that Shaw was against the idea of her mom liking Root, but once they drove off, Shaw was never going to hear the end of Root's gloating.
"So, Sam, you and my daughter…are things going well?" her mom asked, a twinkle in her eyes that made Shaw want to disappear. Root's shit-eating grin did nothing to alleviate that thought.
"They are. We're actually going on our first official date tonight," Root whispered playfully. "In our line of work, it's a bit difficult to go out for personal business and you know how Sameen gets about these things. I'm honored that she's finally letting me take her out."
Shaw's mom looked delighted by the news. "I'm so glad to hear that. I don't know you well, but I can already tell you're my daughter's perfect match."
Shaw couldn't take it anymore. She needed to get out of there. Wordlessly, she removed herself from their little conversation bubble and walked toward the kids.
"You guys all set?"
Daniela and Josh wordlessly nodded, then exchanged looks. Josh spoke first.
"I wanted to thank you for everything you've done for us. We really appreciate it. If it weren't for you and Sam, we wouldn't be alive right now, let alone standing in the driveway of an aunt we didn't know existed. We already thanked Sam while you were talking to your mom, so we felt the need to say this to you, too. Seriously, thank you," Josh said gratefully, his tone earnest.
Daniela nodded her agreement and muttered out a quiet, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Shaw forced out. The last seven days had really tested her ability to express her feelings. It was difficult, but not impossible. That didn't mean she liked it, though. "You can head in now. My mom doesn't bite."
The two teens nodded once again and slowly began walking up the driveway, toward the open front door.
"Come in, come in," Shaw's mom said to the approaching teens. "Go inside and make yourself at home. Josh, your room will be the first door on the right and Daniela, yours will be the first door on the left. Please, unpack and get settled."
The two teens expressed their thanks and made their way into the home, leaving Shaw, her mother and Root in the driveway.
"Have a safe drive back, Khoshgelam. Enjoy your date. It was a pleasure to meet you, Sam," Shaw's mother said warmly, taking Root's hands into her own and giving them a friendly squeeze.
"The pleasure was all mine. Please take care." Shaw rolled her eyes. Could Root be anymore nauseating? "Maybe next time we come to visit, I'll be asking for your daughter's hand in marriage."
Shaw's mom cackled at the look of utter disbelief on Shaw's face and it was then that Shaw noticed the conspiratorial look they shared. They were screwing with her.
Shaw didn't know what was worse, her mom liking Root or her mom joining forces with Root to make her life a living nightmare.
"We better get going; don't want to get caught in rush hour," Root announced.
"Drive safe, girls. We will talk later, Sameen."
And, with that, Shaw's mom made her way into the house, closing the door behind her. Root and Shaw headed back to the car, Shaw heading to the driver's seat and Root heading to the passenger's side. Once they were buckled in and the key was turned in the ignition, Root turned on her communication line.
"Harry, the kids have been safely dropped off."
"Thank you for the update, Miss Groves. Please get back to city safely," came Harold's kind voice.
"Now, time for our date. I saw an all-you-can-eat barbeque place a few miles back," Root informed Shaw. "You in the mood for that, sweetie?"
"Don't call me sweetie," Shaw grunted as she put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway. Once out of the driveway, she put the car in drive and went on her way.
"Whatever you say, wifey."
As if wanting to betray her, her stomach growled. From her peripheral, she could see Root's amused smile. Shaw wanted to wipe that smile from Root's face, but then her stomach growled again, this time louder.
After a moment of silence, Shaw gruffly said, "Put it in the GPS."
Root smiled triumphantly and, while she leaned forward to enter the restaurant name into the GPS, a taunting voice came through the comms.
"Have fun on your date," came a singsong voice.
"Fuck off, John."
I was going to wait to post this, but it's been nearly two years since my last update so I am giving you both the final chapter and the epilogue today (2020/06/21)
Thank you all so much for reading. I had a great time writing this story and I always looked forward to your feedback. I hope this story was just as fun for you to read as it has been for me to write over the years.