As Sameen Shaw (no, Mary Woods, that was her name now) served her last drink of the evening before closing time, when the only patrons left at this hour were the really hard boozers, the phone behind the bar rang.
Gary, her manager, reached a hand out for it but the ringing cut out before his fingers even brushed the hard plastic.
Shaw (Woods) frowned. That was the fifth time it had done that - cut off just when someone went to answer. No, not someone, just not her. She had been too busy pouring drinks all night to worry about answering the phone. She stared at it in thought, wondering if she was just reading too much into it. Probably just those idiot bikers winding Gary up after he barred them the other night. Right?
Gary glared at her pointedly on his way past to restock the fridge with beer and, taking the hint, she began clearing glasses, putting the strange phone calls out of her mind.
The bar wasn't exactly the most glamorous of places. It was a dive if she ever saw one, with its peeling wall paint and sticky floors. Not to mention the questionable clientele. Stereotypical hicks from Hicksville. This is the life the Machine chose for her. The stench of BO and stale beer, the opportunistic ass grabs from the most sleaziest of customers. This was her life now and she could do nothing about it because she was now playing the role of Mary Woods, dumb and nothing but eye candy for behind the bar.
That was the hardest part really, playing dumb. Keeping her mouth shut and not saying the witty comeback, the acerbic comment that was always hot on her lips. Because she couldn't draw attention to herself. Not even here, in the middle of small town nowhere. She was playing a role and she was doing pretty good at it so far.
The last of the patrons staggered out the front of the bar just as she began stacking chairs on tables.
“Have a good one, darlin’.”
“Night, Lou,” she replied and rolled her eyes when he tipped his imaginary hat her way. Lou was actually one of the less sleazy of her customers and the old man reminded her fondly of an old uncle she might have once had, in another life.
She quickly finished stacking the tables, gave the floor a swift mop (any hope of actually removing the decades old drink stains was long gone), said goodnight to Gary and hightailed it out of there before he could ask her to clean the bathrooms.
She had chosen to walk to work that warm, late summer afternoon, but the air had cooled somewhat as the evening had worn on. Shaw – Woods! – zipped her thin jacket up all the way and tried not to shiver as a breeze picked up. Her place wasn’t too far from here, a short ten minute walk and she’d be home sweet home. Not that you could call her one bedroom shack with dodgy plumbing much of a home. But it was a roof over her head and the bed was soft and the landlord made a pretty decent job of keeping the roaches at bay.
She walked down the town’s main street which consisted of Joe’s, the bar she worked in (she had never met Joe and, as far as she was aware, neither had anyone else), and a few shops: the nearest grocery store for fifteen miles, a pharmacy and - because every small town needs one – a tattoo parlour slash liquor store. There were a few other stores that she barely glanced at as she walked by, the street lamps flickering overhead and casting an ominous shadow over the deserted street.
She passed a row of payphones and stopped dead in her tracks when one of them started ringing, the sound loud like a foghorn in the one am quiet.
She stared at it before briefly glancing down the street. Still no one in sight. This phone call was for her.
Her hand was steady when she reached for the receiver, but the adrenaline had already started pumping through her veins and she felt the urge to run.
The voice that spoke back to her was metallic and cold and so very familiar. A number and an address before the line went dead.
After six months of nothing, no contact and no word from her team, the Machine had finally spit out a number.
When Shaw (Woods, goddammit!) google mapped the address she discovered it was for an intersection in Chicago. She wondered who the number was and why the Machine had chosen now, chosen her. Why not Reese or Root, or hell, why not even Finch? Unless one of them were the number and she was the only one close enough, the only one left, to help.
Shaw dumped her laptop onto her battered coffee table and grabbed a beer from the kitchen. It wasn’t really a kitchen, just a fridge and a cooker off to the side of the living room, a battered work top and a sink that spurted out rust more than water. She downed half the beer before she threw herself back down on the lumpy couch, one foot resting lazily on the coffee table next to her laptop, the voice of the Machine echoing in her ears. The alcohol did nothing to drown it out and she wished she had something stronger than beer.
The little red blip on google maps seemed to mock her as she sat in her darkened apartment and she stared at it as she finished her beer. She wondered who it represented. Reese could take care of himself, that much she was sure of, but Finch or Root? Finch wouldn’t know how and Root… How many times had she come to Root’s rescue (reluctantly on more than one occasion) over the past year that she had known her? Too many. Root was good with computers and a Taser, but Shaw doubted she could handle herself if Samaritan had found her.
Perhaps it was that thought alone, or maybe because she had never ignored a number since joining Harold Finch’s team, that got her moving. She tossed a change of clothes into an old duffel bag and took out the piece she kept hidden underneath the loose floorboard beneath the bed. She took the silencer and some spare ammo too just in case.
She hefted the bag over one shoulder and closed her laptop on her way out, sending a quick text to Gary to tell him she’d be out of town for a few days due to a family emergency. She didn’t know if he’d buy it. As far as her boss was aware, she had no family, but she didn’t care all that much either way. It’s not like it would be too difficult for her to find another job if he started asking awkward questions.
Shaw tossed the bag in the back seat of her car and quickly hopped into the driver’s seat. Despite the late hour and the fact that she had been working all day, Shaw was too wired to sleep even if she had been tired.
Chicago was close to a six hour drive away, but the roads were quiet and Shaw kept her foot pressed down on the accelerator going as fast as she dared and hoping she would reach the number on time, whoever it may be.
It was weird being back in a city after spending so long in the middle of nowhere and the busy streets seemed so noisy compared to what she remembered.
Shaw parked her car at the other end of the block from the intersection the Machine had pinged up and waited. Every time she saw someone in glasses or with a slight limp she thought of Harold. Anyone with broad shoulders reminded her of Reese and any flash of brown hair had her heart thumping in her chest. But all the faces were unfamiliar and she sat there for half an hour, fingers drumming restlessly on the steering wheel, when she saw the two black sedans with tinted windows park down the other end of the street.
Shaw glanced up and down the street, hand gripping the gun hidden in her jacket pocket to reassure herself it was still there. That was when she saw her. Her hair was a little longer and her eyes were hidden beneath the shades she wore to combat the summer sun, but it was definitely her.
Fuck, thought Shaw. She had selfishly hoped for Reese. Reese, who would have spotted the ambush waiting from a mile away and would have ten escape routes planned before the bad guys even spotted him.
Shaw watched as Root stopped mid-stride, ducked her head and abruptly changed her route down a narrow alley. Shaw didn’t know if that was stupid or brave; she didn’t know this city well enough to know if that way led to a dead end or if Root knew what she was doing, where she was going.
The doors of both sedans opened and four bulky men stepped out, their eyes on their prey. Shaw spied a 9mm strapped to one of the guys waists and already had her silencer attached and was half way out of her own car before she realised she had made the decision to intervene.
The alley was a dead end; an eight foot chain-linked fence blocked off the other end and Root was trapped, her four pursuers closing in on her.
Shaw didn’t hesitate. She took out the two guys closest to her; two bullets each to the back of the heart. The silencer muffled the shots, but the two guys slumping to the ground caught the attention of the other two, and they both turned around swiftly, guns pointed at her. Shaw squeezed the trigger before they could react and they went down just as easily as the other two.
Shaw finally let herself look at the other woman and the look of surprise on Root’s face was unexpected, but it was gone just as quickly as it came and Shaw was rewarded with that familiar smirk that Root so often used to throw her way. (That same smirk that Shaw liked to think was just for her, before she slammed that thought down and didn’t let it out ever.)
“I knew you’d come for me,” said Root casually, but Shaw could detect the hint of fading fear in her voice.
“No, you didn’t,” said Shaw. “Come on, we gotta go.”
She grabbed Root’s wrist and led her back to her car, eyes searching up and down the street. The black sedans were still and quiet and no one batted them an eyelid as Shaw slammed the driver’s door shut. The engine roared into life, the tires screeching as she got them the hell out of there.
“So… Samaritan found us?” Root said.
“They found you,” said Shaw. She never took her eyes off the road and despite her urge to get out of the city as fast as possible, she was careful not to break the speed limit.
“We need to change cars,” said Shaw.
“How did you know?” asked Root.
Shaw drove them into an underground parking lot. “The Machine.”
Shaw saw Root glance at her sharply from the corner of her eye and she couldn’t be sure, but it was almost as if the other woman was hurt that Shaw had heard from the Machine and she hadn’t.
“Of course,” Root muttered.
They abandoned the car and Shaw kept one hand on her gun as they picked out a new vehicle. Something simple and inconspicuous. She raised the gun to smash the side window in, but Root grabbed her wrist.
“Allow me.” Root pulled out a slim jim from the inside of her jacket and Shaw stared at her, impressed, as she proceeded to break her way into the car. “I always leave the house prepared,” Root said, grinning up at her.
“You know how to hot wire that thing too?” asked Shaw.
Shaw insisted on driving and when Root leaned over from the passenger seat to hot wire the car, Shaw suspected she was being deliberately slow, enjoying the way Shaw tried not to fidget at the other woman’s close proximity. Shaw could smell the shampoo in her hair, something fruity and fresh that filled her senses and made her head spin.
The engine sparked into life. Shaw didn’t waste any more time getting them out of the city. It took longer than she would have liked. She was careful to make sure they weren’t followed, taking random turns and essentially driving around in circles until she deemed it safe enough.
Outside the city limits, they switched cars again. Root was quiet as Shaw drove them back to the small town she had called home for the past six months. The six hour drive back seemed longer somehow, but Shaw wasn’t inclined to break the silence. Her eyes kept darting between Root at the rear-view mirror, checking they weren’t being followed, and if her eyes lingered on the hacker a little longer than necessary, Shaw tried not read too much into it.
They made it back to Shaw’s place in the early evening, when the light was slowly fading, casting stark orange streaks across the skyline.
“Wow, you live here?” Root said, trailing a finger over the top of Shaw’s boxy TV, leaving a trail through the layer of dust.
“Feel free to stay out on the streets,” said Shaw, dumping her bag on the coffee table. “Besides, it’s the best the Machine could give me.” She was pretty sure she managed to keep most of the bitterness out of her voice, but Root raised an eyebrow at her curiously and took a step closer.
“I’m going to assume you’re not too happy about that,” said Root.
Shaw ignored her and took out the spare pillow and blankets she kept in the closet.
“You can take the bed,” said Shaw, “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“How chivalrous,” said Root.
Shaw rolled her eyes. “Don’t read too much into it. I’m so tired I could sleep on the damn floor.”
Root smirked at her. “Whatever you say, Sameen.”
Root didn’t say anything more as she retreated into Shaw’s one and only bedroom. Shaw stripped down to her underwear and tried to make herself as comfortable as possible on the sagging and lumpy couch. She hadn’t been lying about being tired; she had been awake for well over 24 hours and it was starting to take its toll. Despite the uncomfortableness of her makeshift bed, Shaw was asleep within moments.
Shaw wasn’t prone to dreaming, but that night was filled with haunting and flashing images of Reese and Finch, a bullet in their heads and Root… Root screaming her name as Greer pulled the trigger and the cold voice of the Machine laughing in her head.
Shaw awoke to the smell of coffee and something cooking. The unfamiliar scents were more jarring to her system than the quickly fading nightmares in her head. She got up, stretching gawkily to get the kinks out of her aching back and slipped last nights discarded clothes back on before heading into her kitchen.
Root was by the stove, her body blocking Shaw’s view so she couldn’t see what she was cooking.
“Did you go out?” Shaw asked.
Root glanced at her over her shoulder, smiling widely. “Well, the only things you had in your fridge were beer and some questionable looking left-over take out.”
Shaw shrugged, pouring herself a mug of steaming coffee and taking a seat at her small kitchen table. “What can I say? I’m a simple girl.”
“Oh, I highly doubt that,” Root shot back.
“You should have woke me,” Shaw scolded. She didn’t like the idea of Root venturing out on her own, not with Samaritan knowing she was alive.
“I would have,” said Root, “but you were sleeping so deeply… snoring away.”
“I don’t snore.” Shaw scowled into her coffee.
“Yes, you do,” said Root. “Here,” she added, placing a plate of food on the table in front of Shaw.
“You made me breakfast?” said Shaw with a hint of disbelief.
“Call it a thank you for saving my ass,” said Root, handing her a set of cutlery.
“Chocolate chip pancakes?” said Shaw glancing at the plate of food and wondering if Root knew that they were her favourite. She took a bite and her mouth was filled with the fluffiest tasting pancakes she had ever had. It was like heaven in her mouth and she couldn’t keep the tone of surprise out of her voice when she said, “I didn’t know you could cook.”
“You’ll find I’m full of surprises,” said Root. “You have no idea just what I’m good at.”
Shaw swallowed hard around a mouthful of food at the innuendo in the other woman’s voice and didn’t know if it was just Root being Root or something else. She watched the brunette carefully as she began washing up the frying pan and the other dishes she had used. Her hands were steady and Root was projecting that familiar air of overconfidence, but Shaw knew her better than that and suspected it was just a front, that Root’s little encounter with Greer’s goons after so long in hiding had shaken her. The Machine’s grand plan for saving them all had backfired and Root was taking it hard.
The hacker put the last of the dishes on the draining board and turned around to grab up Shaw’s empty plate, pausing when she noticed Shaw’s eyes on her.
“What?” Root asked and there was a hardness to her voice as if she were daring Shaw to probe further.
Shaw didn’t take the bait. Instead she shrugged and drained the last of her coffee. “I’m going for a shower.”