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Natural Selection

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Shaw woke up abruptly when the car door slammed shut. She groaned, her head feeling like someone had pressed it between a vice, and looked over to what had woken her.

Root had just gotten back into the car, a brown paper bag in one hand.

"You look like shit," Root said.

Shaw straightened in her seat. "Well, good morning to you too," she grumbled.

Root smirked. "Actually it's after noon. Here," she added, "I got you lunch."

'Lunch' was a candy bar retrieved from the brown paper bag and tossed her way. Shaw let it fall into her lap, staring at the other woman until she finally sighed and turned to face her.

"What?" Root asked, her voice filled with exasperation.

Shaw shrugged. "You want to tell me how you managed all this?" She gestured to the bag of guns and money in the back seat.

"I told you," said Root, "I took the liberty of making some preparations. I knew we would have to leave your little town at some point. Although..." Here she paused and looked at Shaw pointedly. "I wasn't planning on leaving quite so suddenly."

The way Root looked at her, it was as if she were expecting an apology. That wasn't about to happen anytime soon. As far as Shaw was concerned, Root should be the one apologising to her for not letting her put a bullet in Danes.

Shaw took another look at Root’s preparations and was impressed despite herself. Had she really expected Root to sit around all day twiddling her thumbs? Her face must have betrayed how pissed off she felt at that because Root rolled her eyes and started the car.

"You really need to stop underestimating me, Sameen."

Shaw didn't know what to say to that and felt it was probably safer to change the subject. "Where are we?"

"Somewhere in Kansas."

Shaw glanced out the window. It looked like typical middle of nowhere to her. "We going anywhere in particular?"

Root shrugged. "It's probably best we don’t know where we're headed."

Shaw silently agreed but didn't say anything, and once again felt herself feeling impressed. Maybe Root was right. Maybe Shaw was underestimating her.

They drove for another hour or so until Root stopped the car outside a depressing looking motel, the parking lot filled with more motorbikes than Shaw had ever seen at one time. "I need to sleep," she said. "I've been driving for over nine hours."

Shaw shrugged; she wasn't feeling too hot herself and was badly in need of a shower to wash the dried blood out of her hair.

Root took the bag with their cash and their guns and held it to her tightly as they walked into the motel's dingy reception. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke and mould. Shaw suppressed the urge to gag and tried her best to hide the fact that she was hung-over, covered in blood and just generally pissed off.

"You with those biker fellers?" the guy on reception asked. His voice was gravelly and he had a lit cigarette sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

"No," said Root, "but we're going to need a room."

"I only got one left," he said, taking a lone key from the hooks behind him. "It's a double... That gonna be a problem?" he asked timidly, eyeing them both up and down and quickly diverting his eyes when Shaw glared his way.

“Not a problem," said Root. "In fact, it might just be exactly what we need."

Shaw looked at her sharply as the guy's jaw dropped open, his cigarette falling to the floor. He reached a hand out to catch it, burning himself in the process. Root smirked and took the key from his outstretched hand, and gave him enough money to cover more than a week’s stay. And then she winked - actually fucking winked - at Shaw as she sauntered past.

"Uh, it's the last one on the left," the guy called after her.

"You know those things will kill you, right?" Shaw said, gesturing to the smouldering cigarette in his hand. "Well, not as effectively as a bullet..." She shrugged and followed Root out, the guy staring after her quizzically.

The room was just as dingy looking as the rest of the place, but at least the sheets looked clean.

"I'll sleep on the floor," Shaw offered when she saw the double bed.

Root rolled her eyes and dumped the bag on the floor by the door. "Don't be such a baby, Sameen," she said. "It's big enough for the both of us."

Shaw scowled but didn't say anything as she walked into the bathroom. It was small - so small that Shaw could barely turn around without hitting her elbow off of something. There was a shower cubicle, a toilet and a sink and she was relieved to see that all three looked reasonably clean as well. She wasn't the least bit surprised to find the lock on the door was busted. She still made a point of shutting it firmly behind her though. Not that she cared about propriety or anything, but her fuzzy hung-over state was bringing up memories of the night before that she would rather pretend never happened, and she would rather not give Root anymore ammunition than she already had.

Shaw turned the shower on; it trickled out but it was warm. She stripped out of her crumpled clothes - it had been awhile since she passed out drunk fully clothed - and stepped under the water. It stung when it hit her wound, but she didn't think the cut was too bad. It would probably heal up nicely in a couple of days. When she was sure she had managed to wash all of the dried blood out of her hair, she shut off the shower and stepped out to find Root standing in the doorway staring at her.

"I brought you a towel," said Root.

"Yeah, I can see that," said Shaw, snatching the towel from Root's outstretched hand. Root deliberately eyed her up and down as Shaw wrapped the towel around herself, never taking her eyes off the other woman.

"You see something you like?" Shaw said before she could stop herself.

Root smirked and went back into the other room. "I got you a fresh set of clothes too," she said over her shoulder.

*

Shaw wiled away the rest of the afternoon and early evening checking out and cleaning the guns Root had ‘acquired’ for them. It kept her hands busy but didn’t stop her mind from wandering. The motel room had no chairs, just the bed, a vanity table and a crappy TV that had nothing but static on its lonely three channels, so she was forced to sit on the bed (it was what she told herself anyway) with Root asleep beside her. She tried to ignore the other woman, pretend she wasn’t there, but her eyes kept wandering of their own accord until she snatched them back to the task at hand.

She must have fallen asleep herself at some point, because the next thing she knew, she felt the sensation of someone watching her, a gut instinct more than anything, and her eyes flew open, her hand going tight around a warm throat.

Root let out a small gasp, her eyes going wide, but Shaw suspected it was less from surprise and more from unexpected pleasure. Shaw loosened her grip when her brain caught up with her and she realised that there wasn’t a threat.

“I’m not used to waking up with someone in bed with me,” Shaw explained and wondered why she had yet to move, why she didn’t get as far away from Root as possible like all her instincts were telling her to.

“Has it really been that long since you got laid?” Root asked teasingly. “No wonder you’re so grouchy.”

Shaw gritted her teeth. “No,” she said. Which was a lie, but Root didn’t need to know that. Shaw usually just had sex then got the fuck out of there. No mess, no fuss and it suited her just fine. “I don’t do that waking up together shit,” she added into the silence.

“You’re missing out, Sameen,” said Root, a small smiling playing at her lips. “Morning after sex can be exhilarating.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” said Shaw and finally let go of the other woman. She moved off the bed and started packing up the guns she had been cleaning. One went into the waistband of her jeans, fully loaded and she took a couple of spare clips as well, just in case. She wasn’t expecting trouble, but Shaw always prided herself on being prepared for anything. And with Root involved – anything was a possibility.

*

They moved around, staying under the radar and never staying in the same place twice. So far, they had managed to stay out of trouble and Root's little stash of guns hadn't been needed. But Shaw was getting restless; she didn't do hiding and lying low very well.

Shaw took over the driving and they kept to their plan of not knowing where they were going, trading one dingy motel room for another. They always shared a room, either a twin or a double, whatever they could get and Root managed to behave herself. Shaw preferred it that way, them sticking together. She could keep an eye on the other woman and if they needed to make a quick getaway it would be easier.

They had been on the run for about a week, somewhere in Wyoming, when Shaw noticed that Root had started to withdraw into herself. It was the lack of innuendos and the absence of flirting with her constantly that finally made Shaw twig that something was wrong. She didn't ask, but Shaw suspected it was something to do with the Machine and whatever weird dependency Root had developed with it. The Machine still wasn't talking, but Shaw doubted it had stopped watching.

They only time they didn’t spend together was when one of them went out for supplies. Shaw was returning after getting them dinner from the burger joint across the street when she found Root in their room, typing away on a laptop that Shaw had never seen before.

"What are you doing?"

Root jumped and immediately stopped typing. Shaw walked over and slammed the lid down so fast that Root barely had time to move her hands away before her fingers got caught.

"Are you trying to lead Decima straight to us?" Shaw asked, her hand still resting on the laptop as she leaned down to look Root right in the eye.

"No, I'm trying to find the Machine," said Root steadily.

"Same thing," Shaw said before grabbing up the laptop and heading outside. She walked to their car and placed the computer just behind the back left tire and got into the vehicle, putting it into reverse. The sound of plastic crunching underneath the tires was oddly satisfying. When she was done, Shaw parked the car again and headed back inside, handing Root the broken pieces of computer wordlessly.

"Very mature, Sameen."

Shaw shrugged nonchalantly and vowed to make sure Root never went near a computer again. But at least she had the answer to one question that had been playing on her mind for weeks: how Samaritan had found Root in the first place. Not by chance or by accident, but because Root had been looking for the Machine, trying to contact it because it was giving her the cold shoulder.

Root didn't try to get her hands on another computer, but she had also stopped talking to Shaw. Shaw didn't mind, it was almost peaceful, made it easier for her to ignore the other woman.

And she definitely didn't miss the flirting.

But she did wonder when it became so easy for her to lie to herself.

*

They were still in Wyoming, but it was all the same to Shaw. Even the motels were starting to look the same. The same peeling wallpaper and patterned carpets that looked like they had been there since the seventies. And the truth was, she was bored. Really bored. She wanted to shoot something, hit something, do anything that didn't involving driving across states and holing up in motel rooms waiting for the shit to hit the fan.

She had even stopped going out running, wary of leaving Root on her own and refusing to let the other woman out of her sight for more than a minute. If it bothered Root, she didn't say anything. Shaw was still receiving nothing but stony silence from the other woman. How long had it been now? About a week and Root had said nothing. Shaw tried not to worry about it, but her training in medical school and her time spent briefly on rotation in the psych ward told her that at some point, Root was going to snap.

Maybe it was about time anyway, Shaw thought. Root had been entirely too normal, too unlike the Root she had first met for so long, that Shaw wouldn't be surprised if she finally cracked and turned into that slightly unhinged hacker that Finch and Reese had always been so wary about. Shaw wouldn't mind that though. Crazy she could handle. She knew what to do with crazy. It involved a silencer and her handgun. This wall of silence, however... Shaw wasn't entirely sure what to do with that. The only response she had been able to come up with was to fight right back with her own muteness. So she had stopped trying to engage the other woman in conversation and instead let her wallow in self-pity or whatever the hell it was she was doing.

The only time Shaw ever got a moment alone to herself these days was when either one of them were in the bathroom. Root had a tendency to spend longer in the shower than anyone Shaw had ever met and it gave her time to think, made it easier for her to focus without the other woman's presence constantly in her line of sight. It was the only time Shaw allowed herself to lower her guard. She was still hyper aware of her surroundings, still had her gun within easy reach, but she allowed herself to indulge in her own self-pity without fear of Root seeing her doing it.

The medal was cool in her hands when she took it out of her jacket pocket, the metal still shiny despite its age. It didn't weigh much in her hand, but the memories it carried were long and many. Shaw still didn't get why it was in her possession, didn't understand why the girl had given it to her. It was a gesture of some sort, she supposed, or maybe the girl had been trying to get a reaction out of her, anything but the solemn indifference that Shaw always displayed.

The kid was wrong about her; Shaw knew that, she wasn't wired like other people. But she had hugged the kid (the first time in her life that Shaw had initiated something like that herself) and accepted the medal because she had wanted the kid to be right. Deep down, Sameen Shaw had wanted to feel something. But, as usual, couldn't. It was only ever anger or rage with her, nothing more, despite what the girl had believed. Shaw was capable of extremes, but that was pretty much it.

"What's that?"

Shaw almost jumped. She had been so far in her own head that she hadn't heard the shower go off, hadn't heard Root come out of the bathroom.

"Nothing," Shaw said, quickly trying to put the medal back into her jacket.

Root grabbed her wrist, stilling her. "An Order of Lenin?"

Shaw shrugged and pulled her hand free.

"This belongs to that Russian kid you and Reese saved, doesn't it?"

Shaw clenched her jaw. "Is there anything the Machine didn't tell you about?"

Root shrugged and finished drying her wet hair with a towel. "Imagine that, Sameen Shaw getting attached to a ten year old girl."

Shaw's face darkened. "I just think the medal's cool."

Root smirked and moved to sit on her own bed.

"Is she safe?" Shaw asked suddenly, purposefully not looking at the other woman. "Did the Machine at least tell you that much before it stopped talking to you?"

"As long as Decima think you and Harold are dead... yes."

"And if they don't?"

"Then the Machine will contact Detective Fusco," said Root.

"That's not exactly comforting," Shaw replied. She knew Fusco would do his best if it came to it, but he was one cop and Decima had a whole army of thugs and their own all seeing supercomputer. There was only so much he could do if Decima decided to target the girl to get to them.

Shaw took one last long look at the medal before putting it away.

"You should go out for a run," said Root after a while.

"Why?" asked Shaw, turning to face the other woman.

Root stared pointedly at Shaw's knee which was currently bouncing up and down as Shaw jiggled it restlessly. She immediately stopped what she was doing, but the urge to move was still there.

"You could do with the exercise," Root added after a beat.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Shaw asked with a frown.

Root shrugged, folding up her used towel neatly. "Just that you're putting on a few pounds."

Shaw's frown turned into a scowl. "I am not." But now that she thought about it, her pants were starting to feel a little tight now that she wasn't exercising on a regular basis. No bad guys to chase down or beat the crap out of. "I'm not leaving you alone," Shaw said by way of explanation.

"Still don't trust me?" Root said quietly.

"To not do something stupid?" said Shaw. "No."

Root rolled her eyes.

"So unless you have something, or someone, for me to punch," Shaw continued, "it looks like I'm staying put."

"Okay," Root said standing up. "Punch me."

"What?" said Shaw incredulously.

"Punch me," Root repeated. "Don't pretend you don't want to."

Shaw couldn't argue that point and her fists clenched in anticipation. "I'm not going to punch you, Root," Shaw said steadily.

"Why? It's not like you haven't before."

"That was different," said Shaw but couldn't articulate why. It just was. They both had come a long way since then, and no matter how much Root still got on her nerves, punching her for no reason just didn't feel right.

"Okay, fine," said Root, “why don't we spar then?"

Shaw shot her a quizzical look. "You know how to spar?"

"No," said Root, "but you could teach me."

"And why would I want to do that?" Shaw asked.

Root shrugged. "I don't know. It might let out some of the passive aggressive anger you've got going on."

"You can talk," Shaw said. "You're the one that hasn't spoken to me for almost a week."

"Yes," said Root sarcastically, "because you've been so chatty."

Shaw was starting to regret not punching Root in the face after all. But when she thought about it, maybe showing Root a few moves wasn’t such a bad idea. The other woman had never displayed any hand to hand combat skills, and what with Root’s tendency to fall into all kinds of trouble, learning how to defend herself without having to rely on a gun or a Taser being within easy reach could only be a good thing.

“Okay, fine,” said Shaw eventually. “I’ll train you.”

Root smiled widely, all hints of any sarcasm or previous hostility after the laptop incident was gone.

They repositioned the beds against the far wall to give themselves more space and, luckily, this particular motel room was bigger than most they had occupied over the past couple of weeks.

“Okay,” said Shaw when they were ready to get started. “First things first - balance.”

“Balance?” said Root.

“Keep your feet apart, about shoulder-width.”

Root adjusted her stance and Shaw nodded when she glanced up to check if she was doing it right.

“Good,” said Shaw. “Now, make sure your arms are up – we wouldn’t want to damage that pretty little face of yours.”

Root smirked and lifted her arms up, fists clenched.

“Make sure to tuck your elbows in close,” Shaw added. Root adjusted slightly, but her stance was still kind of off. Shaw moved closer, nudging her feet further apart marginally with her foot and pushing Root’s elbows in closer to her body until Shaw was satisfied.

“Okay,” said Shaw, taking a step back. “When I try to punch you… stop me.”

“How?” asked Root, but Shaw was already moving and her fist went right past Root’s defences, hitting her hard enough in the corner of the mouth to draw blood.

Root stumbled back slightly but managed to stay on her feet. She lifted her thumb up to wipe the blood off her chin and glanced at it briefly before turning her attention back to Shaw.

“Clearly you did want to punch me after all,” said Root.

Shaw shrugged. “That one was for the laptop.”

Root moved back into position, her stance perfect, and this time when Shaw moved to punch her, Root saw it coming and managed to block her fist. The move was sloppy, but it was a start.

*

That became their new routine. They’d train for a few hours each day; either in the morning before they headed off to a new town, or at night when neither of them could sleep. It was a good way to pass the time and Root was starting to get pretty good. Shaw didn’t know how well she’d match up against a real attacker, but the basics were there.

Shaw was in the middle of teaching her a particularly tricky move that involved pinning someone down as they came at you from the front. They had been at it for two hours and it wasn’t going well.

“You suck at this,” Shaw said in frustration after Root screwed up the move for the tenth time in a row. “What’s with you tonight?”

Root shrugged. “I can’t help but get easily distractedly when my teacher is so damn sexy.”

Shaw’s eyes narrowed. Root had toned down the flirting when they trained. It was the main reason why Shaw knew that she was taking the whole thing seriously. The look Root tossed her way when she tilted her head threw Shaw for a moment and she didn’t notice the step Root took to close the distant between them.

She noticed Root’s lips crashing against hers though.

Kissing Root sober was different from kissing Root drunk. It was like every inch of her skin was on fire even though only their lips were touching. Shaw reached out her hand to pull Root closer, to deepen the kiss before she could think herself out of it by listing all the reasons why this was a bad idea. But the next thing she knew, she was lying flat on her back, Root pinning her arms down on either side of her as she straddled her waist, a grin spread widely across her face.

“That was cheating,” Shaw scolded. She tried to sit up, but Root wouldn’t let her.

“Just using the weapons I had to hand,” said Root smugly. “Isn’t that what you taught me?”

Shaw grunted. “That isn’t exactly what I meant.”

“How does it feel to have your ass handed to you by an amateur?” Root asked.

“Fuck you,” Shaw said but there was no malice in her voice.

“Go on then,” Root murmured, her eyes twinkling mischievously as she stared hard at Shaw.

Shaw swallowed slightly and tried to ignore the arousal thrumming through her entire body. She would never, ever admit it out loud, but she kind of liked the way Root had her pinned down like this. The thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next, of not being in control was something Shaw wasn’t used to. Usually, she took the lead, she dominated the situation, and being under Root’s control like this was getting her off on more ways than she’d care to admit.

And this time, she didn’t have alcohol or tasing or anything as an excuse. She just had Root, leaning over her, giving her that look that was both smug and knowing and too entirely truthful for Shaw’s liking. She wanted to wipe that look off the other woman’s face, and because her arms were currently out of commission, she did the only thing she could think of.

Shaw lifted her head up, capturing Root’s lips. It was just as electrifying as the last one, and Shaw bit her bottom lip, tugging the other woman closer. Root’s grip on her arms loosened and Shaw seized the opportunity.

This was the part where she should have ended things right there. Should have put a stop to something that never should have started in the first place, but she didn’t. Instead, one hand threaded its way through Root’s hair, the other inching underneath the waistband of Root’s sweat pants.

Root let out a small moan when Shaw’s fingers brushed against the bare skin of her ass and Shaw pulled her closer until they were flush against each other. They were both soaked with sweat from the workout, and Shaw desperately wanted to get both their shirts off, get to the skin beneath and explore every inch of Root’s body with her tongue and her teeth.

Shaw wasn’t used to this. She wasn’t used to wanting someone so badly that she wanted to take her time, make it last. Usually, her MO was a quick fuck and it was over before she had to think about it. But being with Root, like this, was nothing Shaw had ever experienced before.

That was probably why there was a small voice in her head (that sounded suspiciously like Finch) telling her to stop right now whilst she still could.

As if in answer to the Finch-like voice in her head, the motel room phone started ringing and both women froze.

They broke apart, Shaw’s hand moving from underneath Root’s waistband to rest on her hip.

“Who-” Shaw began, but clarity was already dawning on Root’s face and she was up and reaching for the phone before Shaw could even blink.

Shaw followed her wordlessly, ignoring how unsteady she felt, not to mention frustrated at being so rudely interrupted. She tilted her head close to Root’s so they could both listen to the voice on the other end of the phone and Shaw wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear the ever familiar indifferent voice reciting two numbers and two addresses to go with them.

The call ended and Root’s hands had started shaking so much that Shaw had to take the handset from her to place it back into its cradle.

“Reese and Finch?” Shaw assumed, watching Root carefully.

Root nodded. “Probably,” she said distantly, as if she were only half there, as if her head was somewhere else entirely.

“Hey,” said Shaw softly, “you okay?”

Root didn’t hear her. Shaw placed a hand on her arm to turn the other woman around to face her and the physical contact seemed to snap Root out of it.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Root said, but her hands were still trembling slightly.

“That the first time you’ve spoken to the Machine in over six months?” Shaw asked.

Root nodded slightly. “Wasn’t much of a conversation though,” she said, sounding disappointed.

Shaw shrugged, not really knowing what to say. She still didn’t get Root’s obsession with the Machine, just knew that it mattered to her and was pissed off that the Machine had given them nothing more than a vague number as if Finch and Reese were nothing more than any old irrelevant.

“We need to go,” said Root, straightening up slightly.

“Yeah,” Shaw agreed, “but where first?”

Root shook her head. “We need to go separately.

“No way,” said Shaw, shaking her head. “That’s a bad idea.”

“If we go together, we won’t get to them both in time.”

“Then we go after Finch,” said Shaw. “Reese can take care of himself.”

“We don’t know which one is Finch,” Root pointed out.

“We’re not splitting up,” Shaw said firmly. What she really wanted to say was, you’re not going alone, but she didn’t like the way it sounded in her head, like it revealed entirely too much, so she kept her mouth shut.

“Shaw,” said Root quietly, “we don’t have a choice.” Root stepped closer, resting both of her hands on each of Shaw’s shoulders. They had stopped trembling, Shaw noticed. She also noticed the weak smile Root was trying to display and knew it was all an act.

“Besides,” Root added, “what do you think we did all that training for?”

“The Machine’s not going to be there to tell you what to do and neither am I,” Shaw said.

“I can take care of myself,” Root said defiantly.

“You sure about that?” Shaw asked her carefully.

“Careful, Sameen,” Root said, “if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were worried about me.”

“I am worried about you,” Shaw said. It took her a moment to realise what she had just come out of her mouth, and Root stiffened slightly, giving her an odd look as Shaw diverted her eyes and cleared her throat. That wasn’t something she had ever intended on saying out loud, but now it was there, out in the open, it wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.  It was the most honest thing that either one of them had ever said and it scared the shit out of her. And Shaw never got scared. That alone was worrying.

“Sameen,” Root said softly, any sarcasm she had been trying to hold on to was gone and she took a step closer.

“Fine,” Shaw snapped before Root could say anything to the heap of a mess Shaw had just lain out between them. “We split up, we find the guys… then what?”

“I’m not sure,” Root admitted, “but I have an idea.”

Root didn’t explain any further than that and Shaw didn’t ask. She didn’t like it, any of it, but she figured they didn’t have much of choice. They had no right to sacrifice one number for the other. It did make her wonder though… why now? And why both Reese and Finch at the same time? How had Samaritan found them? Shaw had her own ideas about that but decided to keep them to herself.

“Okay.” Shaw nodded determinedly. “Pick a number.”