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Natural Selection

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Shaw quickly packed up their meagre belongings and they were ready to leave sooner than she would have liked. Root gave her enough cash to last a week and a small arsenal of guns lethal enough to take on a small army.

Shaw still wasn't happy about them splitting up, but didn't see how they had all that much of a choice in the matter. The Machine had given them both numbers at the same time for a reason, and although Shaw wasn't inclined to trust an artificial intelligence, she did trust Root.

They both agreed that it was a bad idea to stay in contact; Samaritan still had eyes and ears everywhere and if Decima were ready to take out Finch and Reese, Shaw figured it would be better if Decima didn't see them coming to the rescue.

When they were finally ready to leave, when Shaw couldn't think of an excuse to put it off any longer, they parted. Neither of them said anything, and Root turned around first with a determined look on her face. Shaw watched her walk away, musing on how much harder it felt than last time, when there was still hope and not all had yet been lost. This time though, Shaw wasn't so sure what hope even meant any more. Something akin to dread sat heavily in her stomach and she couldn't see a way for them all to survive this.

Part of her had wanted to call out to Root right then and there, skip this town and leave Reese and Finch to their own devices. They could keep on running and doing that little dance they had going on between them and maybe Shaw could explore where that kiss would have went if the Machine didn’t have spectacularly bad timing...

It was an enticing thought, but Shaw would never be able to forgive herself if Reese and Finch died because she was too much of a coward to walk away from a woman who, ninety percent of the time, annoyed the hell out of her. Besides, Root would never disobey the Machine no matter how tempting the offer.

So Shaw let her go and set off to Phoenix to find her new number.


Shaw decided she didn't like Phoenix as soon as she crossed the city line. It was too bright and cheery, like it was trying too hard to fool everyone into thinking it was the hottest place to be.

She hadn't liked Chicago either. Shaw was definitely a New Yorker through and through. Maybe that was why the Machine had decided her cover identity would live in a small town, because it knew Shaw would be miserable in any other city that wasn’t the Big Apple. But then again, she had hated that small town too, so maybe she was giving the Machine too much credit, even if it was supposed to be an omnipotent, all seeing God.

Shaw had never believed that. When Reese had first told her about the Machine, she had considered it as just that - a machine with a job to do. It watched, it listened and it analysed data. And at the end, it spat out relevant and irrelevant numbers. It wasn't a person, it didn't hurt or cry or love.

That was what Shaw believed about the Machine.

Until the Machine started talking to Root.

Now, she couldn't be sure, but sometimes Shaw thought the Machine was more human than she was. It looked out for people, it had to in order to assess threats and produce numbers. But it also cared for them too - it cared about Harold and Root. Heck, it probably even cared about her as well, although she couldn't fathom why it would bother.

It was watching her now, she could feel it, and she wondered if Samaritan had eyes on her too, if it still considered her as a non-threat. Maybe her identity had been compromised too and there was an ambush waiting for her as soon as she reached the address the Machine had given her. But that was a dangerous thought, because it led to Root and the fact that Samaritan had found her weeks ago and almost certainly would have no problems finding her again as she went hunting for the other number.

Shaw pushed the thought out of her mind, made herself focus on the mission at hand. She had a job to do, a number to save and she couldn't afford any distractions.

The address was in a decent looking part of town filled with fancy looking apartment buildings and expensive cocktail bars. She couldn't imagine Reese living in a neighbourhood like this. Then again, she couldn't imagine herself living in a small town and tending a bar either.

Shaw parked her car and scanned the street. There was no obvious sign of Decima agents, but that didn't mean anything in her line of work. Obvious could get you killed. Shaw kept one hand on her gun, all her senses on high alert as she entered the apartment building. She kept the weapon hidden; the last thing she needed was to accidentally scare one of the residents and have the cops on her ass.

The number's apartment was on the top floor. Shaw took the deserted stairwell, her gun drawn even as she spied a security camera watching her slow ascent and wondered if Samaritan knew she was here. When she reached the top of the stairs, there was no ambush waiting, and the hallway was empty. There were three apartments on this floor and Shaw moved to the one she was interested in. The door was slightly ajar; the lock broken like someone had kicked it in. Shaw listened carefully but could hear nothing from within. Maybe Decima had already been and gone? She tried not to think about that and moved slowly inside, gun held out steady in front of her.

The apartment was a riot: toppled over furniture and glass ornaments that crunched under her feet. It would have been a nice place if it didn't look like someone had tried to rob it.

Shaw made her way over to the only piece of furniture still standing upright; a small table with a teapot sitting on top of it with one lonely cup and saucer. Shaw lifted up the half empty cup and sniffed. Sencha green tea...


It was still warm, so who ever done this place over was here not that long ago.

Shaw heard a growl and flipped around, ready to pull the trigger. But it was only Bear. Shaw smiled as he bounded towards her and if she wasn't steady on her feet, he would have knocked her over in his enthusiasm. His muzzle was stained red with blood and she spotted strings of flesh between his teeth.

"Whose blood is that, huh?" she asked, scratching behind his ears. He panted and, as if in answer, padded through to the other room. She followed him to find him standing over the lifeless body of a Decima agent, his throat torn out.

"Good boy," Shaw said, rewarding Bear with a pat on the head. She wondered if Decima were that stupid to send only the one guy after Finch. Or maybe the rest of them went after Reese... She pushed that thought away and tried not think of Reese and Root and the possible trouble they were in.

Shaw heard movement behind her, but when Bear didn't react she knew it wasn't a threat. She turned around to find Harold Finch staring at her blankly, still dressed in his customary three piece suit despite being in hiding. He held a poker iron in one hand, and it was the first time Shaw had seen him with anything even resembling a weapon. It didn’t suit him.

"Miss Shaw?" he said dumbfounded. He looked pale as a sheet and she quickly diagnosed him as being in shock. If she didn't snap him out of it soon, he'd be useless.

Finch looked somewhere behind her to her left, his eyes widening. She didn't need to think about it; instinct had her turning on her heel, finger squeezing the trigger. Damn, it was good to be shooting people again.  The Decima agent was down before she had fully seen him and she made sure to kick his gun out of reach, although she was pretty sure he wouldn't be doing much of anything, not with the blood gushing out of his chest.

Bear had started barking wildly and Finch patted his head gently to settle him down.

"We need to go," Shaw said, checking the windows. She couldn't see very much from this vantage point, but she had no doubt that Samaritan had sent more Decima agents.

Finch quickly tied Bear to a leash and Shaw suppressed a smile when he placed a black fedora on top his head - even when bad guys were trying to kill him, Finch still dressed to the nines.

Shaw led them down the stairwell - once again it was deserted, but she still looked down to check for hostiles. Their route remained clear and they made it outside into the bright Phoenix sun.

Shaw checked up and down the street; it was clear but she swore under her breath when she reached her car. Someone had slashed both front tires. Decima were thorough, she'd give them that.

"We're gonna to need a new ride," Shaw stated.

Harold nodded and glanced wearily when she stepped out into the middle of the road, gun drawn on the oncoming traffic. A blue SUV braked sharply to a stop, inches away from hitting Shaw. The woman in the car screamed and hastily got out of the vehicle when she spotted Shaw’s gun.

"You're gonna need to drive," Shaw said as a black sedan sped around the corner towards them. Shaw started firing; clipping the front tire and sending the car skidding.

Harold didn't need any more prompting. He got Bear into the back seat and himself in the front quicker than she would have thought he was capable of and had them halfway down the street before the next lot of Decima forces were on them.

Shaw rolled down her window and started firing until her clip was empty. Rounds went flying wildly from the chasing car; shattering the back window and setting Bear off on another round of barking.

"We need to get out of the city," Harold said, his voice strained as he tried to keep his head low.

Shaw silently agreed but there was no point leaving the city if they were still being followed.

Shaw quickly changed magazines, taking careful aim she managed to hit the tire of the sedan. It skidded wildly, the driver losing control, hitting the edge of the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians and causing the car to flip over. It slid along behind them, sparks flying as the metal roof skidded across the ground. Thick, black smoke drifted lazily into the air as the engine caught on fire.

“As much as I do appreciate the rescue, Miss Shaw,” Finch said anxiously, “but do you think you could avoid destroying half the city in the process?”

Shaw smiled, enjoying the carnage left behind in her wake. “Just shut up and drive, Harold.”


Shaw took over the driving as soon as they were out of the city and swapped cars. Harold was more than willing to hand over the wheel. He looked like he was still in shock, but Shaw thought he would be okay.

The adrenaline was still pumping through her veins and she had to make a conscious effort to stay under the speed limit. It looked like Decima was off their backs for now, but she made sure her gun was within easy reach, fresh clip ready to go just in case.

After two hours, when she was sure they were as safe as they could be considering what they were up against, Shaw rolled the car to a stop in the parking lot of a gas station slash diner off the side of the road.

"I need to eat," she said when Harold looked at her questioningly. Shooting people always left her hungry. That coupled with the driving for hours before, and after, rescuing Harold had left her feeling exhausted. She needed an energy boost if they were to keep going.

Finch just nodded slightly at her. He had said very little in the car, just listened carefully as she filled him in on what she had been up to the past few months; how Samaritan had found Root first and the Machine had contacted Shaw with her number. Shaw left out the finer details of their time on the run. Finch didn't need to know about that kiss – which had happened less than a day ago, Shaw struggled to believe – no, that knowledge was just for her.

Besides, she didn't think he'd approve and she didn't really want to see that look on his face. Shaw was never one to adhere to other people’s opinions, she didn't care what other people thought of her, but with Finch she toed the line. It wasn't just because he was her boss; Finch was her moral compass, the person who taught her that there was a better way than killing. She knew he'd be concerned about this thing with Root. Whatever that thing was, because she couldn't really deny it any more, there definitely was a thing going on between them, had been even before Samaritan came online.

The diner was small. Shaw led them to a booth in the back where they'd get a modicum of privacy to talk. They'd still have to be careful of what they said though - the diner had a security camera in the corner behind the counter. Shaw eyed it warily, wondering if it was real or just for show.

The place wasn't entirely empty, a few truckers sat at the counter and a couple of other booths were filled. But, like them, these folks were just passing through. Shaw and Finch were just another couple of faceless customers and as soon as they left, they'd be forgotten.

Shaw ordered coffee and something to eat. Harold, not a coffee drinker, just asked for a glass of water. She doubted the place had his green tea anyway.

"You should eat something," Shaw said as their waitress moved off.

Harold just shook his head and glanced out of the window towards their stolen car where Bear was locked up in the back seat. He was still covered in blood, so they had thought it best to leave him there, out of sight.

"So," said Harold, "what’s the plan, Miss Shaw?"

She shrugged. Run. Hide. Same old.

Although, this time, life on the run probably wouldn't be nearly as entertaining. She didn't enjoy the thought of sharing motel rooms with Finch, living in each other’s pockets. Shaw didn't want to run and hide any more. She wanted to hit Decima head on, right where it hurt. Offence was always the best defence in her book. It was time to start fighting back properly. Except how do you fight back when the bad guys always have the upper hand?

Their waitress returned, placing Shaw's meal in front of her and topping up her coffee.

"Can I get you anything else?"

Finch shook his head, his nose scrunching up in distaste as Shaw tucked into her double cheeseburger and chilli fries. She moaned around the first bite, and already felt her energy levels spike when the first taste hit her senses.

Harold continued to stare at her in disgust, sipping at his water delicately.

"What?" Shaw said through a mouthful of food.

"Do you have any idea how much cholesterol is on that plate?"

"Do I look like I care?"

Finch rolled his eyes and glanced around the diner, deliberately avoiding watching her eat. He had his back to the place, so he couldn't see much. Shaw, on the other hand, had full view of the diner, the front door, and she already had two other exits assessed before she had even sat down.

Always best to be prepared.

Their getaway had been clean, but she didn't think Samaritan would lose them for long, not this time. It brought her back to that nagging thought, the one that had been circling in her head, waiting to pounce, since she first rescued Root in Chicago. How exactly had Samaritan found their aliases? Root's she had chalked up the hacker's carelessness at trying to contact the Machine, but with Reese and Finch both now compromised, it made her wonder...

"Hey, Finch?" Shaw said lowly. His eyes snapped back to her curiously as she carefully placed her burger back on the plate.  "Do you think..." she trailed off. Maybe she was just being paranoid.

"Think what, Miss Shaw?"

"Do you think the Machine could have been compromised?" she asked. He looked at her with mild surprise, but he didn't discount her theory.

"Yes," said Finch, "the thought had crossed my mind. It would explain how Samaritan found us."

"Yeah," said Shaw after awhile. "Shit."

"Indeed," said Finch.

Shaw picked up her burger again, but her appetite was lost. She hadn't brought up her theory about the Machine with Root, wasn't sure how well the other woman would take it. But it also explained why the Machine had shut her out, hadn't contacted Root for months.

"But it still sent us your number," Shaw said suddenly, hopefully.

"Yes. I imagine Samaritan has somehow managed to initiate a DOS attack and infiltrate the Machine’s memory core. The Machine itself is still functioning, with Samaritan piggy backing alongside it. "

"Yeah," said Shaw. "I'm just gonna pretend I understood that."

Finch didn't say anything else. Her eyes drifted outside; the highway was quiet, but they'd already been here for half an hour and she didn't like staying in the one place for too long. It was time to move. She just didn't know where.

Some of the truckers started to leave, and soon it was just her and Finch, the other two occupied booths and their lone waitress. She looked bored standing behind the counter, picking at her nails. She was skinny, all sharp bones and edges, like you could get cut just touching her. She was tall too, and Shaw remembered the way she had towered over her as she poured the coffee. She reminded Shaw of Root, just not as elegant in the way she moved. Shaw shook her head, wondering why her thoughts had yet again turned to the woman she had spent the last month with, the woman who annoyed the hell out of her on a regular basis, yet who also intrigued and challenged Shaw in a way that she never thought possible.

Shaw wasn't used to this, having her mind so focused on one person who wasn't a target or a mission. She didn't do this sort of stuff. She had never wanted to. And now all she could think about was Root and that kiss and when the hell she was going to get the opportunity to do it again.

They hadn't talked about it. There hadn't been time. Talking wasn't their style anyway, and definitely wasn't Shaw's.

She could still remember the feel of Root on top of her, the taste of her lips and the way her hair had felt soft in Shaw's grip. She wanted more of it, and the thought, the desire, was so startlingly strong that Shaw slammed her coffee mug back down on the table so quickly because she thought she was going to drop it.

Harold looked at her curiously. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Shaw snapped. "We should go."

"But you haven't finished your meal," Harold pointed out.

"I'm not hungry."

The waitress who reminded her of Root but didn't actually look anything like the hacker, moved from her perch to answer the phone.

"Okay," said Harold. He pulled out his wallet to pay the bill, always the chivalrous gentlemen.

"Uh," the waitress called out to the diner. "Is there a Mary Woods here?"

Shaw pulled on her jacket and it took her a moment to register what the waitress had said. Mary Woods…

She rushed over to the waitress and snatched the phone out of her hand. "Hello?"

A voice recited an address through the phone, but it wasn't the Machine like she had been expecting.



Root had sounded fine on the phone, and she had assured Shaw that both she and Reese were fine, but Shaw started to wonder if they both had the same definition of the word "fine." She could sense Root's evading tactic from miles away, over the phone and even when she was exhausted. But Root ended the call quickly before Shaw could call her out on it, saying they had to move, that they all had to move, there wasn't much time.

Shaw got nothing but dial tone after that and she slammed the phone down hard in frustration.

Harold raised an eyebrow at her questioningly but she didn't say anything until they were safely back in their stolen car, Bear barking at their return excitedly from the back seat.

They were heading for Nevada, somewhere in the middle of the desert. Root hadn't told her any more than that. It was a long drive, and the only times they stopped to get more gas or let Bear out for a walk to relieve himself. They each took turns to drive whilst the other slept in the passenger seat. Shaw didn’t sleep much and would rather have driven the whole way there herself until Harold pointed out that not even she could shoot straight with her eyes drooping from lack of sleep.

Reese and Root had made it to the meeting point first, their car riddled with bullet holes and dusty from the drive.

John Reese was a sight for sore eyes, battered and bruised; he leaned sullenly against the car. He looked strange out of his usual suit, dressed instead in black jeans and a t-shirt. Shaw wondered briefly who his alias had been and if he had been as miserable as her, but her attention quickly turned to Root as she stepped out of the car. She looked okay; her left hand was bandaged and there was a nasty looking cut next to her right eye. She smirked as Shaw moved towards her.

"You two kids behaving?" Shaw asked and it was hard to keep the smile off her face.

"Now where would the fun in that be?" Root said shrewdly.

Reese just grunted, his attention on Harold as he struggled to get Bear out of the car.

"Finch, you okay?" Reese asked.

Harold smiled. "Miss Shaw got there just in time."

"Good," said Reese and pulled Finch into a bear hug so tight that it had the other man grunting as the air was pushed out of him.

"So," said Root, "did you miss me?"

"No," said Shaw, turning her face into a scowl.

"Liar." The truth of that one word was a little hard to swallow. Had they really only been apart for a matter of days? It felt like months since they had walked away from each other outside that motel in Wyoming and it concerned Shaw how comfortable, how familiar it was to have Root by her side. And how it had felt to be apart; like something was missing, the way her thoughts always seemed to circle back to Root, like that was where they belonged.

"What happened?" Shaw gestured to the cut on Root's forehead.

Root shrugged. "Decima. It's nothing," she added and sighed heavily in exasperation when Shaw turned her head for a closer look.

"It needs stitches," Shaw said.

"It’s fine," said Root even as she winced in pain when Shaw's fingers brushed close to the wound, lingering a moment longer than necessary.

"I'll fix it up later," Shaw said expecting more resistance from the other woman, but Root just smiled - the genuine one that Shaw only got to see on rare occasions. She liked that smile best of all.

"Miss Groves," said Harold by way of greeting once Reese finally released him. Shaw took a step back, not missing the way Reese's eyes darted between her and Root, like he knew a secret that Shaw hadn't even figured out herself yet.

"I trust this is the part where you explain what we are doing in the middle of the desert," Harold continued.

"Yeah,” said Shaw, “what are we doing here?"

She looked between the former hacker and the former CIA agent. Reese shrugged, clearly not privy to a heads up, despite spending the last couple of days with Root.

"We're here," said Root smirking again, but Shaw noticed it didn’t quite reach her eyes this time, "to take out Samaritan."