Root hated the warmth of the hot summer sun. It reminded her of home, of summers spent sweating in the library because the air conditioning had broken again, of watching her mother drink spiked iced tea before she scolded her for being out of the house all day and where have you been, I needed you here.
Maybe it felt hotter than it was because she had been suffering the freezing temperatures in the heart of Russia for the past four days, but the sun beat down on her as if it was purposefully trying to burn her and her alone.
It was a relief to step inside the apartment building, much cooler than outside, dipped in shadow and smelling dusty. Smelling of home. Root climbed the stairs two at a time, her eagerness for a shower and a warm bed fuelling every step.
She wasn't sure what time it was, mid-morning at some point, but the Machine kept her right. She had been jumping between time zones so frequently recently that her body was left feeling constantly exhausted. The boys weren't fairing much better, and all four of them were getting good at catching some shut eye whenever they could, sleeping rough or in the back of vans as one of them drove to the next relevant number. Root had gotten so used to hearing the boys’ snoring it was almost a comfort.
But nothing was better than coming home to a warm bed. And Shaw's curves and slender body was much nicer to curl up next to than the lanky and pointy bones of Daniel and Daizo. But they made do, because they had a job to do. Because the Machine told them to.
Root wasn't expecting anyone to be home when she inserted her key into the lock, but when she opened the door she was met with sound of arguing from within. Root shut the door behind her and followed the noise, finding Shaw by the bathroom, a gun in one hand and the other pounding on the bathroom door. Coming home to the sight of Sameen Shaw with a gun in her hand wasn’t unusual. It was almost comforting in a way. Except the gun was usually pointed at Root and not being used to coerce an eleven year old.
"Gen, open the damn door," Shaw demanded, smacking her palm against the wood for emphasis.
"No!" Gen called.
"Fine," Shaw snapped and Root knew what she was about to do, saw the way Shaw levelled the gun, aimed at the lock, and decided it was time to intervene. At the rate Shaw was going, they were never going to get their safety deposit back.
"What are you doing?" said Root, crossing her arms and frowning at the other woman in disproval.
Shaw whipped around, gun raised as if an intruder had just walked in, but she lowered it when she saw Root, letting out a sigh of exasperation. "Don't do that," she muttered.
Root ignored the annoyed scowl she always received whenever she managed to sneak up on the other woman and raised her eyebrows pointedly.
"Gen locked herself in the bathroom," Shaw explained, slamming her fist against the door again.
"And your immediate response was to pull a gun out?" Root asked sardonically.
"I don't see you coming up with any better ideas," Shaw grumbled, but she tucked the gun behind her back and into the waistband of her jeans with a sheepish look on her face. "What are you doing here anyway? I thought you weren't back until tomorrow."
"Change of plans," Root said vaguely, moving past Shaw to get to the bathroom door and knocking on it softly. She was far too tired for this, could feel the fatigue creeping into every inch of her body, pricking at her eyes and making them itch. But she really wanted to have a shower before going to bed and knew they'd be here all day if she let Shaw carry on the way she was going.
"Go away," said Gen sullenly through the door.
"Gen, it's Root. Can I come in?"
"Is she there?" Gen asked putting as much loathing into the word ‘she’ as possible. Root caught sight of Shaw clenching her teeth from the corner of her eye and knew that she had an acerbic response on the tip of her tongue.
"No," said Root, gesturing for Shaw to vacate the area, "she's gone."
Shaw grumbled for a moment before shuffling off into the living room and throwing herself onto the couch in a huff.
Gen opened the door a crack and peered out, only opening it further and letting Root in when she was sure Shaw was nowhere in sight. Root shut the bathroom door behind her and sat on the floor opposite Gen, stretching her legs out so they were side by side with Gen’s.
Root waited the girl out, noting the dried tear stains down her cheeks and the way she carefully avoided Root's eyes as she sniffled.
"You want to tell me what happened?" Root asked eventually when it became evident that Gen wasn’t going to be forthcoming without some prodding.
“She started it,” said Gen resentfully, crossing her arms and jutting out her jaw angrily. It was a fabulous impression of a grouchy Shaw, Root thought, the resemblance so uncanny that Root struggled not to laugh.
Her lips twitching, Root asked, "Started what?"
Root tried not to roll her eyes. She should have questioned Shaw first, but she doubted she would have been more forthcoming than the kid.
"Gen..." said Root warningly.
Gen sighed. "She won't let me get a new outfit for Evan's party."
"Who's Evan?" Root asked, frowning in confusion.
"From downstairs," Gen explained.
"The scrawny kid with the curly hair?" Root asked, vaguely remembering seeing him in the hallway once or twice and that time he had almost run Shaw over with his bike out on the street.
"He's the most gorgeous boy I've ever seen," said Gen longingly.
"Ah," said Root, everything starting to make sense and once again had to stop herself from laughing. Gen's tastes left a lot to be desired, Root thought, but then again, attending an all-girl school didn't give her a lot of options.
"And Shaw said I was being dumb for wanting something new to wear," Gen continued.
Of course she did, Root thought, Sameen Shaw being as blunt as a hammer as usual.
"How about I take you?" said Root.
Gen looked at her hesitantly for a moment and Root realised that this was the first time they had ever been alone together without Shaw or Harold hovering nearby. She felt a little awkward for a moment, wondering if she was playing this right, if Gen was going to reject her offer. But then Gen smiled warmly and wiped the tears from her face with her sleeve. "Okay," Gen said eventually. "But I'm still not talking to Shaw," she added childishly.
Root rolled her eyes and nudged Gen's leg affectionately with her knee until she got up. She followed Gen out of the bathroom, the kid dashing to her room to fetch a pair of shoes.
Shaw was lying on the couch when Root went into the living room, playing absently with a loose thread on the hem of her shirt and glaring up at the ceiling. Root leaned over the back of the couch and waited with more patience than she felt for Shaw to look at her.
“We’re taking Gen shopping.”
Shaw pressed her lips together tightly. “We?”
“I’m too tired to drive,” Root explained and dangled a set of keys in front of the other woman’s face. She was also feeling a little resentful that she wasn’t going to get to her bed anytime soon, and it seemed only fair that Shaw was made to suffer too. This wasn’t the first argument between the two she had been witness to, but it was the first one she had had to intervene in, and Root wasn’t sure how best to handle it. Sometimes it felt like all three of them were floundering with this new living arrangement.
Not that things had been easy before Gen moved in. It seemed like Root and Shaw were just starting to find their feet when the eleven year old arrived and turned everything upside down again. Root noticed it in the way Shaw seemed more hesitant around her, and she played up the grumpiness like it was shield, like she was trying to prove something.
“Is that Finch’s Jaguar?” Shaw said, eying the keys suspiciously.
“He know you have it?” Shaw asked with a frown, but Root could tell the idea of driving one of Finch’s sports cars was wearing her down.
“Nope,” said Root.
Shaw sighed, snatching the keys out of Root’s hand. “Fine, but I don’t get why she needs a new outfit anyway.”
“Just because you wear nothing but black and only own five outfits,” said Root, trying to keep her temper in check, “doesn’t mean everyone else has to.”
Shaw scowled. “Whatever,” she muttered. “But I’m not getting out of the car,” she added childishly.
Root rolled her eyes and knew it was going to be a long day.
“I did not sign up for stroppy teenager, Finch,” Shaw grumbled into the phone. She was sitting in the car, sunglasses covering her eyes to block out the summer sun, one hand tapping impatiently on the steering wheel as she waited for Root and Gen to get back. How long does it take to buy one stupid outfit?
“Neither did I, Miss Shaw,” Finch replied absently and she could tell he was fussing with his books or his computers or something. “But there’s not much we can do until they’ve finished refurbishing the dormitories... Unless you’d rather have her out on the street?”
“No,” said Shaw sullenly. She wasn’t that cruel. But she still didn’t like it. Finch’s grand plan for taking Gen in over the summer, claiming that it wouldn’t be an inconvenience, was slowly backfiring and Shaw was feeling more than a little resentful that she was playing babysitter twenty-four hours a day.
“She could always stay with me again,” Harold suggested, “but we both know how well that turned out the first time.”
“Yeah,” said Shaw with a smirk, “who knew you’d be afraid of a pre-teen, Finch?”
“Yes, well…” Finch cleared his throat. “Given her… bodily changes, perhaps it’s best if she stays with you. You were a teenage girl once… I think,” he added distractedly.
“Why did that sound like an insult?” Shaw asked cynically, her brow creasing. But Finch ignored her and she wondered briefly if he was even still listening to her. She could hear Bear whining in the background and thought she would rather have him staying with her than the kid. At least Bear didn’t argue back. Then she felt a brief flash of guilt and sighed resignedly. The kid wasn’t so bad, for the most part, when she wasn’t talking or eating everything in the apartment as if it were all self-replicating. She also rather suspected Finch was enjoying himself, watching her suffer, and he had made more than one comment in recent weeks about how Gen was “helping her grow as a person” as if that was Shaw’s biggest concern in life.
“You are so not paying me enough for this, Finch,” Shaw complained.
“I’m not paying you for this at all,” Finch remarked. “You’re doing it out of the kindness of your heart. Remember?”
The kindness of her heart included full access to Finch’s garage and a fully stocked bar at the library - top shelf of course. And preferably not at the same time. Finch’s words, not hers.
“Speaking of which,” Finch added crossly, “tell Miss Groves I know she took the Jaguar.”
The all access did not extend to Root and Shaw glanced about the car ruefully. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Finch,” she said innocently.
Harold hummed like he didn’t believe her. There was still a lingering resentment there, between Root and Finch. Most of it was on Finch’s part, but Root didn’t help herself by pissing him off whenever she could. The car theft being only one of many ways in which Root liked to get under his skin.
“If she’s bothering you so much,” said Finch and it took Shaw a moment to realise he was back to talking about Gen, “you can always bring her to the library. The history section needs re-catalogued and the entire place hasn’t had a good dusting in about four years.”
“You’re giving her chores?” Shaw asked, although it didn’t sound like a bad idea.
“I could write a list,” Harold suggested.
“Make sure it’s a long one,” Shaw said and hung up when she saw Root walking down the street.
"Finally," Shaw exclaimed when Root got into the passenger seat. "What took you so long?"
"She had to try on everything," Root explained.
"Where is she?" Shaw asked, glancing out the window in frustration.
"She insisted on paying for it herself," said Root, folding her arms and closing her eyes.
"With Finch's credit card," Shaw muttered, shaking her head in annoyance.
“Come on, Shaw,” said Root wistfully, “don’t you remember the first time you fell in love with a boy?”
“No,” said Shaw flatly. “Why, do you?”
“I never liked boys,” said Root with a smirk, leaning into Shaw and leering until Shaw shoved her away lightly, but not before Root managed to give her quick peck at the corner of her mouth.
"Did you call Finch to complain again?" Root asked, noticing the phone still in Shaw’s hand.
"No," Shaw lied, but Root eyed her knowingly. "By the way, he knows you took the car."
Root shrugged nonchalantly, clearly not bothered at all about Finch’s reaction to her grand theft auto. Shaw tapped her fingers impatiently on the wheel again, muttering for Gen to hurry up.
Root looked at her sideways. "Next time you guys get into an argument, can you do it with less theatrics?"
"That's easy for you to say, you're never here," Shaw complained. She realised how that sounded and looked away, but she caught the small smile playing across Root's lips.
"Okay, I'll just stop chasing down relevant numbers then," said Root. Shaw glanced at her; she had her eyes closed again and it was the first time Shaw had properly looked at her since the hacker got back. Shaw noted the bags under her eyes, the hard line of her mouth, the way she slumped in her seat - she looked exhausted and Shaw wondered how many more relevant numbers the Machine was going to send her after before it finally took its toll on the other woman.
"How was the number anyway?" Shaw asked.
"Uneventful," Root said elusively and Shaw wondered what that meant. It wasn't like she was looking for a play by play, but it would be nice to know what was going on once in a while. She used to do that job after all, chasing down terrorists for the Machine under the guise of the government. She knew how dangerous it could be.
"Stop it," Root muttered.
"What?" said Shaw, frowning at the other woman.
"Watching me sleep," said Root, opening one eye slightly to glare at her.
"Annoying, isn't it?" said Shaw, who had woken up on more than one occasion to find the other woman staring at her as she slept.
"You know what else is annoying?" said Root and Shaw hummed non-committedly. "You talking."
Shaw scowled and looked out the window for Gen again. There was still no sign of her and Shaw found her attention wandering back to the woman in the passenger seat, not quite asleep yet but getting there and Shaw realised she could have done without the shopping trip and playing referee to her argument with Gen.
"You look tired," Shaw commented quietly.
"Why do you think I'm trying to sleep?" Root mumbled.
"Root..." said Shaw warningly because that wasn't what she meant and Root knew it.
Root sighed heavily and sat up straighter in her seat, opening her eyes and staring steadily at Shaw as if to prove a point. She looked like crap and Shaw had no qualms pointing it out, but Gen appeared before she could.
"What the hell took you so long?" Shaw snapped, harsher than necessary. She could feel Root giving her a scolding look, but she ignored it.
"I'm not talking to you," Gen fumed and slammed the door shut, enclosing them all in the car and the oppressing silence that followed.
Shaw gritted her teeth and started the car. As far as she was concerned, summer couldn't end fast enough.
Shaw took her irritation out on the New York City traffic, banging on the horn and flipping off one particular asshole that cut across her going around a corner. They were about a block away from their apartment building when Finch called and told them to come to the library.
“What happened to my day off, Finch?” Shaw grumbled.
“We should go,” said Root, her voice low and serious, head tilted to the side slightly. She had been dosing, but now she looked wide awake as she stared blankly ahead of her. Shaw glanced at her, knowing instinctively that she was receiving information from the Machine, and did a sharp U-turn on the road, tires screeching. A guy in a BMW blared his horn at her as she narrowly missed him, but Shaw ignored him and carried on in the direction of the library.
“We’re on our way, Finch.”
"What's up boys?" Shaw asked, strolling into the library, Root and Gen trailing along behind her. Harold was sitting at his customary place, surrounded by computers, Reese by his side as if he were standing guard over him. They both looked up when the three of them entered.
Harold looked past her until his eyes landed on Gen, staring at her hesitantly. “Perhaps, Gen could take Bear for a walk around the block a bit?”
Although Gen loved Bear as if he were her own, her look darkened at Finch’s suggestion, clearly not wanting to miss what the four of them were about to discuss. Shaw could tell Gen’s usual protest was hot on her lips and she glared at the girl.
“Just go,” Shaw snapped before Gen could start whining.
“Fine,” Gen huffed, grabbing Bear by the collar and stomping out of the library.
"Enjoying your day off, Shaw?" Reese asked, his eyes crinkling in amusement as he watched Gen leave.
Shaw chose to ignore him and turned her attention to Finch. "What's going on, Harold? We get a new number?"
"Not exactly," said Finch, standing up awkwardly and waiting until he was sure Gen was out of earshot before speaking. "I've just been informed by my contact in the Department of Corrections that John Greer has been released from prison."
Shaw stared at him for a moment. She hadn't even known they had a contact in the Department of Corrections. Then she glanced at Root, who looked like this wasn't news to her and Shaw realised the Machine must have told her on the way over.
"How?" asked Shaw.
"Some sort of technicality," Finch explained vaguely.
"Not surprising," said Reese with a shrug, "considering he was set up."
They all looked at Root then. Root and the Machine had orchestrated Greer's arrest and prosecution as smoothly as if he had actually committed the crime, made it look like it wasn’t his first offense so he would do more time. It had been cleverly crafted, so much so that not even the best lawyers in New York City could fight it. Until now, apparently.
But now with Greer out, Shaw worried what that would mean. John Greer did not seem like a man who would let sleeping dogs lie, who would let his enemies bask in their victory whilst he suffered and withered away. Without their leader, Decima Technologies had been stumbling along blindly, developing more legitimate tech than Samaritan ever was. But with Greer out and back at the helm, did that mean Decima were on their way to building a second Samaritan? It was a thought that chilled Shaw, sent an unpleasant tingling sensation down her spine, and she remembered those days on the run, hiding and wondering, bored and alone waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
"We don't know," said Finch when Shaw voiced her concerns about a second Samaritan. They all looked at Root again but she remained silent, eyes downcast and Shaw wondered if she was remembering, remembering how she had almost killed Greer but couldn't. Maybe she should have, Shaw thought. Maybe I should have taken out more than his kneecaps.
"We all expected this day to come," Finch continued. "But I'll admit, not quite so soon."
"So what do we do?" Shaw asked, her trigger finger itching for a fight.
"Couldn't hurt to keep an eye on him," Reese suggested and Shaw agreed, offering to take first watch. "Isn't that a little dull for you?" Reese asked, his eyes twinkling knowingly. Shaw liked doing recon, but staking out an old British guy wasn't on her list of fun things to do. However, they hadn't had a new number in days and Shaw was starting to go a little stir crazy from boredom. She could do with a change of scenery.
"Anything to get out of the house," Shaw muttered, thinking about the most recent argument with Gen. Probably not her finest moment, the way she had handled that. But at least Root had appeared before she did something stupid, Shaw thought, glancing at Root again and wondering why she was so quiet.
Gen appeared then, Bear snapping at her heels. "What are you guys talking about?" she asked and Shaw knew she had been listening, wondered if she had even bothered taking Bear out at all. The kid never did what she was told, which is what the majority of their arguments had stemmed from lately.
"Ah, Miss Zhirova," said Harold brightly, ignoring Gen's question and limping over to his desk. "I've got some tasks for you." He picked up a scrap of paper and handed it over to the young girl.
Gen took it hesitantly, scrunching her nose up when she read what was on it. "You know this is slave labour, right?"
Harold stared at her for a moment, as if unsure how to respond, but then Root coughed slightly and gestured to Gen's bag of shopping, paid for with Finch’s credit card, that she had unceremoniously dumped at her feet when she had walked into the library. That coupled with Shaw's glare got her moving.
"Fine," she moaned, stomping out of sight once again.
"Nice to see your charm's wearing off on her, Shaw," Reese deadpanned.
Shaw glared at him. "I'll call if I find something," she said to Harold.
"Perhaps you should take the town car," Finch suggested before she could leave. "The Jaguar is a little conspicuous," he added, looking at Root pointedly as if to tell her to put it back where she found it. Root just smirked at him.
"Right," said Shaw and handed over the keys for the Jag to Root. Root smiled at her, their fingers brushing together briefly and Shaw wanted to say something, ask if she was okay, give her that welcome home she hadn't had a chance to yet and then order her home to bed. Shaw didn't say anything though, not with the guys standing nearby, watching them carefully. But Root smiled knowingly all the same, it that eerie way she had as if she could tell what Shaw was thinking. It used to creep her out, it still creeped her out, but it was easier, Shaw had to admit, easier than having to voice everything aloud for everyone to hear.
But that didn't necessarily mean that Root was always listening to her.