“This is the most boring number ever. Seriously, do we have any leads at all on the threat?” Shaw turned in the driver’s seat to face Harold and John in the back of the SUV they had “borrowed” from Lionel. To stake out the house of the most boring man alive. Was there even a threat? There had to be, Harold thought it was urgent enough for all four of them to show up. Which was ridiculous because Root had just gotten off a plane from Siberia five hours ago and should probably be sleeping, Christmas be damned.
Harold didn’t spare a glance from his laptop, typing furiously. “Well Ms. Shaw, I haven’t finished searching his computer yet, but if The Machine gave us his number then we have to take this seriously”.
“Yea Shaw, we have to take this seriously” John smirked from his place next to Harold, eyes fixed on their number through the front window of the modest two-story in Queens. His eyes turned serious as his smirk fell “It looks like he’s having a wonderful Christmas dinner with his family, we don’t want anything to ruin that”.
Shaw rolled her eyes and glanced over at Root, who had been snoring lightly against the passenger window for the last half hour. Apparently the jet lag was too much for The Machine’s “thinks-she’s-indestructible” Analog Interface.
Shaw smacked her lightly on the shoulder “Wake up sleepyhead, you’re fogging up the window”. Root groaned and stretched her arms as best she could “mmph….hey Sweetie, anything interesting happen while I was out?”
Shaw leaned in closer, and the boys took their cue to become extremely interested in the back seat’s upholstery. “Hey, you should head home and get some real sleep. We’ve got it covered here and you look like you could use it.” Root mock-pouted and reached for the door handle “Just what every girl wants to hear, Sam. But I see your point. See you boys later.”
Shaw leaned back into her seat as the passenger door slammed shut. She watched Root disappear around a corner before turning her attention back to the most boring man in the universe.
“Careful Shaw, she might start to think you care.” There was laughter in John’s voice and Shaw wondered if he ever got tired of that one. She figured it was unlikely. “Oh please, Root’s basically useless until she gets some sleep. I couldn’t even see the number through the fog she was making.” She turned to get a better look at John’s face and smirked “And we’ve been living together for over a year, I’m pretty sure that’s grounds for retiring that joke.”
John’s mouth dropped open in surprise and Harold’s head popped up from behind his computer screen. He even stopped typing. Yea, the shock was totally worth giving up that secret. Though she figured it wasn’t exactly a secret, just a rarely brought-up topic. Still, totally worth it.
“What?” Okay, maybe not such a great idea. John always was one to ask questions.
“Ms. Shaw, what happened to your old apartment?” Harold had resumed his typing, but was still throwing her glances over his screen. Shaw was astounded at how dense he could be, and considering she was completely inept when it came to discussing her (very muted but still kind of there) feelings, that was pretty damn dense in her opinion.
“Look, it’s not like we planned it. Those Decima goons trashed my old apartment and I needed a place to stay after Samaritan got dismantled. Root offered, that’s it. I could do worse than a 2000 square foot loft with bulletproof windows and top-notch weapons storage.” The sleeping together was good too, but she was pretty sure that information would give the boys a heart attack. Or several. “So, do we have anything on this guy? Or did I bring my new gun out for nothing?”
Harold sighed and snapped his laptop shut “I don’t know what’s happening, but it can’t be good. The Machine just redacted his number. It’s possible there is a bug in its new code. We need to head back to the subway and remedy this as soon as possible.”
Shaw closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. She heard John sigh in the back seat and started the SUV before driving them back to the subway. Three and a half hours stuck in a car with these idiots and no one to shoot, this was turning out to be a pretty crappy Christmas.
Red Light. Another red light. More red lights. Shaw was beginning to suspect it was on purpose. There was no way they should have caught every single red light from Queens to Manhattan. Hands gripping the wheel and teeth gritted in frustration, they only had 20 blocks to go. Great.
“Uh Sam? Are you guys headed back to the station? Because you’re gonna want to see this” Root’s voice floated through her earpiece, full of some sort of awe that Shaw had never heard before. She punched the horn before jabbing her earpiece to respond.
“Root, what the hell is going on? First the number gets cancelled, then we catch every red light. Seriously, we should have been there an hour ago. And why are you even up?”
Harold and John leaned in from the back, straining to hear Root’s end of the conversation. John hoping for an end to their ridiculously long car ride, Harold wishing for some information regarding his sudden inability to hack the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s mainframe and their (first and hopefully only) cancelled number.
Root opened the comms to the rest of the team before continuing “She said She needed me at the station, so here I am. But this is something you guys are gonna want to see for yourselves.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” Shaw had become used to figuring out Root’s cryptic messages, but this one had her stumped. She was also going to kill Finch’s stupid Machine for waking Root up. They could definitely handle this one on their own, and if it was computer things, Finch could manage until Root had gotten a decent amount of sleep. “Root? What the hell is going on?” No answer. Reese snickered from the back seat “I think she hung up on us, but we should probably hurry. Any luck Finch?”
“Ah, I’m in!” Harold smiled and continued rerouting the traffic lights to clear them a path “It appears that something was anticipating my moves and blocking me. Very strange indeed.”
As the traffic light in front of them, and the one in front of that one, and the one in front of that one too all turned green, Shaw smiled. She gunned the gas, they were definitely going to get to the bottom of this.
The three of them were stood stock still at the bottom of the stairs. It was like nothing they had ever seen. It didn’t even seem possible. Shaw turned to Root, who was sitting at the desk with a mug of cocoa in her hands, booted feet placed right next to the keyboard.
“How is this even possible? I thought no one knew about this place?” Shaw wasn’t sure, but she was pretty sure this was what shock felt like. Actual, awe-stricken, shock. John and Harold seemed to be having as much trouble taking it in as she was.
The station was almost unrecognizable. The stark and usually spartan space now looked as if it had been ripped straight out of a 1950’s Christmas catalogue. Double rows of pine garlands were strung along the pillars and the front of the subway car, tiny red bows and mini candy canes nestles among the needles. Twinkling multicolored lights hung between the rows of garland, and the whole space was cast in a warm and ever-shifting Christmas glow.
The table Root was using as a foot rest was covered in holiday cookies from every culture and the table they sometimes used to play poker or share a meal was covered in festively decorated cakes. As they stepped into their new Christmas wonderland, they noticed a freshly cut and beautifully decorated tree nestled in the corner.
Root smiled at the surprise on their faces “This isn’t even all of it, the subway seats are white-trimmed red velvet and covered in snowflake blankets and pillows, and there are a few more surprises in the kitchen”. She watched as Harold moved to inspect the subway car while John and Shaw took off towards the kitchen.
She could hear their shouts from the desk and attempted to hide her grin in her cocoa. “How is there more? It’s like a freakin Norman Rockwell in here!” Shaw came back into view carrying two mugs, one of cocoa with an ungodly amount of marshmallows on top and one of cider with an actual cinnamon stick poking out the top. Root chuckled “Couldn’t decide Sweetie? You know they’re not going anywhere.” Shaw just shrugged and made her way over to the desk, eyes on a particularly delicious looking platter of chocolate-dipped shortbread.
Reese followed Shaw out of the kitchen holding a mug of eggnog and a mug of cider, a very expensive bottle of bourbon tucked under his arm. “Whoever this was, they had good taste.”
He handed the cider to Harold as he exited the subway car. “While that may be true, Mr. Reese, we need to make sure our position hasn’t been compromised.”
Root looked incredulously at him before bursting into giggles “Really Harry? Samaritan is gone, Decima has gone belly up, and it’s Christmas. I think we’ll be okay for a night.” She pointed to the flickering computer screens, eyebrow raised in amusement.
John, Shaw, and Harold turned to examine the screens, which were flashing various versions of “Merry Christmas” in different languages. For a moment, there was even morse code coming through the speakers before the words disappeared and were replaced by a voice they had come to know so well (several voices really, but She was working on it).
“Merry Christmas. Enjoy.”
Harold was still perplexed “But what about the number?”
“Distraction” The speakers garbled back.
Root shrugged and stood “Well that settles it. It’s not like any of us have had particularly memorable Christmases lately, so we might as well enjoy Her gifts, Harry.”
She spun on her heel and disappeared into the subway car, reappearing with armfuls of blankets as she made her way over to the tree. She dumped them unceremoniously near the wall and, after grabbing her cocoa and a platter of powdered sugar-covered fudge cookies and Russian tea cookies, she nestled into her cocoon of blankets.
Shaw shrugged before grabbing the platter of shortbread and her mugs of cocoa and cider, stopping to balance a fruitcake on her cider as she headed over to Root.
Harold stood and watched as Shaw sat down against Root, wondering how he had missed their relationship.
“Come on Harold, stop worrying and enjoy the evening. Those two have the right idea, let’s spend this Christmas with family.” With that, John grabbed an armful of blankets from the subway and headed to the tree, looking expectantly back as Harold as he sat.
Harold sighed and looked around. It really was a beautiful gift, and he was impressed that The Machine was running well enough to pull this off. But he was curious, “The traffic lights, was that your doing as well?” he murmured to the computer.
“Affirmative. Delivery delayed. Additional time required.”
He chuckled at the thought of an artificial intelligence worrying about them walking in on a surprise, but after everything they had been through, he knew it was well deserved. So he picked up his cider and a plate of snickerdoodles (his favorite, though he didn’t know how The Machine could possibly know that, he hadn’t had them in years) and joined the others around the tree.
After an hour of trading hilariously terrible and fantastically disastrous holiday stories (which were punctuated by Shaw’s trips to the cookie table and Reese’s refilling of everyone’s drinks), Shaw felt like something was missing.
“I was told by your crackpot Machine to take him for a walk, but I’ve got to get to dinner with my son, so I’m offloading him on….you………guys.” Lionel stopped at the bottom of the stairs, Bear’s leash forgotten in his hand as he took in the lights. “Who knew you crazies were big with the holiday spirit? Anyway, have a great time!” He unhooked Bear’s leash and hung it by the entrance before heading back up the stairs, a chorus of “Merry Christmas Lionel!” following him as he went.
Bear rushed over to the group, howling hellos and nuzzling faces before settling down and looking expectantly under the tree.
Shaw looked at Bear, then at the tree, which he was staring at with laser focus. “There’s got to be something under there. Bear, halen!” Bear dove under the tree and a bit of rustling later, emerged with the largest bone any of them had ever seen. Root chuckled, “I guess it’s a perfect Christmas for everyone now.” She nuzzled into Shaw as John resumed his story of the time he spent Christmas up a tree in the middle of the rainforest.
Several hours, more cookies and cakes than anyone thought possible, and a significant amount of spiked eggnog and cider later, team Machine had settled into pleasant silence. John was cleaning the new handgun Shaw had given him while Harold was enjoying his third cup of cider (significantly more spiked than he realized, thanks to Shaw’s last round of beverage gathering). Shaw was playing fetch with Bear and his new bone, while Root was bundled up in blankets and once again snoring lightly, her head resting in Shaw’s lap.
“Well, now that Ms. Shaw has gotten me intoxicated, I believe it is time for me to head home. This truly has been a wonderful Christmas, and I am so thankful to have spent it with you all.” Finch struggled to his feet, Reese standing to help as he wobbled off to find his coat. “I had better make sure he gets home in one piece, Merry Christmas you two.”
Shaw nodded in agreement and looked down at Root, who was now mumbling something to her ankles. She sighed contentedly before gently shaking her awake. “Hey, Root. It’s time to head home, go get your coat and I’ll get Bear’s leash.”
Root mumbled incoherently before nodding and standing to retrieve their discarded coats. Shaw leashed Bear and met Root, John, and Harold at the bottom of the stairs.
Coats were shrugged on, goodbyes were said, lights were turned off. The boys headed up the stairs and Root kissed Shaw gently on the cheek. “Thank you Sameen, this really was my best Christmas.”
Shaw murmured her agreement and grabbed Root’s hand as they headed out of the station. There would be more numbers, more chaos, more injuries and near-death and slight misses, but today? Today it was just Christmas. Happy and pleasant and peaceful.