There’s a knock on the door at two a.m., right as Lewis sits down in front of Adult Swim with a bowl of Froot Loops. He’s still sore from his beatdown the week before, and he knows people are asking questions really loudly about what happened to Mullins and Grishin, so he considers pretending to not be home, but the knocking continues. Not fast or violent, just steady, solid, and high up on the door. He heaves himself off the couch and grabs his baseball bat and stares through the peephole into the empty hallway.
“Really?” he snaps to nobody, and turns to go back to the couch.
“Lewis, you can let me in or I can let myself in.” a female voice drawls from the other side. Her. The little ninja chick from last week. “Guess which one ends with you still having a door.”
Lewis lets his head thud against the door and unlocks it, going back to the couch so she can open it up. “I didn’t tell anybody.” he says as he sits back down. He keeps the bat across his lap. He’d probably be scared if he wasn’t so exhausted, but he’s running on about three hours of sleep every night for the past week. He hasn’t even left the apartment, in case someone knows he was the last person to see Grishin and Mullins alive and feels like asking him about it. “Nobody.”
“I know.” she says. She locks the door behind her and leans back against it, smiling at him. “I’d have visited you way before now if you had.”
Lewis rubs his eyes. “What do you want?”
“I’m gonna be in the city a little longer than I thought, and I need a place to stay.”
This is the stupidest thing that’s ever happened in Lewis’s life. “No,” he tries.
She gives him a few seconds to soak in his own annoyance before asking, “Did you think that would work?”
“Not really,” Lewis tells her, burying his face in his hands. When he looks up again, she’s strolling around the apartment, stopping to scan over the painted milk-crate shelves stacked against the wall. She touches his Transmetropolitan and his Afro Samurai and his Nextwave, his Tarantinos and his anime bootlegs, and jerks her hand back when she gets to Tank's terrarium on the last shelf.
“Why?” she asks.
“You scared of spiders?” he shoots back, feeling triumphant in some way he can’t explain.
“Lots of desert in Iraq, and lots of camel spiders in the desert.” she says.
Lack of sleep and too much adrenaline make Lewis perk up at that. “You were in Iraq? My sister’s there now.”
“Yeah, I know. This is her apartment, isn‘t it?”
Lewis doesn’t ask how she knows that, just accepts it and digs moodily into his cereal. With a last mistrustful look at Tank, she crosses the room to sit on the coffee table in front of him. “I’ll pay you for as long as I’m here, and more importantly, you won’t have to worry about anybody coming after you.” She picks up the bat before he can grab it, startling him into almost dropping his cereal. “This won’t do you much good against a gun, you know?”
She sets the bat aside and offers him her hand. He takes it warily; her grip is firm, even though his hand dwarfs hers. “My name is Shaw.”
“Lewis. Obviously.“ He sighs. “My sister really isn’t gonna like this.”
Denise loves it. Fucking loves it. He gets a record-breaking five hours of sleep, then Skypes her later in the morning while she’s eating dinner. He tries and fails to explain the situation, then gives his laptop over to Shaw while he goes to take a shower and have a panic attack. He doesn’t know what Shaw says or doesn’t say to her, but when he comes out ten minutes later, they’re chatting like old friends. For all he knows, they are.
He gives Tank a cricket and sulks around the edges of the room. Shaw talks to Denise about Iraq, about war, about politics, and--most terrifyingly--about Lewis.
“He’s a good kid.” Denise says fondly. Lewis stares at the back of his laptop’s lid. “Smart. Too smart for all the bullshit he’s into.”
“I’m here, I can hear you.” Lewis reminds her from across the room.
“I know.” Denise’s tinny voice says, the crackling reminding his that she’s thousands of miles away. “I’m running PT tonight, so I have to go. It was great meeting you, Shaw. Lewis, try to keep your ass out of trouble.”
“What about the rest of me?” Lewis answers.
“She’s rolling her eyes.” Shaw informs him.
Denise says “Yep.“ Then, “I love you. Be safe.”
“You too.” Lewis says quietly. Shaw gives Denise a small salute of a wave and shuts the laptop, settling back against the couch to stare at Lewis. “Oh my god, what? Should you even be on the internet?” Shaw folds her arms. “I thought you were, like, an outlaw or something. Can’t they track you?”
Shaw starts laughing, and slides a fingernail-sized USB out of his laptop and holds it up for him to see. “Not that they would, but this is pretty intense encryption software. Anybody who tried to record or tap into that conversation would have ended up with…I don’t know, cat videos instead of your sister and me.”
“How can you not know what your own encryption software does?”
“It’s not mine, A, and B, the only person who could explain it to you is decomposing as we speak.” She goes scary-dead behind the eyes and pockets the USB. “Now, about your problem. I have an idea.”
Shaw’s idea is flushing his entire remaining supply down the toilet before he can stop her. Not that he’d be able to stop her anyway, judging by how the sharp elbow she plants in his solar plexus knocks him into the fetal position before he even hits the floor. “Ugh,” he groans into the linoleum.
Shaw ignores him and continues to empty each baggie into the toilet bowl. “It was shitty quality anyway. Mostly laundry detergent.” She pauses. “You still alive?” Lewis grunts again and forces himself to his feet. “Good. If you want out of this, I can get you out of it.” She steps past him and out of the bathroom. “But you have to mean it. Don’t waste my time.”
She whirls on him. “What?”
“Okay. Jesus. Okay.”
Shaw beams. “We have work to do.”
Work turns out to be a lot of sitting around while Shaw leaves the apartment for hours on end. After three days of this, Lewis is feeling somewhere between homicidally irritated and suicidally bored, and he decides to follow her.
He keeps up with her for thirteen blocks before he loses her inside a Duane Reade. He wanders aimlessly, feeling like an idiot, and finds himself jacked up against the nearby wall of magazines.
He gets acquainted with some bodybuilder’s artfully-Photoshopped package on the cover of Men’s Health while Shaw whispers, “You did better than I thought you would.”
“Ow.” Lewis answers. Bright yellow font above the bodybuilder’s right shoulder screams LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE NOW! Lewis snorts and drops his head until Shaw lets his go. He turns around, leans against the wall, and sighs. The place is nearly empty, so he doesn’t even bother trying to get help. He’s not sure he even could, in good conscience, subject any innocent strangers to Shaw. He will take his punishment like a man. Or maybe a baby, going by how he kind of wants to cry.
She folds her arms, considering him. Just when Lewis is getting uncomfortable, Shaw says “Cross the street every once in awhile, and keep five or six people between you and your target at all times. It’s better for cover, and if they make you and start shooting, you’ve got a buffer.”
“That’s so messed up.” Lewis tells her.
Shaw shrugs, and tosses him a cell phone from her pocket. It’s a shitty little burner phone, and the screen is cracked. There’s also a horrifying clump of blood and hair stuck to it, and Lewis nearly throws it back at her. “Oh, whoops.” Shaw says with a grin, brushing the phone off.
“Did you. Like. Did you kill somebody with this?” Lewis hisses.
“No.” Shaw says. “I got it off of the kid who took over your old corner. He’s gonna need a new haircut to go with the patch I shaved off with that,” She points at the phone. “But he gave me your dead boss’s boss easily enough, so I didn’t have to do much damage. Next time he calls, we’ll set up a meeting.” Shaw takes a step closer to him, and if he wasn’t already flush against the magazines, he’d move backward. He tries, anyway. “I just want to reiterate that I’m very serious about this, and you need to be, too.”
“I am. I am.” She smiles, almost warmly, like if Satan was a guidance counselor.
“Good. We’ll finish this tomorrow, then.” Shaw takes the phone back and slips it into her pocket. “Go back to the apartment. I have a few things I need to get set up.”
Lewis shakes his head. “Why are you doing this? You got a little brother or something?” he asks, half expecting her to knock him out.
Shaw just shrugs. “I used to.”
Lewis feels like he’s been invited in, somehow, even though she offers nothing else and practically disappears in a puff of smoke, she’s gone so fast. He takes his time getting back to the apartment, enjoying the mild breeze snaking through the city, and realizes abruptly that he’s calm, for the first time in a long time.
Obviously, that’s when he hears squealing tires and the pop of a semiauto before he’s on the ground with something big and heavy on top of him. The thing disappears quickly, and Lewis rolls around until he hits a trash can he can hide behind. The wind is still knocked out of him, but he can focus enough to see a beefy dude in a suit returning fire at the busted-up El Camino as it speeds away and out of sight, followed closely by an equally-busted Tiburon.
The dude turns back to him and offers his hand. Lewis takes it reluctantly, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. “Are you all right?” the guy asks.
Lewis feels a little like vomiting, but nothing hurts except his elbow where he landed on it. “Fine.” he grunts, rubbing his sore arm.
“My name is John. You’re in danger. Those men were--”
Lewis waves his hand, interrupting him. “I know. It’ll be fine. Thanks.” The guy looks bemused. He doesn’t look like a cop, so Lewis isn’t really worried about pissing him off.
The man frowns, presses his fingers to his ear, and says “Finch, they took shots at him in broad daylight. They’re serious.”
Lewis starts back toward the apartment again, followed closely by John, who’s still muttering quietly at whatever’s on the other end of his conversation. Lewis thinks about taking off, because the guy moves like an athlete but probably hasn’t been one in a good ten years--but instead he stops and looks at him. “How did you find me?” he asks. "Did Shaw ask you to babysit me or something?" He tries to go for "indignant" because he doesn't need somebody watching over him, but then he thinks about how things have been working out for him since Denise left and, well.
John blinks at him a couple of times, but he puts his gun away. "Shaw," he says slowly.
"Yeah. Shaw. Tiny? Scary? Shiny hair and guns everywhere?"
"That's a pretty good description. How do you know her?"
"Know her, fuck," Lewis says. They arrive that the building; he recognizes the asshole slouched by the door and tries to be nonchalant about hiding behind John. "Uh, that dude's probably one of those people putting me in danger, just so you know."
"Got it," John says, all casual, but when Reg (Lewis is pretty sure the guy's name is Reg) pulls out a piece John just shoots him in the foot, bam. It's hilarious. Lewis tries to keep a straight face as Reg starts crying. John takes away his gun and says, very serious, "You should probably go to the hospital. There's one about six blocks that way."
Reg whimpers and Lewis hiccups, trying not to laugh. This is shaping up to be not that bad a day, aside from all the attempted murder. "I don't have a car, man. Hoop was supposed to pick me up after we were done--" he gestures awkwardly at Lewis, and Lewis can kind of appreciate that it's a little weird having to talk about the dude you were supposed to kill in front of the man who just shot your pinkie toe off.
"That's not my problem," John says, but Lewis thinks about it. He's probably had less than a dozen conversations with Reg his whole life, but Reg and him went to the same elementary school together, and Lewis is pretty sure that Reg is the one who gave him one of his extra pairs of mittens one day when Lewis had forgotten his and it started snowing during recess. That was a long time ago, but still.
"It's my problem," Lewis decides. "C'mon upstairs, I've got stuff so you don't bleed out before you limp your ass to the hospital."
"He's not going to bleed out," John protests, but Lewis ignores him, grabs Reg's arm and steers him inside. John follows them in, looking like a grumpy pit bull that didn't get to rip out anybody's throat with his teeth today.