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“My research indicates operatives work best in teams,” Finch says to her out of the blue when he next hands her a social security number on a post-it note from the machine.

She realizes he means ‘pick a buddy’ and she says back, “hell no.”

Then Reese shows up and keeps giving her these long, meaningful looks, like he’s worried about her again. And "hell no," again, because she doesn’t have time for this shit. Eventually she gives in, not because she needs a partner, but because Reese looking meaningfully at her every five goddamned seconds gets really, really old.

She picks Root because of the two options, neurotic and crazed seems better than hapless and bothersome. Leon is so relieved not to have to work with her that he drops to his knees and actually kisses her boots. Full on, wet kisses, too. She has to clean them afterwards.

Root glides over and leans in close to her neck. It takes all of Shaw’s willpower not to slam a palm into her chest and knock her to the ground, but Reese is watching her, and ever since Finch said, “Root is with us now,” he’s been looking out for her like a mother dog.

“This will be fun,” Root whispers, guttural and low against her collarbone.

It will not, Shaw thinks, be fun. But it does work pretty well. Root is still batshit, but her intel is spot on, and she never does anything that gets Shaw dead or full of holes, so she calls it a positive thing. And she doesn’t flip when Shaw gets in tight spots, like Finch does for Reese, so she calls that a win too.

They’re actually an alright team, so when Root says, “Our next number is out of the city a ways. Pack a bag,” she doesn’t worry about it too much. She packs her best knives and guns up, throws in an extra pair of boots, and takes Finch’s best car (not the damned town car he has waiting for them on the street. That piece of shit he can keep). That Root knows she’ll steal the Ferrari and is waiting in the passenger seat is somehow a given.

“Where are we staying?”

Root has a compact, disposable netbook perched on her lap. Shaw isn’t sure how she’s getting wifi, and she’s not sure she wants to know either. The road signs flash past them as they finally leave the fumes and traffic of the city behind.

“A motel off the highway. It shares a backyard with Stella and Maureen’s vacation house.”

Of the pair, it’s Stella’s number that’s come up. They check into the dumpy motel and Shaw parks herself next to the widow with a set of binoculars. Root sprawls onto the bed, legs stuck in the air by the headboard like a kid, with the netbook open in front of her. When night hits, Shaw will hop the short chain link fence behind the motel and plant bugs in the house. For now, she watches them through the open blinds.

Stella is tall and black and slender, Maureen is short and blonde and fond of kick boxing. Neither are doing anything suspicious (unless checkers and wine and a romance movie count) and both seem comfortable in each other’s company. If there’s angry, violent tensions in the house, they’re hidden well under the carpet.

“You think she’ll kill her in her sleep?” Shaw asks.

Root has been watching their calls, reading their emails, for the last five hours. She shakes her head. “I doubt it.”

Shaw raises an eyebrow. It’s unusual for Root to be so ambivalent. Usually an answer is either a firm yes or no; it’s one of the things Shaw likes about her, none of the usual dicking around.

“They’re on their sixth anniversary and they bought tickets to go horseback riding tomorrow.”

“You said it wasn’t likely to be an outside hit either.” Shaw looks back through the binoculars, watches Stella snake an arm around Maureen on the sofa and forget about the checkers game entirely.

“No. They’re boring. Boring. They have no debt, no enemies, no connections with the mob or gangs, their families love both of them, and they’re set to inherit absolutely nothing. They love each other dearly but have happy lives outside one another, and both have boring, non-competitive careers.”

“So there’s no reason you can think of that the machine would give us her number?”

Root watches her like a cat. She licks her lips and doesn’t take her eyes off her, doesn’t even blink. It’s strange to be so on display, and it sends a shiver down Shaw’s spine that she can’t account for.

“The machine always has a reason for what it does,” Root purs, and purring is really the only word for it. She’s off the bed and slinks next to Shaw at the window. She reaches out and gently pries Shaw’s hands away from the binoculars before putting them up to her own face. “I thought so,” she says, and smiles. “Here, watch.”

Shaw accepts the binoculars back and focuses them back in on the window. It’s dusk now, and the light contrast makes spying ideal. She doesn’t see what Root is talking about, it’s just Stella and Maureen in the house, and they’re--

Shaw re-focusses again and watches mutley as Maureen kisses Stella, hard and deep, and her hand slinks down past waistband. Stella leans into it and has her own hands palming Maureen’s breasts, pulling off her dress.

“Oh.” 

Root is behind her and her hand ghosts over Shaw’s shoulder. She can feel her breath on the back of her neck as she says, “Do you learn best by watching or by doing? I’ve done plenty of research myself already.”

Shaw turns away from the window and lets the binoculars drop to the carpet, forgotten. “What makes you think I want... this?” But her hands are on Root’s hips, and she realizes that Root smells like leather, and that fact is intoxicating.

“Like I said,” Root’s mouth is near her ear, and Shaw’s whole body buzzes. “Research.”

Shaw likes the word in Root’s mouth, likes what it means now instead of what it meant before with Cole.

“Fine, but I’m driving,” and she shoves Root against the wall and sinks her mouth deep against the woman’s lips.