Back before everything fell apart, Cole used to say, “Look, the guy they’ve got down there? That’s not right, Shaw. I don’t think they let him out. Ever,” every time Research adjusted their intel. Because it wasn’t quite as simple as just getting a place, a person, a target, and then sending them in to raze the place. Sometimes Control would run it through their man downstairs, and sometimes the target would change. Cole met him, or rather they had him in a computer room next door for awhile. For Cole, that was close enough, a digital handshake that said more to him than a physical one ever could.
After Cole was killed, after Cole bled out on the floor, she did her best to forget about everything Control ever did. But after a while, after running with Finch and Reese long enough to remember what trust feels like, she starts to let it back in again.
“You get your intel from the same machine as Control, right? Sort of like joint custody?”
Finch stops typing. “I wouldn’t put it quite so flippantly, but yes.”
“So who is their you?”
“Who is interpreting the intel? The point of contact for your machine on the government’s end.”
“No one.” He’s squinting at her now in the dark of the library. “I designed it so the intelligence would be transmitted directly into reports.”
She never met the man in the basement herself, but Cole talked about him multiple times. Cole never mentioned his brother, his mother, or the fact that he prefered doritos over every other snack food in existence, but he talked about the man in the basement.
Shaw stays with them three more weeks and they help six more people. One she has to kill. She got Henrietta Farro directly between the eyes, and then plugged a second round in her heart, just for good measure. Farro was blonde and pretty and wearing teal flip flops and a vest with four pounds of semtex wired into it.
When she leaves that day Finch thinks it’s guilt. “You did what you had to do, Ms. Shaw.”
“I know.” She doesn’t feel guilt, not for things like this. Finch still doesn’t get that and he probably never will. John pretends to get it, at least. Finch just frowns.
“You don’t have to leave.”
“Relax, Harold. I’ll be around. Besides, where’s a dead girl like me supposed to go?”
It’s too easy to find him. She thinks that machine of Finch’s must be in on it, and that doesn’t surprise her anymore. It doesn’t tickle the back of her neck hairs, though, and she rushes forward.
The door to the basement she blows out with a grenade launcher. She blows through the guards too, but with her glock and two bullets each. She doesn’t go for kill shots; Reese is bleeding into her. Then she remembers Cole bleeding, and she stops trying for knees.
She steps over the rubble of the blown out door, over the smouldering glass that used to be a security retinal scanner, and into the dark, windowless room tucked away behind the concrete. A man sits at an ergonomic desk chair in front of eight computer monitors, the screens all dead from when she killed the power.
He stares up at her, blinking.
“So tell me,” she says to the man. He still hasn’t stood up. “You want to get out of here?”
“Is this a joke?” His voice is hoarse. “This is a joke. It’s a trick. Is George behind you?”
She doesn’t know who George is and she doesn’t care. “Do I look like I’m joking? I’m leaving in ten seconds. You can come or you can say, but I just went to a lot of trouble, so I’ll be a little insulted if you decide to stay.”
He raises himself off the chair slowly, has to pause twice before he gets to the blown out door frame and leans on it. “Ladies first,” he says.
She rolls her eyes. “Not a chance. I want you in front of me,” and she waves with the gun for emphasis.
“You’re rescuing me or you’re kidnapping me?”
“Maybe I haven’t decided yet.”
He’s not what she expected. He’s tall, for one, probably as tall as Reese, even though he’s bowed a little from age and being cooped up down here for as long as he has been. In her head the guy in the basement had been an underfed version of Finch. This guy could have been a football player.
He walks slowly in front of her. He’s clearly not at the peak of health anymore and it’s slow going, but he knows the way. They make it up and out of the old warehouse, an old match factory ISA had converted for its own uses, and into the weed covered parking lot behind the old union breakroom.
“So now what? You’re going to shoot me? I never told them how it worked, and I won’t tell you either.”
“What. Your all-knowing secret machine that’s straight out of a sci/fi novel? I don’t care how it works.”
He freezes. “Only eight people in the world are supposed to know about that.”
She shrugs. Her car is behind the dumpsters and she waves the gun until he starts moving towards it. “Look, I’m here for one reason. Cole would have wanted you out.”
“Cole.” He gets to the car and looks at it, appreciatively. It’s one from Finch’s fleet. A Corvette from the mid 80s. She likes the way it sounds when she moves from fourth to fifth gear. “I don’t know him.”
“You wouldn’t remember him.”
She takes him to a motel just off the highway. It’s dumpy and has a desk attendant who can’t be over twenty, and the parking lot only has one street lamp. It’s perfect.
“Room for two. If you tell me there’s no doubles left I’ll rip your fingernails off.”
The kid swipes her card (a burner credit line from Finch) and hands over the room key, unphased. Another good sign. She likes this place.
Basement man wobbles to the bed nearest the teal painted bathroom, drops onto it, and stares at her as she unpacks her guns. He’s pale, but she’s not sure how much of that is shock and how much is him not seeing daylight for a few years too many. She keeps the glock trained on him, just out of habit. She could take him down even if he managed to get his hands on it, but why take the risk.
“Can you order a pizza?”
“Or Chinese? I’d die for Chinese.” He stops and looks at her gun. “Not literally.”
“Take a shower and don’t use all the hot water.”
The Chinese order comes in while he’s in, she never placed it but it doesn’t surprise her that it comes, pre-paid, on the burner card’s number. “Thanks,” she says to the delivery kid, and also to the black bubble security camera above his head in the hallway.
He comes out dressed in the same government issued polyester pants and shirt, but he’s damp and looking a little more human. He smells the food and beelines for it, ignoring her, “hey, slow down there speedy,” and shoving right past the gun.
“So how long were you down there anyway?” she asks after he gets a quarter pound of beef and broccoli into him.
He answers instantly. “1,241 days.”
He starts shaking after that. “My name is Nathan. Nathan Ingram.” It’s a familiar enough name, even if she can’t put her finger on why. His voice is hoarse. He’s probably not used to talking this much.
“You can call me Shaw.”
“Well, Ms. Shaw,” and she starts, because he sounds eerily like Finch, “thank you for breaking me out of that place, even if I’m not sure why you did what you did. I think I’ll call myself a taxi now, though.”
“Sure. You can try.”
Now it’s his time to freeze in place. “Excuse me?”
She shrugs and offers up the phone, flat on her palm, for him. He scoops it up instantly, even though his fingers hesitate at the touch screen buttons.
“I busted you out. Cole would have wanted that. But I’m not in the stray keeping business. I leave that to Harold.”
The phone drops out of his hands and clatters onto the floor. Finch probably has stock in them, the way she and Reese go through them. She’ll pick up a new burner next time she’s out.
He picks it up and it still flickers on even though the screen is cracked. He dials a number, she only catches the New York area code. It rings once and she hear’s Finch’s voice on the other end saying, “Ms. Shaw. Is everything--”
“Harold?” Ingram’s voice breaks.
“This is a cruel trick,” she can just barely make out Finch saying. “I expected better of you, Ms. Shaw.” The phone clicks off.
“You work with Harold. You work with Harold and you have a lot of guns, and--” He’s seriously shaking now, practically vibrating off the bed. Ancient medical knowledge, hybridized from practical living, bubbles up and she gets him a glass of water and yanks a blanket off the bed to hang over his shoulders. “He’s doing it, isn’t he. The list. The contingency. He said he wouldn't. And then. God, I thought he’d died. I thought I’d gotten him killed.”
He levels startling blue eyes at her. “I need to see him.”
She doesn’t call ahead, and she enjoys taking Reese by surprise.
“Boom,” she whispers. He doesn’t jump, but he does smile.
“Shaw. I was wondering when...” He trails off as Ingram rounds the bookshelf behind her. He tenses and she quirks a mouth. “Nathan Ingram. You’re supposed to be dead.”
There’s a clatter and Shaw whips out her gun almost as fast as Reese does, but it turns out to just be a hardcover hitting the floor, spine down. Finch looks like he wants to hit the floor too.
“Harold?” Reese is flitting between Ingram and Finch, clearly not sure if he should stay on the possible threat or migrate back to Harold, but Shaw just rolls her eyes at him. They’ve been working together long enough now that he gets the silent ‘Go, I’ve got this,’ hidden in her eyebrows.
“Nathan.” He sounds like a tire someone let all the air out of.
Shaw doesn’t stay to watch the reunion; she flings herself down the fire escape. She doesn’t like watching goodbyes or hellos. They’re full of emotions she doesn’t have very often and doesn’t like to be reminded of. Finch will call later, and if he doesn’t, Reese will.
Her phone, still cracked, lights up. “THANK YOU,” it reads. It’s from a scrambled number, one that if she tries to trace it, will hit a dozen roadblocks before she gets so much as a country of origin.
She smiles. “You’re welcome,” she says to the traffic camera on Broadway.
It’s not Cole saying thanks, but it’s close enough. He would have fucking loved the machine.