A month after she starts at Fitzhugh Quinell, Gen sees Shaw lurking at the fence. It's supposed to be time to play on the stupid ergonomic playground, but she's mostly kicking stones, hoping to break one of those kids' perfect smiles. When she glimpses Shaw, she walks casually towards the fence.
"I didn't call," she says quickly. "I'm fine."
"I know," says Shaw, through the wrought iron fence. "I was nearby, thought I'd check up on you. How is it in there?"
"Kids are assholes," Gen says. "Rich kids are the biggest assholes, and Georgina Wescott is like the queen bitch of all the assholes in the world." Under the sleeve of her blazer she's got a row of bruises that Shaw can't see. She's got some long blonde hairs still wound around her fingers, too, which makes her feel weird: triumphant and grossed out at the same time. She'd spit, like her grandfather used to, but someone is certain to report her for unladylike behaviour.
Shaw shrugs. "Is that a big surprise to you?" They walk along the fence together, Shaw on the outside and Gen technically still on school grounds, though she's not supposed to go off the coloured rubber mats.
Gen unwinds the hairs and flicks them away, disgusted. "She's probably got cooties, now I'll have cooties too."
"Come here," says Shaw, gesturing.
Gen steps close and immediately regrets it because Shaw reaches through the fence and pushes Gen's head forward and flips her hair over into her face. She fights the urge to wriggle as Shaw combs her fingers through the hair at the base of Gen's skull. When she's finished, Shaw shoves Gen's hair back again and pats it down awkwardly.
"There. No cooties," Shaw says. "Okay?"
Gen is unsure. "What if I did have cooties? Can I call you if I get cooties?" She has Shaw's number programmed into her phone, but she hasn't dared use it.
"I told you to call that number if you're in trouble. Are you going to tell me you don't know how to deal with cooties? You used to live in a place famous for its bed bugs."
"Yeah, but I don't think they'll let me have kerosene," says Gen. Then she laughs because Shaw pokes her through the fence. "I know. I'll talk to the school nurse or whatever. It's just… I don't have anyone to talk to about stuff."
Shaw sighs and turns to face her. "I am not the one to talk to about stuff. Any stuff. Honestly, if you want to know about stuff, you can text Reese. He's very in touch with his feelings." She grabs a pen from her pocket and holds out her hand for Gen's, then scrawls another number across Gen's palm.
"My number is for emergencies only," she says, firmly, emphasising it with a pointed finger.
"Okay," says Gen. "I'll remember. Bye Shaw." Someone on the playground calls her name and she turns to see who it was. When she turns back to the fence, Shaw is gone because that's how it is with Shaw. She hates awkward goodbyes. Gen shoves her hands in her pockets and runs back to the super safe rubber matting before the bell goes for next period.
Gen is up too late, huddled under her sheet with her phone. She'll be in trouble if she gets caught; Fitzhugh has a very strict policy on screen time. She chews her lip while she composes her message. Keep it brief, she reminds herself. Shaw likes things to be short and sweet.
I don't know if it's an emergency but I think I saw Vadim yesterday in Central Park. He looked pretty sick.
She rereads it a few times then finally hits send. The message reads "delivered" and then "read" but there's no immediate response. That's okay, she tells herself. Shaw is probably saving someone else right now.
When she wakes up in the morning, there's still no response, and she decides she's on her own with this one. Her class of eight is spending the week on projects based in Central Park, and today is social studies. Ms Dunlap has assigned them a group project at a sculpture garden. Gen's task is eye-rollingly boring: she has to stand by the entrance with her tablet and fill in a database for a population breakdown.
Ms Dunlap walks from girl to girl as they work on their tablets around the sculpture garden, and Gen is deep in concentration when she sees Vadim lurking on the other side of the fence. His eyes are sunken deep into his face, and his complexion is blue-tinged pale. He slinks closer to the fence where she'll be in earshot and nods in her direction. She ignores him and keeps tapping data into her tablet.
"Too good to talk to your cousin now, eh? So fancy, with your little dress and your little tie."
"Fuck off, Vadim," she says without looking up. She can't attract Ms Dunlap's attention. If people see her talking to Vadim, it will be awful. If people see Vadim at all it will be awful.
Vadim sniffs and rummages inside his filthy bomber jacket for a paper-wrapped parcel the size of a pack of cigarettes. "But I have present for you, Genrika. From Dedushka."
That gets her attention. She stares at him, hating that he got her to respond. "Bullshit. It's all gone," she says, but she already knows Vadim has her hooked. She has so little from her grandfather – he had so little to give her – and any scrap is to be treasured. It's probably a lie, but what if it isn't?
"Not if senile fucker forgot where he put it," says Vadim. "I found a box of his stuff at Verushka's apartment." He holds the paper parcel between his finger and thumb. "Has your name on it and everything."
That does it. Gen is through the gate and running towards him wielding her tablet like a hammer. Vadim gives a bark of laughter and then fear, and he runs off into the trees.
Gen knows better than this, and she realises a few seconds later as she crosses into the trees and out of sight of Ms Dunlap that this is a set-up. Not even a very good set-up. Vadim leans against a tree, and pulls a smoke out of the wrapped paper package, while three of his asshole friends snigger to each other.
"Now we find out how much your new family will pay for you," Vadim says with the cigarette hanging from his lip. He reaches for her collar with his filthy hand. Gen swings her arm to punch him in the balls as hard as she can, but before he can make contact with her, something blurs between them.
It's snarling, a terrible, low and lethal sound as it knocks Vadim to the ground and grabs his throat. Vadim screams, beating at the dog with his fists. Meanwhile, his shady friends are going down in swift succession. It doesn't even take Shaw very long to immobilise them, though Gen feels a sense of satisfaction when she sees Shaw slam her boot into a groin. She hopes his balls are hanging round his tonsils now.
"Hey," Shaw says, barely out of breath. She brushes her hands on her thighs. "I got your message. Bear! stihl!" The dog still has his teeth on Vadim's throat, but he wags his tail in acknowledgement and does not move again.
Gen doesn't even worry what Shaw will think: she leaps on Shaw like she's climbing a fence and she wraps her arms around Shaw's shoulders.
Shaw gives her one quick squeeze then Gen's feet are mysteriously back on the ground without Shaw seeming to move at all.
"Okay, kid, we have to talk." Shaw bends over to meet Gen's eyes, realises Gen is three inches taller and readjusts her position. "What the hell are you doing, running into an ambush situation like that? You know better – you've known better since before I met you."
Gen flushes hot and ashamed. "He said he had something from my grandfather."
Shaw clicks her fingers at the dog, and he lets go of Vadim's throat then sits down beside Shaw's feet, panting. "Did you believe him?"
Gen stares down at her cousin, snot-streaked and crying, still trying to protect his bleeding neck. "No, but I wanted it to be true." She points at Bear. "Can I pat him?"
"Bear!" Shaw nods towards Gen and the dog steps forward, tail wagging. "Let him smell your hand – remember, he's a soldier too. And I see you deflecting, by the way. You gotta be smarter than that, Gen."
Gen crouches down and holds out her hand, which Bear sniffs, tail wagging. Then his body is pressing against her, and she has her fingers in his coat like she's giving him a hug. Relief floods through her, a delayed reaction to what's just happened, and she presses her face into his coat so that Shaw won't see her cry.
"Come on," says Shaw. "Before your teacher calls in a SWAT team." She strides off towards the sculpture park, and Gen takes the opportunity to wipe her eyes with her sleeve before she runs after her, with Bear at her heels.
The night after the blackout and the bombing at the old post office, there's an unsettled atmosphere at Fitzhugh. Gen has her own room – all students do – but through the wall she can hear Georgina crying again. Gen debates whether she will go and knock on Georgina's door; Georgina was a massive bitch when Gen was new here, but for some reason it's her turn to be at the bottom of the pecking order, the arbitrary nature of which pisses Gen off. She's shoving her feet into her slippers when there's a soft tap on her window.
She pushes out of her bed and into a crouch, then wriggles behind the heavy curtains to steal a peek through the glass. Her room is on the third floor of the old school building, and there's a wide stone ledge connecting all the rooms. She sees Shaw wrapped warm up in a black beanie and scarf. Delighted, Gen pushes the window up and leans out to hug her. Surprisingly, Shaw doesn't push her away, but wraps her arms around Gen's body and squeezes her tight. It's weird.
"What's wrong?" Gen whispers.
Shaw puts her mouth to Gen's ear. "We have to talk." She takes a step on the ledge, then leans back to hold out her hand. Gen grabs it, and heart pounding, steps over the windowsill and onto the forbidden ledge. They walk single file above the school grounds where there's still a little snow piled against the tree trunks. When they pass under a security camera, Gen sees cables dangling from the insides. Her breath makes clouds of steam that warm her nose.
Shaw steps off the ledge onto a wide balcony, and turns to help Gen make the jump. Once Gen is safely on the balcony she realises that Bear is here, too. His tail sweeps the flagstones at the sight of them, but he stays sitting by the double glass doors.
Gen finds she's clasped her hands together, which is probably lame but she doesn't care. "Can I?" she says, breathless with the cold and the excitement.
Shaw gestures at the dog with her head and he leaps forward into Gen's arms, tail thrashing. Gen squeezes him tight, lets him lick her face all over, and pretends for a few seconds that he is her dog. He is warm and doggy and solid. Gen decides that as soon as she's out of this school, she's getting ten dogs just like him and she'll let them all sleep in her bed.
That makes her wonder. "Does he sleep in your bed?" she says, glancing up at Shaw while she hugs Bear.
"Sometimes," says Shaw, who paces back and forth along the balcony, keeping watch. "Wanna know something else?"
Gen nods, and Shaw grins at her briefly. "Sometimes I sleep in his bed," she says. Gen finds this thrilling and adds it to her plan for adult life.
Shaw flops down cross-legged on the stone next to Gen, and pulls at Bear's ears. "So. I have to go dark for a while," she says. "Things are complicated. You can't call me anymore. Or John. But Harold's got you sorted – there's money put aside nobody can get to, and you're going to be okay here."
Gen watches Shaw while she scratches Bear. Her stomach is twisting up a bit, but Shaw needs to know Gen will be safe. "I'll be fine," she says, determined. "I'm glad you came to tell me." She remembers coming home to a trashed apartment in Moscow, remembers running to the neighbours who all kept their doors locked. It's much better to know when something bad is looming. Truthfully, Gen bugged her whole building for this reason.
Shaw doesn't say anything, just silently wraps her scarf around Gen's neck because robe and pyjamas aren't cutting it in the icy cold. This tears at Gen, because something is obviously very wrong and she can't think what she can do to help Shaw.
"I'll be okay if you don't come back," she says eventually, through the folds of scarf covering her mouth. She can feel the cold seeping in through her slippers and she draws up her feet so she's sitting nearly in Shaw's lap. "Only, try not to get killed. I like being your friend." Beside them, Bear settles down on his belly and a thought occurs to her. "Will Bear be okay?"
Shaw takes a big breath and pushes Gen away so she can stand up straight. "Yeah, he's all set. Wait a while – like a year or whatever – and then go see Detective Fusco at the 8th Precinct. A year, okay? At least."
Gen nods her understanding but she's glad she doesn't have to say anything in case her voice is choked up. Shaw points to the ledge. "We're done. Go back to bed; I gotta hook the camera back up before someone notices it's down."
"Mr Carlsson is at his daughter's wedding in Cincinnati," Gen says. "Nobody else will notice it."
"Gen," says Shaw, and her voice is sharper than Gen has ever heard. "From now on, you assume someone is watching, all the time. No exceptions ever. Got it?"
"Got it," says Gen. She hugs Bear again, and kisses his head. "Bye, Bear. Be good." Then she steps up onto the ledge by herself, and walks all the way to her room without looking back. No awkward goodbyes.