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It's only natural, when a team of co-dependent reformed assassins has a nearly always-open one-way commlink to their base of operations, for them to learn more about their friends than they could ever pretend to have wanted to know. It's something they've gotten used to, for the most part, though when the inevitable unwanted glimpse into someone's bathroom habits comes around every few months there's still guaranteed to be a chorus of sounds of disgust barraging the offender's ear as the others open their end of the link to remind them they're not actually alone.
Still, John thinks he should earn some leeway for forgetting about his earpiece when nature calls, given what Shaw and Root have been putting him and Finch through for the past several months.
"No time like the present, Sameen."
He's not going to complain about taking the sideline while they work their latest number; New York in August is too damn hot to be sneaking around outside in a wool suit. He really needs to get in touch with Finch's tailor.
"I swear to god, Root, if you don't stop talking I'm going to gag you."
But then it does mean he has to listen to their constant flirting.
"You'd have to tie me down first."
"That can be arranged."
A glance over to Finch at his desk confirms that he's paying no attention to what's being broadcast over their mesh network, instead engrossed in trying to punch through an insurance company's overly secure firewall.
"I think you and I both know that you like hearing me too much to ever actually gag me."
And now he's done.
Finch startles as John abruptly rises, announcing that he's going back to the precinct. He jabs Finch's earpiece then his own in turn, and claps Finch on the shoulder as he steps out of the subway car.
"They're talking bondage again, Harold. Good luck with that."
Sometimes John longs for the days of their unresolved sexual tension. Back then it was mostly Root hitting on Shaw with an increasing lack of subtlety, Shaw refusing to play along, and John being able to ignore all of it.
"Stop undressing me with your eyes, Root."
"Would you rather I did it with my hands?"
"You try it, you won't be pulling your double gun trick any time soon."
He has uncomfortably vivid memories of when that changed, two months ago around Memorial day, when Root and Shaw were chasing down a number with ties to the Croatian mob and wound up in a firefight in an abandoned warehouse.
"You all right, Root?"
"Never better. You?"
"Just got clipped, it's barely even bleeding anymore."
"I gotta say Shaw, the dirty and bleeding look is really doing it for me."
"Does your adrenaline get flowing as much as mine does during a fight like that? Because right now I could really-"
Whatever she had been about to say was abruptly cut off, and John and Finch shared a worried glance before the unmistakable sounds of passionate kissing filtered over the commlink. Finch's eyes widened and they stared at each other for a moment, until a moan filled their ears and John ripped his earpiece out and flung it away.
"John, we don't know that they cleared that building," Finch admonished. "Miss Shaw and Miss Groves could still be in danger, we should - oh my."
John quirked his eyebrow as Finch turned off his earpiece, a flush blooming across his face.
"On second thought, I'm sure they can handle themselves if something comes up."
(John will forever rue the fact that he didn't open up two-way communication that day. Just a simple, pointed, hey Shaw, you two planning on coming back to the station any time soon? and maybe all of this could have been prevented.
It's been going on far too long to say something now.)
October finds John making his way to the subway station to enlist Finch's help with a case. He finds him tapping away at his keyboard, files scattered on his desk and the floor around him.
"Shaw working another number?" He doesn't remember Finch mentioning anything about one, but then, Detective Riley's caseload has gotten more unmanageable as Samaritan's grip on the city has gotten tighter, and it's increasingly difficult to break away from his Captain's watchful eye.
Finch nods absently. "I thought it would be best if Miss Shaw handled this one, given your recent trouble at the precinct."
"How's she doing?"
The sounds of gunfire echo through the station as Finch turns on the speaker feed. "Just fine. She did get into a bit of trouble for a moment, but Miss Groves turned up before I had to call you."
"Shocking." Shaw yells at Root to grab their number while she covers them, and John leans against the desk and hands a file to Finch. "Need your help with a case."
"Am I to be your confidential informant now?"
"I won't pay you, if that makes you feel any better." Finch rifles through the pages and John points to a name. "I think Lattimer's boss was having an affair with his wife, but I couldn't get a warrant."
"Shaw, get down!"
A small explosion sounds over the commlink, Shaw's grumbling following soon after.
"Now this is just getting annoying."
John raises his eyebrow in question. "The people pursuing our number seem to have a rather limitless supply of small grenades," Finch observes, pulling up his social media crawler on his secondary terminal. "Warrant or not, I'm sure your suspect left some indication as to his motivations somewhere."
Finch works silently for a few minutes while John tosses a ball back and forth with Bear, the occasional gunshot and aggrieved sigh emanating through the room from the speakers. Finally there's a climactic sounding explosion followed by a victorious cackle and John can't help but share in Shaw's amusement.
"Come on, Shaw, the police will be here soon to take these guys in."
There's the sound of someone being hauled to their feet, whimpering in fright. The number, John guesses.
"Go home, Paul. Take your wife on the vacation she's been asking you for, and maybe by the time you get back everyone that you managed to piss off enough to want you dead will be in prison."
"I believe I've found your motive, Mr. Reese," Finch calls over to him, and John tosses the ball back to Bear before joining him at the computer screen.
"His boss had three mistresses?"
Finch nods. "All members of Mr. Lattimer's family, no less."
"I'm fucking starving."
"I could eat."
"His mother, his wife, and his sister. Busy guy. Any of them know about any of the others?"
"Not that I can tell." The incriminating photographs disappear from the monitor, replaced with a series of text messages. "But I believe one of Lattimer's friends found out about it and informed him of what was going on."
"There's a teriyaki place a couple blocks from here. It hasn't failed me yet."
"Why Sameen, are you asking me out on a-"
"Don't. Say that word and I'm cutting you off."
Root wisely stops talking, though John suspects she makes some sort of face because Shaw comes right back.
"We both know I can go longer than you, so don't even start."
"That's only because now I've gotten a taste for-"
John reaches over and turns off the speaker just as Finch removes his earpiece. "I think it's safe to say you've got the place to yourself for the rest of the night."
"Indeed." Finch clears his throat and gathers up John's paperwork, handing it back to him as he leaves.
Sometimes, he admits, he brings it upon himself.
It's always a risk, calling one of them in the middle of the night. Half the time he risks interrupting them in the middle of some intensely physical activity, if the labored breathing is anything to go by, and if Shaw's the one who answers one of those calls, more often than not he can hear Root still going in the background. Shaw's usually able to keep from reacting, but John's always ready to find an excuse to hang up the moment he hears her let out a moan.
He steels himself as he dials Root's number. He'd wait until the morning if he could, but Finch is on a plane to Dallas and he needs to figure out who's after their number before she gets killed on her Christmas vacation.
After four rings a gruff voice answers.
"Shaw?" That's a new one.
"What do you want, John?" She's clearly just been woken up by his call, and he wonders if somehow she and Root managed to switch phones.
"I needed Root's help with something, actually."
Shaw grunts and he hears rustling followed by mumbled whining.
"It's cold, Shaw. Lay back down."
"John needs your nerd brain."
There's a huff and more rustling as blankets are adjusted and Root's phone gets passed from hand to hand. Part of him wonders when they got to this point, and the rest knows he's going to tease Shaw about it mercilessly when he sees her in the morning.
Root still sounds half asleep when she finally comes on the line. "What do you want?"
"I think Mrs. Martell got in over her head when she started investigating what her bosses were doing. I need to get into their servers and see what they were working on that they might want to cover up."
"Did Harold ever show you anything about SQL?"
John thinks back to the few days over the summer when Finch sat him down and made him act as the team's hacker. "Databases, right?"
"That's the one." Root stifles a yawn. "There's a blue USB drive in one of the drawers at Harold's desk. Use that to get into their VPN, then start a cascading rollback of their database." Her voice becomes muffled as he hears her roll over, and he imagines her face is now firmly buried in a pillow. Or Shaw. "Their IT guys will try to stop it, and you can piggyback off them to find what you need. That work for you?"
He hesitates. Root could have this done in ten minutes, he knows, and while his own proficiency at hacking has grown far beyond what he ever anticipated, he doesn't like to let the fate of a number hang on that skill. Then he hears Root's breathing even out again, and he wonders when had been the last time any of them had slept so soundly that a phone call hadn't immediately brought them to full alertness. He remembers another life, of lazy mornings hovering between sleep and consciousness, aware only of the safe warmth and comfort of Jessica lying beside him.
He thinks of walking in the dark alone.
"Yeah, Root. Thanks, I got it from here."
One unexpected benefit from all this has been that he no longer has to pretend to be on a date with someone who's basically his sister.
When your assets include an actual couple, Finch had explained, it makes more sense to send them out undercover than a pair whose physical awkwardness has already made for more than a few close calls. Of course, Shaw had given him a glare at his choice of words, and Finch had hastily backtracked and said he was merely referring to chemistry and clearly she and Miss Groves were comfortable around each other anyway so why wouldn't Shaw prefer to take her?
Shaw had protested, something about not wanting everybody else nosing around in her business - John had to bite back a laugh at that - and insisted on taking John anyway.
"Don't you think a couple of women dancing together would stand out at this fancy rich old person's ball, Finch?"
There was no denying that, so John had found himself dancing the most uncomfortable dance he could remember of his life as they staked out their number at a fundraising ball. Shaw kept stepping on his toes every time he pulled her closer, and he was fairly certain it was deliberate.
"I thought you'd be used to dancing with someone taller than you by now, Shaw."
"One more word, John. Go ahead." John smirked down at her and she rolled her eyes, jabbing her finger into her ear. "Root, you're coming with me next time. And I'm leading."
"Sounds fun, sweetie."
That had been the last time they'd gone undercover together as a couple, and he's glad for it. Although he does miss the excuse to eat at the over-priced restaurants their numbers tend to favor, like the one Root and Shaw are currently staking out.
On Valentine's day.
Shaw's murderous expression when Finch had explained the mission had been one for the record books, and Root had only managed to convince her to go along with it by reminding her there'd be steak and the opportunity to shoot the person responsible for her having to be there.
Much to his and Finch's relief, thus far Root has kept the teasing to a minimum, despite the setting. Or perhaps because of it, since he imagines Root knows that Shaw is on a short enough fuse already at having to be surrounded by couples in New York on Valentine's day. And he thinks he hears a harp in the background.
"Vogel's girlfriend finally showed up."
"He doesn't look too happy about her being late."
"My money's still on the brother."
They're interrupted by the arrival of their food, and John glances at Finch. "I'm with Shaw, I still say it's Vogel's brother."
Finch doesn't look up from the small pile of components he's soldering. "We've had this discussion before, John, I'm not going to bet on our numbers. It's tacky."
"That's just because you know we're right."
"Holy shit, Root, you have got to try this steak."
This time Finch does look up, his expression of disbelief surely mirrored by John's own. "Did she just "
John nods. "First step sharing food, second step commitment ceremony in Provincetown."
"Ugh, get that stupid look off your face and just eat it."
"Or maybe not." A fork clatters in the background, and Root makes what he hopes is an exaggerated noise of enjoyment.
"It is delicious, Sameen. And just for that, when we're done with the number and get back to your place, we can do that thing you really like."
"We were so close," John groans, burying his face in his hands.
"You can't leave, John," Finch quickly reminds him.
"Don't go making promises you can't keep."
"I always keep my promises, Sameen."
Finch looks at him with pleading eyes. "Moral support."
A few weeks later he's spending his lunch hour in the subway while Shaw handles a particularly womanizing number and braces himself when she makes a detour to pick up Root - to help distract the mark, she says, though John has his suspicions. Apparently Shaw interrupts Root's own lunch in the apartment she's squatting in for the week while its owners are on vacation, silverware rattling around in a bowl as Root answers the door with her mouth full.
"Just give me a couple minutes, Shaw." At least, that's what he thinks she said around her food.
"Seriously, Root? Boxed macaroni and cheese?"
"It's hard to find time to cook when you're a hired assassin, you know. I lived off this and takeout for fifteen years."
"You could at least spring for Kraft or something."
"We never could afford Kraft when I was a kid. Guess I developed a taste for the off-brand stuff."
John hears Shaw grunt in response and fall silent. Taking another bite of his overly stuffed burrito, he turns back to researching their number and tunes them out as they start to bicker about which of their charms the number would be more likely to fall for.
He thinks nothing of their conversation until the following week, when he's back in the subway monitoring Shaw and Fusco tailing a new number while she runs her suspiciously unsuspicious errands. At the moment they're wandering the aisles of a suburban grocery store, John keeping an idle ear on them in the subway car when Fusco's laugh gains John's attention.
"You're doing your grocery shopping now? Really?"
"Some of us have to hold down two jobs and don't have any other time to do it, Lionel. And it'll give me something to throw at her if she runs for it."
"Assault with uncooked pasta, I think that's a ten forty-two."
"Yeah, whatever. Hand me that block of gruyere."
"What the hell are you doing with all these fancy cheeses? You throwing a party for your pals at the makeup counter?"
"I've got a box of macaroni and four kinds of cheese. You're a detective, you figure it out."
"Mac and cheese like mom used to make, huh?"
"Something like that. And no, you don't get any."
"Awful lot of carbs for one person, even with the way you eat."
"I'm sure I'll find a way to work them off."
Shaw says this with an unmistakable air of innuendo, and John echoes Fucso's sound of dismay. He thinks he hears Shaw punch Fusco in the arm, and as she tells him to grow up he recalls the conversation he'd overheard between her and Root the previous week. A smirk slowly spreads across his lips as he puts two and two together and he debates opening two-way communication before thinking better of it and keeping his amusement to himself.
"Better watch out, Shaw, or she'll get the impression you care."
When Samaritan's presence becomes too much for even those outside of the Machine's purview to ignore, Finch and John decide it's finally time to bring Fusco to the subway station and read him in on everything they do. They had hoped to avoid this, but it's become increasingly more dangerous for Fusco to be as close as he is to the team and not know what they're up against.
He's taking it surprisingly well.
"So I take it that this Machine of yours is what Cocoa Puffs is always talking to," he says, leaning in to examine the photographic array of Samaritan agents lining one wall.
"The Machine has been rather quiet of late, but yes," Finch confirms. "Miss Groves has a direct line to the Machine through her cochlear implant."
Fusco turns around and squints at them. "The rest of you aren't all cyborged up though, are you?"
"Don't worry, Lionel," John says. "You'll get your turn soon."
"I think what John is trying to say is that the rest of us rely on less intrusive methods of communication." Finch pulls a spare earpiece out of a drawer and hands it to Fusco. "I took the liberty of pairing this with your new phone. The top button toggles the open line to the rest of us so we can hear you when you're out in the field, the bottom button lets you hear us."
"I hate wearing these things," Fusco complains, but wiggles it into his ear regardless. He presses one of the buttons and frowns as he hears the gunfire John has long since tuned out. "What the hell is going on out there?"
John smirks. "Root and Shaw are working a number. They're actually being less destructive about it than usual."
"I'm not gonna get called in for a triple homicide am I? I've had two this month already."
"You know, Shaw, this really takes me back."
"Their methods may be less than subtle," Finch says, handing Fusco a copy of the shadow map, "but they're careful."
"Now is not the time for a walk down memory lane, Root. Gabriel, stay behind me."
"I'm just saying, you, me, an army of security guards between us and the door and none of them are working with Samaritan it's nice."
Fusco's eyebrows raise and he gestures behind him with his thumb. "She's got problems, that one."
"You get used to it," John shrugs.
"Miss Shaw and Miss Groves should be wrapping things up shortly." Finch returns to his desk and pulls up the various cover identities that he's created for Fusco. "We can discuss a course of action regarding Samaritan when they return."
"Could you shut your mouth for a minute while we clear these guys out of here?"
"You weren't complaining about my mouth last night, Sameen."
"That's because you were putting it to a better use than giving away our position."
Fusco gapes at Finch and John, and has raised his hand to his ear and jabbed the second button before John can stop him. "Hey, maybe you two can save the flirting for some time when someone's life isn't in danger."
"Lionel? What are you doing on this line?"
"How long have you been listening?"
"Did Harry finally bring you onto the team?"
"Fuck, how much have you guys heard?"
"I think they can hear everything, Sam."
"You all are a bunch of fucking pervs, shut off your damn link, Root."
"It's a bit late for-"
The line goes silent, and John and Finch grimace at each other, knowing there will be hell to pay when Shaw returns.
"Do they say that kind of stuff a lot?"
"Well, they enjoy what they do." John shrugs. Finch just raises an uncomfortable eyebrow, and Fusco stares disbelievingly between them.
"You people got problems."
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