The snow was falling in thick flurries of large wet flakes. It had been snowing off and on all day. The ground was piled three inches deep where the plows had been through, six inches where they hadn’t. The sidewalks and the street itself were crowded with children. Shaw jammed her gloved hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders. Kids were stupid. They had been when Shaw had been a kid and they still were (except Gen).
Root also had her hands in her pockets. She was watching the volleys of snowballs being lobbed from behind parked cars and garbage cans with her head tilted to the side like Bear when Reese was eating croissants.
“What, you never seen a snowball fight before?” Shaw demanded.
Root shook her head. “No snow in Texas. I never took gigs up North during the winter during my freelance days.”
Freelance days, huh? That was one word for it, Shaw supposed.
“Look, it’s easy,” Shaw said. Just because she hated every minute of the cold didn’t mean she hadn’t learned anything spending fourteen years of her life in Pennsylvania. She picked up two handfuls of the wet snow and mashed them together. “Little pressure here, keep it even across the mass. Snowball. Then you hurl that sucker like you’re trying to leave a bruise in dodgeball.”
Root made a high, girly squeak when the snowball hit her and exploded, dusting snow across her cheeks, sharp nose, and lashes.
Root immediately bent down to pick up snow.
“You really want to start this with me?” Shaw demanded. “I grew up in this bullshit.”
Root’s return fire dissipated harmlessly half-way across the distance.
“All right,” Shaw said grimly. “Your mistake.” Shaw packed and threw, packed and threw. She landed one more on Root’s shoulder, one to the hip, and third that knocked Root’s tam o’shanter off before Root figured out the structural integrity. Shaw blocked the projectile with her forearms, a cold blast of snow-shrapnel to the face.
Now that her opponent could fight back, Shaw had to pay attention to the terrain. She ducked behind cars and trash cans, dodging running kids as she lobbed volley after volley from cover. Root giggled as she changed position and shrieked when she was hit. The Machine was definitely helping Root cheat. Root wasn’t popping up out of cover to aim yet every single snowball struck Shaw in the shoulder or head. There was snow down Shaw’s back, around her collar, even under her shirt between her breasts.
Shaw scanned the rooflines for cameras and the windows for webcams, looking for a blindspot. Not that it would do much good – Contingency One included ditching phones. Even if The Machine couldn’t see her, it would know where she was from the gps locator. She couldn’t ditch her comm for a snowball fight.
Shaw pressed her lips together tightly as she pressed together another ball. What she needed was a trap. The two garbage cans at the end of the alley would do for making a choke point. Shaw lobbed her snowball in the direction of Root’s giggling and took off at a dead run.
Half-way there, the world went sideways. Shaw took the concrete on her left side hard enough to wind her.
It wasn’t even in the top five of hardest falls she’d taken, but it was definitely the most pointless. Shaw rolled over on her back.
“All right, I taught you the basics, I’m done,” Shaw announced. Ice under the snow. Winter was such garbage.
“So what next?” Root asked, stepping out from behind a red minivan.
“I make Harold send me to one of those fancy tropical islands only rich people can go to,” Shaw groused. Everything was cold and her hip hurt. Shaw rolled over again to push herself up off the ground. “Tall, Dark, and Brooding can manage freezing his dick off saving the helpless on his own for one weekend.”
“The Machine says that the customary follow-up to a snowball fight is cocoa,” Root countered, “and there’s a bar two blocks away that sells hot cocoa with peppermint vodka. My treat?” Root tilted her head slightly forward, widening her eyes and shaping her mouth into a moue.
It was so cute it was disgusting.
“Fine,” Shaw said, dusting the snow off her side and legs. “Just cut it out. And don’t think this means I like you, because I don’t. I’m just in it for the free booze.”
Root smiled like she didn’t believe Shaw at all.