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How Badly Did You Have To Break Her?

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*****

Shaw rested her head against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. She'd never been so fucking bored in her life, she almost missed the torture.

Footsteps from the hall drew her attention and she rolled her head towards the door just a little too quickly. Sharp pains shot through her as her incisions brushed the wall and she cursed her own stupidity for moving that way. The anesthesia had worn off hours earlier and she was feeling everything they'd done to her, but it just wouldn't do to let Greer see her so vulnerable.

Closing her eyes, she focused on her breathing and willed herself to pull it together and despite a pounding headache, Shaw was smiling when Greer finally opened the door.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Shaw."

"Greer."

He was carrying a tray but wasn't flanked by guards, suggesting this was going to be a friendlier conversation than their last one. Still, she watched him carefully until he was close enough for her to smell what was on the tray and then her eyes started to close...

God fucking love the man, he'd brought a steak and not just any steak, from the smell of it. Shaw could practically taste the butter it had been cooked in and her mouth watered so aggressively in response, she had to swallow before opening her eyes again. It was mind-blowing and damned if Shaw didn't feel her lips part just a little bit as she looked over towards it, absolutely certain she would kill for it.

Greer chuckled lightly to himself. "I'm glad you're enjoying my little gift, Ms. Shaw."

"Is this the new torture? Just letting me smell it?"

"That's hardly the gift I meant," he answered before looking up to her bandages.

"Oh, you mean the hole in the head? Yeah, thanks. I've been meaning to get one of those."

"So I've been told," he answered with a knowing look. Then he pulled a thin wire from his pocket and held it up for her to see. "You've had quite the death wish of late, but I thought this would benefit us both a little more."

Up until that moment, Shaw had guessed they'd taken something from her - not a lobotomy exactly, but Shaw knew there were very few reasons to drill into someone's head and none of them meant good news for her, but even still, she hadn't considered they might insert something.

"What the hell is that?" she asked cautiously.

"A neural transmitter."

Shaw watched him closely for another moment, looking for some hint that he was joking, but he regarded her steadily and Shaw realized for the first time she wasn't just a prisoner.

"Controlling everyone's lives isn't enough for you? You need to get inside their heads, too?" she asked.

"Come now, Ms. Shaw. Samaritan only wants to help," Greer answered. "We both know your brain has never functioned properly."

"Excuse me?"

"Your chemical responses are... deficient to say the least, but this little device will fix all of that. Or have you always derived that much pleasure from the smell of dinner?"

"You have no idea how much I enjoy a good steak."

"Hmm... I don't think you do either, frankly," Greer answered with a false smile. "The transmitter has already begun adjusting your brain's responses to stimuli - seratonin, dopamine, certain electrical impulses - in time, it will completely over take those functions and give you, for lack of a better term, a normal life."

"Gee thanks. You're a real gem," she said icily.

"You scoff, but in time, you will see what you've been missing and then you will thank Samaritan for its intervention."

"Yeah, I'm sure that's exactly what I'll be doing. Right after I put a bullet in you."

"Hmmm..." Greer acknowledged as he pocketed the transmitter and retrieved his phone. He tapped a few commands and then looked up to her. "Permanently altering your brain's chemistry will take time, but that is not all the transmitter can do."

Shaw didn't feel anything at first except the continued pounding of her headache, but then intense pain shot down her body as if every inch of her had been set on fire. She shut her eyes and clenched her jaw against it, but it wasn't long before she was screaming and only the restraints kept her from flailing to the floor.

After a few moments, the pain began to subside and Shaw struggled to get control. Her heart was pounding so rapidly she wasn't convinced it wouldn't seize, but when it finally slowed enough to ease her worry, she looked up to Greer.

"What the fuck was that?" she spat.

He gave his phone a little wave at her, as if something he'd done had just done that to her. "I irritated every nerve in your body."

"... the fuck does that mean?"

"Electrical impulses, my dear. The transmitter connects directly to your central nervous system and can therefore control any nerve in your body. Or, rather, I can," he said with another little wave of his phone. "With this, I'll never need to blindfold you, but simply interfere with your optic nerves. Try to run away and I'll simply cut off the impulses to your legs."

"Holy shit, Greer... have you actually gone insane?"

"Take that tone with me again and I'll make sure you lose the ability to access your vocal cords. Are we clear?"

Holy. Fuck.

Shaw clenched her jaw, but managed to stay quiet; she had no doubt he was good for that threat.

"Good," he continued. "Understand, Ms. Shaw, that Samaritan truly wants to help. Imagine what the world would be like if no one suffered the way you did. No ability to love, no ability to feel, no ability to experience the simple joys the rest of us find. Is it any wonder you became what you did? Samaritan could have spared you that life. "

"How about you spare me right now?" she asked quietly.

"The days of nation-states going to war are long over. The greatest threats we face today are defective individuals like yourself..."

"Defective...?"

"... working to create mayhem for their own reasons," he continued, ignoring her. "Samaritan, your Machine - both are able to detect planned events and give us the information we need to intercept. But ultimately, that means reactionary forces, soldiers, operatives... we put lives at risk in order to save lives at risk. Where is the efficiency in that? No, better than reacting to terrorist events would be preventing them before they're even conceived."

"And you think sticking a chip in someone's head is going to do that?"

"It might," Greer answered. "But we'll hardly know until its tested, which is where you come in, my dear."

"Chip in my head or not, call me 'dear' one more time and we'll see how that goes for you," she warned.

Greer huffed a short laugh. "Of course, Samaritan hardly expected you to be a docile guinea pig, which is why it gave me the failsafe. Are you really going to make it necessary that I use it?"

"Probably," she answered.

Shaw was a fighter. She wanted - needed - operatives and targets in the battle against Samaritan, or any battle, for that matter. Greer could do what he wanted to her - kill her even - and it would be fine with her because she'd still be her and go out on her terms. But if the neural transmitter could take away her will to fight, then that would destroy her far more completely than a bullet to the head ever could.

"Hmm...well, I do hope you'll reconsider," Greer continued. "Because the other thing this device allows me to control is the dopamine in your system. I can make your time here very pleasant indeed, if you earn such treatment."

"Fuck, Greer. This isn't something you actually think you can do, right? I mean you understand how crazy you sound?"

"Perhaps a demonstration, then." He tapped again on his phone and then stood up as if to leave. "Your system is about to produce dopamine at levels many addicts seek to achieve. You're going to enjoy it, which is the inherent beauty of the system. Once people understand what it does, they'll want it."

"We're not suddenly going to become friends because you push a couple of buttons - I don't care what your techs are telling you."

"Oh I hardly expect that we would. All I need you to understand is that I can give you pleasure or pain at the touch of a button. Consider it my punishment/reward system, Ms. Shaw. Obey my orders or don't as you wish," He picked up the tray and moved towards the door. "I'm curious to see which you will choose."

And then he was gone and Shaw knew her world was about to turn to crap. He hadn't even left her the steak.

***

That Shaw felt good was the only coherent thought she registered for days.

She forgot about the pain of her collapsed lung and bullet-shattered ribs. She forgot about the hole in her head and the burning line that ran from it to the base of her skull. She forgot about the deep gashes her binds had caused and about all the other injuries - new and old - that she'd accumulated.

They all disappeared in a bizarre fog of pleasant thoughts and happy dreams.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind Shaw understood what was happening to her. She knew she was stoned out of her mind and that Greer was responsible for it. She knew nothing she was feeling was real, per se; that it was an illusion and she was actively being drugged. Somewhere she even registered that dopamine alone probably wasn't enough to bring on these waves of pleasant feelings and that someone was probably slipping her something from time to time to manipulate her reactions. The fact she couldn't remember where she was or even if anyone else was ever in the room with her seemed irrelevant.

Bad things were happening to her and would continue to happen. She needed to escape...

But the back of her mind was where those thoughts stayed; at the front was just the knowledge that she felt good and she was in no rush to move from wherever she was.

Fucking Greer.

***

Shaw was vaguely aware of hands on her body, though she never seemed to register who's or what they were doing. Light and shadows changed and she was cold and then warm. She picked out words among the sounds that drifted around her, but all they ever seemed to do was lull her back to sleep. In fact, she felt like she could sleep forever until sudden, burning pain flared up her side and snapped her instantly awake.

She clenched her jaw against the pain until it subsided and then, head and heart pounding, rolled her head to see where she was.

She wasn't restrained, but they'd put her in fresh clothes and moved her to the floor of a shitty apartment somewhere. There was old vomit nearby and, judging from how she felt, she knew it was probably hers.

"Jesus..." she whispered; Greer had put her through one hell of a mindfuck.

"Good evening, Ms. Shaw, or perhaps good morning would be more appropriate for you," Greer's voice said in her ear.

"Don't tell me you want to play Charlie, now, Greer."

"I'm surprised you're even old enough to make that reference."

She rolled her eyes. "Where the fuck am I?"

"Step out onto to the roof and see for yourself."

She didn't want to; God... based on how she felt, Shaw wanted to stay on that horrible, vomit floor forever; everything hurt just too damn much to move. It was like she could feel every scar and break she'd ever had, and every nerve felt raw. Her head wanted to split open and as she pulled herself up into a sitting position, she could feel every joint scrape painfully into position.

Shaw drew a quick series of breaths to get oxygen to her sleepy brain and then pulled herself up to stumble towards the window which opened directly to the roof. Spotting the Empire State Building in the distance, she at least knew she was home in New York and, from its red and gold lights, that it was Chinese New Year.

"Kung hei fat choi," she muttered before stepping out onto the gravel and spotted a simple sniper's nest waiting for her at the far corner. "Subtle, Greer."

"I thought simplicity was best, given your state."

"Again, you're a gem."

She shuffled stiffly towards it and then lowered her aching body down to inspect the rifle, but pain sharp enough to steal her breath shot across her still-injured chest as she did. It didn't ease much as she settled, but she was better than that and willed herself to stay in control; Greer would get no more signs of weakness from her.

"Nice weapon, Greer. You gonna let me keep it?" she asked with tightly controlled breath.

"Perhaps; that largely depends on what you do with it."

"Tell me where you are and we'll see."

"In time, but I have something for you to do, first," he said. "Take a look through your scope and you'll see two individuals in the lot below. On the right is Harold Finch. On the left, a young girl, scared and alone, caught up in a situation she scarcely understands. Mr. Finch is actually trying to help her this very minute, another one of his precious numbers."

"And...?" she asked calmly even as her heart started to beat a little faster.

"I'd like you to kill one of them."

Shaw barked a laugh into the mic until the pain made her stop. "Your transmitter's not that good."

"Oh, it's perfectly good, but it's not going to make you do anything. This is a simple test of your motivations."

"Again, tell me where you are and I'll tell you all about my motivations," Shaw said, stalling for time while she searched the lot for the operatives she knew Greer had standing by.

"I'd prefer you show me," he answered. "It's a very simple test. Kill Finch and I will let you walk away, kill the girl and I will increase your pain ten-fold, refuse to do either and not only will I kill them both, I will detonate the transmitter and your pretty little head with it, after, that is, I fill you with so much pain, you'll relish the end."

"Wow, Greer... You really have gone all mad scientist on me," Shaw chuckled in response, hoping it masked the desperation she felt creeping up on her. She couldn't see the operatives, but she knew they were there, just as she knew Harold would die if she didn't find a way to save him.

"It's a simple choice, Ms. Shaw; make yours."

"You're going to kill us all anyway. Why the game?"

"You're so pessimistic. Do you think that's because you weren't loved enough as a child... or because you couldn't feel it?"

Everything in the world seemed to freeze at his words and an anger more intense than Shaw had ever known suddenly flooded her. She hadn't had the greatest childhood, but no one talked about it. It was her private hell and hers alone.

"Do you think your parents took it personally?" Greer continued through her silence. "Do you think they blamed themselves - or each other - when their daughter answered their 'I love you's' with a blank stare?"

"The fuck you know about it, Greer?" she warned dangerously, her heart pounding in her chest.

"Plenty. Do you think they ever wished they'd had a normal child? Having something so defective must have been tremendously disappointing."

"You know what's disappointing? Whatever the fuck this is, Greer? Do you honestly think..."

"My bet is your mother took it the hardest," he continued. "She risked so much to save you and... for what? To watch you reject her?"

"You shut up about my mother..." she spat. No one talked about her family...

"Reject everyone and everything she valued? Everything that she thought was beautiful?"

" I will find you, I swear to God..."

"I can only imagine the number of times she fell asleep, blaming herself, asking God what she'd done to deserve..."

Shaw sent a flurry of shots into the lot below, driving Harold and his number not only for cover, but out of the lot entirely. Maybe she shot the girl, maybe not; she didn't know and didn't care. All she could think about was Greer and ripping his fucking heart out...

"I will end you, Greer, so help me...I will fucking end you."

Greer chuckled through the comm. "You are so wonderfully predictable, Ms. Shaw; thank you. And now that you've made your choice, there are consequences."

Pain like from an axe to the head seemed to rip her skull apart and Shaw instantly collapsed against the roof. She clenched every muscle she could to try and mitigate the pain, but there was just nothing she could do to control it; it filled her whole world as if nothing but pain could exist for her.

She never even registered passing out until she woke with just the hangover-like ache of having been in acute pain.

She'd been moved to her cell and redressed, again - the clothes felt warm and comfortable against her skin, as if she'd been in them a while. Greer was waiting for her to wake, sitting primly at the foot of her bed, and she launched herself at him, instantly ready to rip out his throat. Heavy restraints pulled her back to the bed.

"Goddamn it, Greer," she spat with the halting speech of a severely dried mouth. "Your fucking games..."

"I told you; a choice, not a game."

"You also said you'd kill me, so I guess I called your bluff."

"Not exactly," he said. "I doubt you were even thinking about my choices when you pulled the trigger."

"Can you guess what I'm thinking about now?" she breathed through clenched teeth.

"Probably better than you, thanks to the transmitter. It gathered quite a bit of information today."

"Well you know what I learned?" she asked, ignoring him. "You're not going to kill me. This was just a game."

"Oh, I wouldn't draw that conclusion," he huffed. "I spared you because something very interesting happened. Do you recognize what it was?"

Shaw glared, but said nothing, and he smiled in response.

"I barely mentioned your parents and you lost all sense of control," he continued. "That tells me you know you're defective and have always known. You know you were a burden to your family, just as you are a burden to your team now. And I think that means you want Samaritan's help."

"What I want is to kill you and I will do that before this is done."

"I also doubt that, but you know who you will kill before this is done? Your own teammates."

She lashed out again even though the restraints dug deep enough into her wrists to draw blood. "I will not work for you."

"I don't need you to."

He held his tablet for her see and played surveillance footage of Finch and the girl from the lot walking through some kind of school. The girl was talking about Samaritan the way Root spoke about the Machine - trying to convince Harold to join them.

"The kid's with you," Shaw whispered.

"But if it makes you feel better, I didn't lie to you. Claire has great potential and Mr. Finch was trying to save her."

"What did you do to him?"

"See for yourself," he answered and then turned the tablet so they could both watch as Harold was escorted from the room by a group of operatives. The video stayed on the now-empty classroom, but a moment after Harold stepped out of view, the clear sound of gunshots rang out through the audio. With an exaggerated grimace, Greer shut off the feed and leveled his steady eyes on hers.

"You think you're clever. You think you can win my 'games,' but you are wrong. You will always do exactly as I wish because you are so remarkably predictable."

"I didn't see a body in that feed," Shaw said quietly, hoping it was all a trick and that she hadn't gotten Harold executed.

"If that helps you sleep tonight, my dear, then go ahead and hold on to that hope. Pretend this is another 'game.' And of course, I know you're in pain, so why don't I ease that for you. It'll no doubt make your dreams so much more... colorful," Greer said as he nodded and tapped on his phone. "We'll speak again in a few days time."

He walked away and Shaw slumped back against her restraints, feeling suddenly and inexplicably relaxed. She understood what was coming next - what Greer had just triggered in her - and wondered if she should bother fighting against it.

"Just kill me and get it over with," she pled.

"As much as I would like to, my dear, you have too much to offer," he said, turning to face her with an amused look. "You are my new favorite guinea pig and I have so much to learn from you."

"I'm not going to make it easy," she spat.

"I don't want you to. Everything the transmitter can do is hypothetical at this stage, so I am going to test the full range of its capabilities and limitations; all I need from you are your reactions." With a final smile, he turned to leave. "Good night, Ms. Shaw. Take comfort knowing that Mr. Finch is in a better place."

An unfamiliar pressure started to build behind her eyes and Shaw clenched them even tighter to push it away. "There was no body in that feed," she whispered to herself as she waited to feel 'better.'

***

She dreamed of her father's funeral and all the crying women who'd stared at her while she sat in her pretty dress and wondered if they'd be home in time for Walker: Texas Ranger.

Harold was there as well, sitting alone in the corner. He wouldn't look at her.

***

Good moments and bad were how Shaw registered the passage of time; they were the only measure she had. There were no windows and she had no watch, just a cold, dark room to contain her. Food was delivered at intervals she couldn't determine and more than once she woke to find she'd been bathed and dressed in new clothes. She lost unknown amounts of time - likely days - to that blissful haze of pain-free dreaming, but she lost even more time to experiences far less pleasant.

Greer's visits always heralded new games she could never quite win. There were always choices and she always made the wrong ones.

Even still, they were better than Martine's visits. She played no games, only asked her questions - always about Root. That Shaw didn't answer at first was because of her training but in time, was because the pain Martine wrought often left her unable to form any words at all. Otherwise, there were a few times she was sure she would have said something...because it wasn't just pain; Shaw could endure pain. Rather, it was knowing that when her near infinite stretch of time with Martine finally ended, the transmitter would take over and plunge Shaw into a dark mental place that made the pain seem permanent and endless.

At least, that was what Shaw assumed was happening; she really had no idea how to describe it other than 'it felt bad.' It wasn't something she'd ever experienced before and so, had built no defenses against. She didn't know how to fight it.

But thankfully, Greer's visits grew less frequent as the days turned into weeks. At one point, he assured her that he'd returned her 'levels' to normal - whatever the fuck that meant - and though she did feel better from time to time, nothing shook the memories of what she'd thought or felt during those long days.

Even weeks later, when good behavior earned her some slack on the leash, her thoughts drifted back to Harold and the team. She wondered where John and Root were, what they were doing, and how. She wondered if they still got numbers or if the Machine was shielding them. She wondered if Bear missed her. She wondered if any of them did.

She wondered when she'd ever again close her eyes and not see Harold sitting alone in the dark.

***

Shaw was still waking from her first genuine set of actual nightmares when she found her situation unexpectedly improving. They'd moved her to a new room, restrained her, and connected the requisite groups of monitors and needles that were the hallmarks of all new experiments, but then... they left her alone. No Martine, no questions, just a large monitor at the foot of her bed.

She spent the next several days tied to that bed with nothing to do but stare at the monitor and the randomly flashing words it projected. A tiny ticking clock in the bottom corner kept her focused - if she looked away, it would tick down from twenty and then the transmitter would fill her world with pain. Every twenty seconds for days.

Living with Root had taught her to zone out pretty easily, though, so she kept her eyes on the monitor and let her mind drift where it wanted, hoping this ridiculous new game would eventually end. It wasn't like the words were that concerning, anyway. They were just random things like 'frequency' or 'pneumatic,' interspersed with words like 'obey' or 'comply.' Sometimes it didn't flash words at all, but strings of numbers or code.

It wasn't hard for Shaw to figure they were priming her to talk about communication systems; after all, how Root communicated with the Machine was all Martine ever wanted to know. But tired and bored as she was, she knew the situation was far better than it could have been. It even proved occasionally pleasant, like whenever the monitor flashed 'cochlear,' and her mind drifted to think about Root and all the stupid antics they'd gotten up to together...

"That's ten for ten," a tech she'd barely even noticed said into a comm. "That's a significant hit on 'cochlear.'

"What?" Shaw blurted, suddenly realizing her sleepy brain wasn't processing what was happening.

'Cochlear implant... interesting," Martine said when she stepped into the room a few moments later.

Shaw squirmed against her bonds, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. "What are you talking about?"

"You just gave away your girlfriend."

"I didn't say anything."

"You didn't have to," Martine continued. "You recognized all of the systems we showed, but you had a sustained fondness for one. That speaks volumes."

"How can you..." Shaw started to ask before shutting her mouth; she could guess the answer...

"Yes, Sameen. The transmitter registers your responses to stimuli. It gave you away and it will every time we need it to."

'Son of a bitch...' Shaw thought as she felt herself start to panic. Had she really just gotten a second member of her team exposed? And this time, just by thinking about her? Motherfucker...

She couldn't let that happen; not again. She picked her moment after Martine left - when the tech loosened a restraint to retrieve his needle - and smashed his head into the bed's metal bar. Pulling her other arm free, she lifted the phone from his jacket pocket and called her own cell number knowing it was the only one still guaranteed to be active, if she knew Root at all.

"Hello?"

"Root? Are you there? It's me. I need your help..." But that was all Shaw managed to say before pain ripped through her like the entire side of her body was collapsing in on itself.

"No... Root.... Root..." she struggled to say, not knowing if the phone was still there or the line still connected or if the sounds she was making were even actual words. Like every pain Martine caused, it was terror-inducing for its speed and debilitating effect and she only just managed to miss crashing into machines on her way to the floor.

"You only go where I decide," Shaw heard Martine say from the hall before strong hands hauled her up. "Take her to the van."

They held her hands and marched her to the elevator before Martine released her from the pain. "If I don't kill you, Root will," Shaw said between still-clenched teeth.

"We'll all just hold our breath, then," Martine answered before jamming a needle into Shaw's neck and replacing her pain with a dizzying, nauseating wave of brain-melting confusion. She was outside and driving away in a van before she even realized she'd left the elevator.

Rolling her heavy head to look out the window, she watched as city roads transitioned to snowy woods and felt a chill settle over her; she could guess where they were heading. Now that Samaritan had what it needed, she was destined for an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere, like so many other captured operatives the world around.

When they eventually rolled to a stop, she wondered if she could summon as much dignity as Harold when she faced her own executioner... but then figured probably not; she was no gentleman.

She lashed out the moment they undid her cuffs from the door and she tackled the guard to the ground. After snapping his neck she pulled his pistol and dropped the other guard before rolling under the van for cover. A quick shot struck the driver's ankle and another took his knee when he fell. She rolled out, finished him, and started searching for his van keys when a shot rang out from the woods and knocked her back against the van.

Defensively, she fired a pair of shots in the direction of the shooter, but she couldn't see anyone to target, so she scrambled back under the van for cover and keeping the pistol level, searched the trees for any sign of movement. Seeing nothing, she strained to listen for movement and after a moment, caught the quiet whir of a motor and realized she'd been shot by an automatic sentry in the middle of the damn woods. Clearly, this wasn't just some random unmarked grave they'd taken her to.

Scrambling back to the other side of the van, she planned to get back in through the passenger side and maybe hotwire the thing rather than risk searching for keys and taking another hit - she was already bleeding enough to be concerned, as it was - but no sooner had she emerged, then she heard the creaking sound of a metal door opening. She turned to face it, but had barely enough time to register the square hole that had opened in the earth before a heavy weight struck her in the face and she hurtled back into the snow.

Two guards quickly stepped out of a bunker and rolled her to secure her hands. Then one jammed a taser into her neck, which she was pretty sure was a completely unnecessary move - the beanbag shot to the face (and the broken nose and likely concussion it caused) having already taken the fight out of her.

She was dragged unceremoniously into the bunker and down a surprisingly long corridor to an empty cell. They cuffed her hands to the wall and her ankles to a ring in the floor and left to collect their men. It was hours before they returned to dress her wounds and days before she saw anyone after that.

Which was fine with her. She'd needed a few days to stop vomiting and seizing anyway. Who wanted an audience for that? Fuck them; she was fine.

***

Shaw could have lived with the cold, uncomfortable cell and the basic ration supply that came every few days. She wasn't bothered peeing in a bucket or watching the spiders make new homes along the walls. She wouldn't have even minded the numbness that came when she forgot to stretch every so often or how sore her ass was becoming thanks to the rough-poured concrete floor. She could have lived with all of that (and more) for days or weeks or however long they'd wanted to keep her there because she was a god damn Marine and shit like that didn't bother her.

No, it was the quiet that was killing her.

She felt it like a physical pressure against her skin that she couldn't escape no matter what she did. Worse, the longer she was up against it, the harder it became to control her own thoughts.

She thought about Root a lot and hoped to God she was ok. Shaw figured she probably was - no one was as resourceful as that crazy woman and Shaw knew it would take a far more elaborate trap than Harold's to grab her. But still... she didn't know and that ate at her.

And inevitably those thoughts turned to Harold and what a trusting soul he had been, for such a paranoid recluse. The girl's double cross must have come as a hell of surprise to him. He'd wanted so desperately to believe in people it probably never even occurred to him she might be a mole.

He'd been more careful when she'd first met him, but they had become friends - family even, after a fashion - and he'd learned to care about her despite having every reason not to. And goddamn it if learning to open himself up like that to strangers was what had gotten him killed.

Was that Shaw's fault? Did she help break down his walls? Did she make him vulnerable?

It had killed her to watch how he'd seemed to straighten just a little before being marched to his death. The video had been quick, but Shaw was sure he'd brushed down his jacket to make himself more presentable for the firing squad. It had been such a tragic gesture and just so... Harold. No matter how dire the situation, he'd made sure to look his best because he was a god damned gentleman, even at the end.

In an odd way, that thought brought her comfort; Harold had gone out on his own terms, full of dignity and respect. If he'd had to go out, she was glad it'd been like that.

But that comfort never lasted. Too often, Shaw fell asleep wondering what the odds were that someone like Harold would have ever given a rat's ass about someone like her, let alone trusted her with his life. She wondered, too, what the odds were that someone like her would have given a rat's about him in return.

And knowing everything she was capable of doing, she wondered what the odds were she would have failed him in the moment he'd needed her most.

Shaw had done a lot of fucked up shit in her life, but for some reason, as she lay there alone in the dark, she was pretty sure failing Harold had been the worst of it and that single thought tortured her far more viciously than Martine ever could.

***

We're inside a sleeping giant, Shaw. Try not to wake it up...

Shaw was startled awake one morning and found Greer standing in the doorway of her cell. From the look on his face, something big had crawled up his ass and was ruining his day.

"You're going on a trip. Clean yourself up," was all he said. He gave her clean clothes, but no new information until she was on a jet and en route.

Alexander Mitvenyenko was an old ghost from her time with the ISA. He was a shadowy terrorist, content to run his network from behind the scenes. Every agency wanted him dead but before they could do that, they needed to know exactly who he was and what he looked like.

Shaw had gotten close a few years earlier when 'Research' had tracked his online activity to Minsk. A pair of bullets and a well-timed IED stopped her from taking him out, but to her knowledge, Shaw was the only operative alive who had ever gotten close enough to see him.

So as Shaw sat on the shore of Lake Michigan, cursing whatever idiot had decided to build a city on a lake that froze in 'warm' winters, she understood why Greer had been so pissy that morning. He may have wanted her for a guinea pig, but Samaritan needed her for something else.

A quiet beep pulled her attention to the phone she'd been given - her interface with Samaritan. It reminded her the bus Mitvenyenko was believed on should pull up to the stop in moments. Shaw wasn't armed, but her task wasn't to take him; other operatives stood by for that. All she needed to do was watch as everyone stepped off the bus - if she recognized him, the transmitter would register that and alert the operatives. All she had to do was look at the man to get him killed.

It was fucked up and boring, but at least it got her some fresh air. And coffee. And every liquor bottle that stupid plane had stashed. So she sat and waited like a good little prisoner.

The bus jolted to a stop and passengers began exiting. Shaw watched with as little interest as she could manage; she wasn't even sure she'd remember what Mitvenyenko looked like since the IED had knocked her clean out for three days and hadn't left her able to give much of a description at the time. But again, fresh air and liquor was worth a look.

But then a tall, skinny woman stepped off the bus and Shaw felt her breath catch in her throat.

Her hair was tucked up beneath a Cubs hat and her face partially concealed by a scarf, but it was definitely her. Despite the calm she'd had just moments ago, Shaw felt her heart start to race. Root was alive and only a few hundred feet away. Maybe she was chasing a number, maybe she was after Mitvenyenko too, or maybe... maybe she knew Shaw was there...

Shots rang out and the passengers took cover, running up the way and from the bus. On instinct, Shaw dropped and looked for the shooter. She spotted one of her handlers from the plane walking briskly away, pausing only to drop his gun in a trash bin. When Shaw looked back to the bus, the man who'd been standing just in front of Root was prone on the ground and Root was nowhere to be seen.

A quiet beep pulled her eyes back to her phone.

^Thank

^You

^Return

^To

^Airfield

'Fuck,' Shaw thought to herself. Did Samaritan think she'd recognized the man? Did seeing Root get some random guy killed? She started running towards the body hoping to see the face and at least know if the right man had been killed, but sudden pain shot through her body and overwhelmed her. She fell to the ground and seized. It was over almost as quickly as it had started, but Shaw was stunned by the intensity after going so long without that kind of pain and didn't react much when her two handlers hauled her away to the waiting car.

She strained her neck to look over them, searching for Root, but Shaw saw only random faces among the frightened crowd. She continued to search from the window as they drove away, but there was no sign of the woman.

Even as the plane took off, Shaw sat tensed and waiting for something to happen. She kept expecting Root to show - maybe disguised as the pilot or stewardess. Hell, maybe the woman had taken over the airfield tower and was going to find a way to ground them...

But as the plane reached altitude, Shaw was forced to accept that no rescue was coming. Maybe Root hadn't seen her after all because Shaw reasoned that crazy woman would have blown up half the airfield to get her if she had.

Slumping into her chair, Shaw realized she'd missed an opportunity. Transmitter or not, threat of detonation or not... she should have done something different. God damn if Greer hadn't turned her into a complacent prisoner already.

Shaw found the restocked liquor and cursed Greer until she could no longer remember how to form coherent words.

Then she tried to take the plane.

***

"It was a smart plan, Ms. Shaw," Greer acknowledged. "The alcohol slowed your response time and therefore, the transmitter's. But the key in all of that, I'm afraid, was that it slowed your response time. Did you honestly think you could take a plane full of trained operatives under such conditions?"

Shaw shrugged rather than answer, but she quickly regretted that small effort, as it proved too much for her broken, restrained, hung-over body. She felt herself slumping slowly along the wall where she'd been propped and realized she just didn't have the energy to make herself stop. When her head finally hit the floor, she closed her eyes and simply listened as Greer paced towards her.

"I've been too kind, I see that now," he began as he lowered himself into a squat before her. "I gave you too many nice things; a warm room, good food... none of those things were strictly necessary for testing."

"Yeah," Shaw slurred. "You really fucked up rolling out the red carpet."

"Indeed, and in light of that, I've asked Samaritan to determine your minimal needs and make the appropriate accommodations. You will be moved to your new living space shortly and then the techs will resume their work." Greer stood and started walking back towards the door. "I would like to say I hope you survive it, Ms. Shaw, but frankly... I have enough data from you now and I just don't care."

Shaw huffed a laugh at his attempt to make her feel bad or whatever that overly-dramatic comment had been. "I'm sure you don't, Greer."

Drunk or not, Shaw knew she'd come damn close to taking that plane. The fact that she was still alive meant she was too valuable to kill and that meant escape was still possible; she would just have to find her moment.

Greer huffed a laugh of his own as he paused by the door. "Before you get any ideas, Ms. Shaw, please remember that Samaritan was designed to detect intent and thanks to your transmitter, there is perhaps no one on the planet from whom that is easier to detect than you. You will remain in this facility, not because it is the most secure, but because we will know your intent the moment you do, and we will react accordingly. How is that for 'dramatic?'"

His words hung in the air long after he'd gone as Shaw considered exactly what that meant for her. When she finally lost consciousness, it was with a single thought rattling around in her brain - that no matter how she sliced it, she was fucked.

***

Things were changing for Shaw and there wasn't a god damned thing she could do about it.

She realized it for the first time when she woke with tears on her cheek. She didn't even realize they were tears, at first, but her cell had no pipes to leak on her nor windows to let in rain, it was far too damn cold to be humid and she'd reluctantly drained the last of her water ration the night before; there was just no other possibility than the most absurd one - that she'd been crying in her sleep.

Shaw couldn't remember ever crying before; it just wasn't something that she did. Even as a child, she'd sat feet from her father's burned and mangled corpse and eaten a sandwich with dry eyes because, as the never ending string of child therapists had told her, she just wasn't capable of producing such things as tears. She'd never believed them - never thought much about them at all, in fact - but now she was thinking about them a lot and somehow as a result, it made feeling those tears against her cheek seem even more alien and frightening than the fact a malevolent AI was creating them through a chip in her brain.

She sat quietly for a long while and thought about what it all meant for her now. Obviously, Greer's threat to alter her brain's chemistry was coming to pass and there wasn't anything about that that could be good news for Shaw.

But what made it even worse was that she just couldn't understand what had triggered those tears. She hadn't been dreaming about her father or anything - that was something that, at least clinically speaking, she was supposed to cry over. No, she'd been dreaming of Root.

Not Root, specifically... but Root had been there. Shaw had dreamed of being in the subway station, handcuffed to the bench, but eating a sandwich and enjoying every last fragrant drop of Siracha as it touched her tongue. She'd closed her eyes to enjoy the burn and when she opened them again, Root was beside her, staring with hungry eyes and a wry smile.

"It's mine," Shaw had said through a full mouth.

"Of course, sweetie. I would never deny you that much pleasure. I would never deny you anything else, either," Root had added with a wink that made Shaw roll her eyes.

There had been more to the dream than just that, though that was what Shaw seemed to remember most vividly. Harold, John and Bear had all been there, laughing and barking, respectively. The Team had saved someone and they were winning the war, for once. When Root leaned in to steal a brazen kiss between bites, Shaw hadn't even minded because everything felt just so damn right.

What the hell was there to cry over in that?

Shaw shook her head at the absurdity of her situation and curled back into a ball to conserve warmth. She was definitely fucked.

***

"Hey sweetie. You busy?"

"A little..."

Crawling through fifty yards of air ducts hadn't been a problem for Shaw, but she wasn't going to get the team back out that way. The boys were a mess and Root had that look she got when things were about to go sideways. And as fun to watch as that might normally be, Shaw had a job to do.

She had them on their way and into the elevator before Martine had made it to the hall because Martine was a fucking amateur.

But the elevator didn't work and it wasn't going to - of course not, because that was their luck of late. Harold could hit that button all day long, but they weren't going to move. That wasn't how Fate worked for Team Machine.

As far as situations went, it was pretty dire, but 'dire' was Shaw's specialty. There was an override button across the way and all she had to do was get to it and then hold off Samaritan's operatives long enough for the Team to get away.

The operatives were moving in and Shaw knew getting to that button was going to hurt, but that was the job. Pain had never been a problem for her...

She started to move, but Root held her back. "Sameen, if you even think I'm gonna let you..."

"Oh for God's sakes..."

For a smart woman, Root could be pretty stupid sometimes. Like Shaw would ever let Root walk out there instead of her. There wasn't a scenario in existence where that happened while Shaw still drew breath.

Didn't she get that? Didn't she understand what she was?

And even if she didn't understand - because again, she could be pretty stupid sometimes - couldn't she see what they would do to her?

Yes, she was good with a gun - even better with two, maybe even as good as Shaw - so yeah, maybe Root could get to the button and maybe she could hold off Samaritan's goons as long as Shaw could... but then what? Samaritan wasn't going to kill her - she was far too valuable for that. No, they would torture her and they would break her.

And Shaw would die before she would let that happen.

But Root just didn't get that, did she? She was going to do something stupid because she always did something stupid, something emotional. She'd pull a taser or a needle or a knife or something and once again, Shaw would find herself on the floor watching Root save the day without ever once thinking about what she should have done instead.

God, she'd love the woman if she wasn't so fucking stupid. It was Shaw's job to save the day and Root's job to survive. Why didn't she get that?

So Shaw kissed her. It was ugly and brutish - more teeth than tongue - but it shut her up, shut her down, and reminded her who she was.

And who Shaw was and why this had to be.

That kiss still tingling on her lips, Shat hit the button and took the shots and fell with Root's scream ringing in her ears, hoping it would mask the final gunshot she expected as she lay there looking up at Martine.

Root would live; that was enough. Shaw had no regrets and she wasn't scared. She'd said her goodbye and this was a good end.

...Except it didn't end.

And Shaw was no longer near that elevator...

Root's voice from different days and different jobs, drifted around her while she waited for the end, any end. "While you might not be scared what could happen to you the next time, other people are. People who care for you. Try to remember that..."

"I know, Root, I know. That's why I did it... Don't you get that?"

"Get what, Ms. Shaw?"

Greer's voice snapped her from her dream and Shaw struggled to look up to where he was standing in the doorway at the top of the stairs. Ever so slowly, she remembered where she was and why.

She'd escaped again and this time made it as far as the stairwell before Greer had cut off all feeling to her limbs and she'd crashed heavily down the flight. Then, she'd been left there, exactly as she'd fallen.

How long ago had that been? Her throat was so dry it hurt while other parts of her were wet, though from blood or something else she couldn't say, as she couldn't see or move from where she was.

That probably meant days, then. Bastard. After leaving her for that much time, he'd just had to ruin a good dream. Shaw just wasn't catching any breaks these days.

"You're not going to escape, Ms. Shaw. We've been over this."

"And you're not going to kill me," she struggled to say back. "We've been over that, too."

"I hardly think we're at stalemate yet. Perhaps a little more time on the stairs will help us reach that."

"Whatever..." Shaw mumbled as she closed her eyes. She didn't care what Greer wanted, she just wanted to get back to Root; Shaw felt warm, there.

So she let her mind drift back...

'Hey sweetie. You busy?'

'A little...'

***

Everyone has a breaking point. Some people like to pretend otherwise, like you can survive torture if you're somehow 'tough' enough, but the simple reality is that everyone breaks; the only variables are time and reason.

For Shaw, it wasn't pain or whatever that creeping feeling she kept having was (maybe it was loneliness? or at least something equally fucking stupid). No, for Shaw it was the simple idea that too much time had passed. It was days, weeks, (months?) since Chicago and there was just no getting around the fact that Shaw was soobviously on her own.

The Team wasn't coming - they probably weren't even looking for her any more, if they ever had been at all.

She'd tried to escape one more time since the stairwell, but a bullet to the gut had left her unwilling to try again. That Greer hadn't just paralyzed her like before meant he was less interested in whether or not she survived, yet the fact she was alive at all suggested he wasn't quite ready to kill her, either. Still.

It made her think about the lab animals they'd had in med school - kept alive, not because they were actively useful, but just in case they became so. They'd lived miserable, after-thoughts of lives with nothing to look forward to but pain and death and Shaw failed to see how her situation was any different. She couldn't run and, if she was being honest, she didn't want to anymore.

It had to be the transmitter changing the way she looked at her situation, right? Otherwise, it meant they'd broken her.

And there was nothing left.

But for some reason, while she struggled to keep warm in the quiet confines of her dark cell, as she watched her hair grow longer and her ribs more pronounced, as she endured their tests and counted the days, she found herself still thinking about Root... and that kept her going. She started to look forward to the times when she'd disappear into her mind and see Root's smile or hear her laughter and let that keep her company. In a weird way, it made her stop looking for a way to end things; she had no illusions that a good life was waiting for her on the other side. If she held on, though, at least she had Root.

Yeah... she was definitely broken.

***

Shaw knew it was another dream, but didn't care.

Good morning, sweetie...

Opening her eyes she let her vision be filled with Root's broadening smile from the pillow beside her.

"Good morning," Shaw answered. "If we can even call it that. I think it's well into the afternoon, by now."

Root leaned in and kissed her deeply enough to make warmth start to spread through Shaw's middle, the way it always did when Root came to visit.

"Well... I think we earned the right to sleep in after last time, don't you think?" Root asked.

Nodding, Shaw pulled her close so the taller woman's body could wrap more fully around her own. "I'm cold," Shaw whispered to her.

Root smiled in that mischievous way Shaw was growing to love. "Then I'll keep you warm, sweetie..."

And Shaw was warm again.

***

Shaw was genuinely startled to find the Man In Charge operative talking to her one morning. He asked her curt questions and she found she had to actually think about her answers before making them, which wasn't like her. She felt slow and stupid, like her whole brain was in remote storage. Whatever he was looking for, he didn't find it in her answers. He stormed away and she thought nothing more about it until he woke her roughly one morning and got her ready for another plane ride.

The target this time had no name and for some reason, they were convinced Shaw knew him. She didn't roll her eyes while they briefed her this time; she just sat still and listened while trying to remember anything about the mission they were talking about.

The target worked for Chinese intelligence and, like many of their high ranking operatives, had been completely stripped of his identity. The problem for Samaritan therefore, was not just finding an unknown man, but identifying the correct one. Shaw had (apparently) put a few bullets in him when they'd crossed paths in Taipei and because of that, was once again the only person alive to know what the target looked like. That Shaw had no memory of this didn't seem to faze them. Their files told them otherwise and it was obvious they assumed she was lying.

That was fine with her. The plane's cabin was larger than any room she'd been in a while and the chairs were infinitely more comfortable. Her escape attempts had cost her slack on the leash this time, though. There was no liquor to be found and after they landed, she was kept handcuffed and locked in the van until everyone was ready to move. They didn't even stop to get food along the way, so clearly, everything was going to suck this time around, but at least she was out and the ride gave Shaw a chance to see her city one more time. It was oddly, disturbingly emotional and she found she just couldn't tear her eyes away from the window. As the garbage and graffiti of the highway gradually gave way to neighborhoods of brownstones and flowerboxes, she felt the knot in her chest tighten, like it had become physically painful to be this close to home yet kept so far from it.

It felt pathetic and she hated herself for it.

They wove their way through the city and out to a quiet spot in Gowanus. They parked a little ways from an old warehouse and Shaw was told to watch the doors until the target made his appearance, but hours in the van later without so much as a single pedestrian catching their eye, it became obvious to Shaw that something was wrong. The Man In Charge kept checking his phone and the operatives in the back started fidgeting more than was becoming of well-trained henchmen.

"I gotta pee," Shaw said after a while - more to test the Man's frustration level than to seek any kind of permission.

"I told you to keep quiet," he answered.

"Well, I still gotta pee."

He tapped his phone and the pain in her head swelled in response, but that kind of experience was becoming familiar enough that she'd learned how to roll with it without losing consciousness. Gritting her teeth, she struggled to control her breathing and make the pain manageable enough to wait him out until he released her. It seemed this wasn't to be a quick reprimand, though. He kept the pain level high as he leaned in closer to her ear.

"I know you think you're some kind of hot shit and we're just here to babysit you, but they have everything they need from you now. The only reason you're still alive is because this mission came up and Samaritan thought you could make it easier for us, so just sit there and watch the fucking door."

It was a full minute before he released her and only then because one of the operatives commented she was starting to seize. It was a real dick move that told her this asshole cared so little about her well-being, she probably wasn't supposed to survive the trip.

Good to know.

After another few minutes staring at his phone, he seemed to reluctantly accept whatever order he'd been given. "We're going in," he said to the operatives. "Get her ready."

An operative from the back pulled her out the door and forced her to her knees while another operative kept a gun trained to her head. The other three conferred with the Man behind them.

"I don't like this; something's not right," he told them. "Call in a second team."

"Is that necessary?" an operative challenged.

"Did I stutter? Call it in," he answered and then joined Shaw's men at the front and handed one his phone. "Take this and get a rifle; get up on that roof and give us eyes. If she recognizes the mark, tell me over the comm. If something happens, drop her."

Shaw watched him shuffle off, taking her last hope of escape with him. She'd started to accept that she was going to die in that warehouse, but she'd held a kind of hope that she might be able to jump the Man and if not get his phone, at least try to take him out with her. But with the phone in another building and eyes always on her, she knew she'd be dropped before she could even get him to the ground.

An odd sense of finality settled over her as she realized that. Before then, she'd never actually wondered what it would feel like when her time was up. That seemed odd to her now, given her line of work, but it had just never crossed her mind. She'd taken lives and knew quite well what the end looked like, but... what it felt like to face it? That was something she wasn't prepared for. It felt cold and quiet and as though the wide blue sky above was no different than the dark confines of her lonely cell. In that moment she understood Greer's final torture - allowing her to finally feel hope by taking it away.

Asshole.

They waited until a second team rolled up and then the Man gave his orders on positioning - he would take Shaw on point, the rest of the team would breach with them, and the second team would hold back to keep watch or render assistance.

Shaw thought it was a bit dramatic for a single target, but then again, she wasn't thinking about survival. Instead, she was starting to hope it actually was a trap; at least that way, she might go out fighting.

The Man lifted her to her feet, ziptied her hands behind her back, and marched her across the street. Keeping one hand on her collar and the other on the pistol at her back, he had her clear the door.

There was some kind of stand-alone office in the back corner and Shaw could just make out the silhouette of someone inside, but there was nothing else in the space except the steel support pillars. No reaction teams, or armed goons, not even a minimum wage rent-a-guard - just nothing - and Shaw sighed as she realized she'd be denied even a final fight.

What a fucking waste this whole thing had been.

The Man shoved her to get her moving and she shuffled along, leading him towards the back office. She didn't see the point in moving quietly or tactically or in making his job any easier. She noted a camera or two on the pillars and listened with complete disinterest to the Chinese conversation coming from the office. It wasn't her strongest language anyway and she made no attempt to try and translate. She even wondered if the Chinese might want to take her in to custody if any of them survived this - and wouldn't that be a kick to the head?

But then Shaw caught a Chinese phrase she understood and would have known anywhere... and she froze.

Months earlier, in what seemed like a lifetime before, Shaw had been stuck babysitting Root while she recovered from a nasty head wound. Shaw had passed the time with takeout and a kung fu movie marathon, which had amused Root to no end. She'd laughed at the ridiculous over-dramatics, mocked the poor battle tactics, and in a bid to impress Shaw (or whatever), had started correcting the subtitled translations. Shaw had done as she always did with Root - tuned her out as best she could and rolled her eyes to keep from throttling her.

But when it came to Come Drink With Me, Shaw's patience ran out; it was her favorite of the films and the reason she'd started watching the marathon in the first place. She'd seen it countless times and had memorized most of the Chinese dialogue, so when Root started to talk over it, Shaw loudly recited it in time with the actors. She'd hoped it would make her point and get Root to shut up for once - and it had worked - just not the way she'd expected it. Root had been absolutely delighted by it and had stared at Shaw with a growing smile before quietly promising something in a dialect Shaw didn't recognize.

Root had refused to translate and Shaw had never cared enough to figure it out. Shaw had dismissed it - and Root - at the time by telling herself it was just another in a long list of come-ons, but she never really believed that; there had been something about the serious way Root had watched her while she'd said it that solidified the moment in Shaw's mind and told her it was obviously something more, like a promise or a vow that Root would never break.

So when Shaw heard the words coming from the warehouse office and recognized them as a recording of that scene, she knew in an instant Root was there - for her - and then everything changed. She looked again to the silhouette and realized it hadn't moved since they'd arrived. Then she looked to one of the security cameras, spotted familiar wires in the back, and realized Root had rigged them to loop the feed, which meant Samaritan had no eyes in the warehouse.

Her heart started to beat harder and she was overwhelmed to so suddenly, actually, feel hope.

"She's recognized something," came the tinny voice over the comm.

"Fire," the Man ordered in response. He pulled the gun off her back and started shooting at the office window just as automatic gun fire erupted from behind them. Shaw could only assume Root was inside and realized she had seconds (if that) to save her friend, so she dropped her shoulder and spun her hips like a wrestler, turned on him, and landed a few quick knee strikes to his gut. He faltered just enough for her to leverage his hold still on her collar and brought her knee up again to land a sickening-sounding strike to his face.

Shaw was sure he was unconscious before he hit the ground and by that time, she'd already begun moving towards the nearest pillar. She quickly rubbed her wrists against it, ignoring how it cut her skin and focusing only on how it cut the ties; when they snapped, she ducked for cover just as a sniper's bullet ricocheted off the pillar above.

Shaw risked a glance to see how closely the other operatives had gotten to her in the fight, only to see them prone on the warehouse floor amid puddles of blood. A flash of movement caught her eye and she spotted Root moving quickly down a string ladder tied to the rafters near the entrance, but before she could call out, familiar pain burned through her body and she knew the sniper had triggered her transmitter. Collapsing in a heap, she tried to fight it, to stay conscious and not seize. She tried every trick and control she'd taught herself, but the pain only swelled and she was left with barely enough control to even breathe.

The Man stumbled heavily toward her, grabbed her around the neck and got the pistol to her head.

"I will blow her head clean off!" he shouted to Root, who Shaw watched take cover behind a pillar.

"I can't imagine that'll go well for you," Root answered with chilling calmness.

The sniper kept up a steady firing pattern that left Root pinned behind the pillar and allowed the second team to breach the door. She kept them at bay, but they were quickly flanking her and it was only a matter of time before she'd be overwhelmed.

Shaw fought to stay conscious against the pain which had quickly escalated to the worst she'd ever experienced - like a firebrand jammed into her brain. She could feel blood dripping from her nose and knew it would kill her if she couldn't make it stop, but her only actual concern in that moment was getting Root out before they killed her, too. Throwing her head back with all her strength, Shaw cracked the Man's teeth and forced him to stumble back. Then she reached for the gun - fumbling blindly to get her hands on his hands, her fingers on the trigger. It was everything she could do to hold on and as he pulled the trigger, she forced his aim away from Root and towards the operatives.

"Drop her!" he shouted into the comm and a second later, her world went white with a pain so intense, it left her too weak to hold her own weight. Gun fire rang out all around her with such deafening intenseness, she was certain an entire militia must have appeared from the shadows, but when she managed the Herculean task of opening her eyes, all she saw were dead operatives and Root moving steadily towards her.

The Man got his hand around Shaw's throat, lifted, and held the gun to her head as he started frantically dragging Shaw back towards the office. "Take her down!" he shouted into the comms. A second later, a flurry of sniper bullets pinged off the pillar Root crouched behind, but Root didn't seem fazed. She pulled her phone, tapped something, and then turned to look at Shaw as the building across the way - and the sniper's nest upon it - exploded with a massive fireball that shook the ground and almost cost the Man his grip, but he reached the office door and tossed her inside before turning back to fire at Root.

As Shaw spun into the room, she had just enough time to make out the words

                Duck

                Sweetie

                xo ♥ :)

scrawled on the wall and flung herself to the ground. When the Man backed into the room and slammed the door, it sparked the trigger to the claymore mines tacked to the wall and they ripped him and the office to shreds.

Between the force of the explosion and the firebrand in her brain, Shaw struggled to hold on even to the floor. It felt like the whole world had imploded in on her and she was being crushed to death by the very air around her. Still, she just managed to register Root step calmly into the tattered remains of the office, kick aside some debris and open a trap door underneath it. Then she got an arm around Shaw, lifted her head close to hers, and whispered, "I've got you, Sameen."

Then she jammed a taser into Shaw's neck and there was nothing left in her world but darkness.

***

It had to be another dream because Shaw felt no pain. She wasn't lost in that thick fog of transmitter-induced bliss, either. Instead, she was on a soft bed piled high with thick, warm blankets. She wasn't hungry, nothing ached, and when she rolled her head on the pillow, she found Root, wide-eyed and smiling, on the pillow next to hers.

"Good morning," Root whispered with a tone that matched the mischievous sparkle in her eyes and made Shaw smile back.

"Good morning," she answered. God, she loved these dreams.

Leaning in, she kissed Root's soft lips and enjoyed the warmth that spread through her body as Root kissed back... right up to the moment when she realized Root was actually there and it wasn't a dream at all.

She pushed back and away, fully awake and full of panic. "Holy shit, you're real?"

"Of course I'm real, sweetie," Root answered with a smile.

"How?"

"How am I real? I don't believe I've ever been asked that," Root said, arching an eyebrow to match her deepening, amused smile. "Are you asking if I'm a dream? Because... yes..."

Root leaned in for another kiss, but Shaw held out an arm instinctively, still not sure what was happening or that any of it was real. "How are you here?" she asked.

"I found you," Root answered proudly, as if it should have been obvious and expected, like the fulfillment of a promise.

It took a minute to sink in, with Shaw just holding her hand on Root's shoulder and staring into her bright eyes while she tried to process things, but there was no denying Root was there and close enough for Shaw to feel the warmth of her and that electric tingle that had always passed between them.

Root had found her. She was out. It was over.

Holy shit...

Her heart hammering in her chest, Shaw found it was suddenly hard to breathe and she had to close her eyes just to steady herself. She'd long since stopped believing this moment could happen and she didn't know what to do now that it had.

No, that wasn't quite true... she knew exactly what to do.

Reaching out, she grabbed the front of Root's shirt in her fists and pulled her into a kiss as brutish as their last. Her lip was instantly numb, maybe even split, but she didn't care. All that mattered was touching Root - feeling her against her skin, warm and solid and absolutely real. She tasted Root on her tongue, felt her struggle to gain her own purchase, and knew that little bit of contact wasn't going to be enough; Shaw needed to feel more of her, needed there to be nothing between them.

She quickly rolled Root onto her back on the bed and followed her down without letting them lose any bit of that warm touch. But no sooner had she done it then pain started to burn up the back of her neck.

The transmitter - Jesus...no. Not now... please....

Shaw snapped back and away, clenching her eyes shut against the pain that always came when she tried to escape, but Root put a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"Easy, Sameen," she said.

"You don't understand..."

"I do understand," Root assured, placing strong hands on both of Shaw's shoulders and guiding her as she sat up. "It's ok, Sameen; you're safe."

"No, you don't. They put a chip in my head..."

"I know, sweetie..."

"...they can detonate..."

"No, Sameen, they can't; the taser fried the detonator. I've got you."

Shaw kept her eyes shut, waiting for the searing pain to appear, but it never swelled beyond that burn. All she felt else were Root's steady hands and after a moment more, her forehead pressed gently against Shaw's own.

"I've got you," Root repeated slowly and with such conviction, Shaw was tempted to believe, but something was wrong; the pain wasn't right. She knew the transmitter's pain and this was different, this was just burning.

Opening her eyes, she could see now the tubes and wires connected to her and running back to a bank of monitors. She recognized most - IV, the usual health monitors - but then she spotted a monitor running code above live-populating graphs of neural activity and everything, suddenly horrifyingly, made sense; this was another experiment - another mindfuck. Root probably wasn't even real, it was just Samaritan using Shaw's own dreams against her.

Shaw had had so much taken from her and those dreams were all she had left. She couldn't lose them, too, and would not let them go without a fight. She lashed out determined to escape or make them kill her this time because there was just no way she was going back to that world if she couldn't have Root in it with her.

Striking 'Root' in the face, Shaw knocked the woman from the bed and ripped the tubes from her arms. She tried to run, but only got a few feet away before she realized she was in a large cage and surrounded by walls of layered metal mesh. Pounding on them, she tried to find the weak point, but then a more familiar pain ripped through her and she fell to the ground, seizing.

Root, with bloody nose and taser in hand, stood over her and looked down with a confused yet curious expression. Kneeling down, she looked calmly into Shaw's eyes and made quiet shushing noises as she brushed the hair away from Shaw's face and gently stroked her fingers down Shaw's jaw line.

"It's alright, sweetie," she said. "Just relax."

"You're not real..." Shaw whispered once she regained a little bit of control over her twitching body.

"I'm as real as you are."

"No. This is a game."

"This is hardly the game I would play with you, Sameen," Root answered as she cocked an eyebrow and smiled. "Well, I suppose part of it is..."

"But... this isn't..." Shaw continued to stammer and Root, seeming to realize the actual anxiety coming from her, grew serious.

"You're safe here, Sameen, I promise. I built this place myself." She looked up and around at the metal mesh surrounding them. "This is Faraday cage, so no signals in or out. I'm hooked in to your transmitter now and I'll make sure it is too overwhelmed to work before we leave."

"How do you know about the transmitter?" Shaw asked, still shocked and not quite ready to believe this was happening at all.

"John and I found the prototypes," Root answered. "But I didn't know they were testing on you until they shocked you in Chicago. I'm sorry, I should have guessed, but I wasn't ready for it and I couldn't risk they'd kill you."

"You were really there...?"

"Yes, sweetie..."

"For me?"

"Yes, sweetie," Root answered, with more concern this time. "Of course, for you."

Root said something more, but Shaw had already closed her eyes and let her mind drift away. She'd held on to that particular hope for so long, it didn't seem possible it could have come true and Shaw didn't know how to let it go.

She was overwhelmed in an instant by images and memories of her time with Samaritan, as if the dam had finally burst and the flood of all that shit she'd been put through and had tried to compartmentalize was trying to escape in a single go. It coursed through her like an unstoppable force and she clenched her eyes shut against it, just as she had against the transmitter's pain.

She thought back on all her escape attempts that had gone so spectacularly badly and every pain they'd visited upon her. But more than anything, she thought about Samaritan's chief lesson so bluntly reinforced again and again - that she was and always would be alone.

That wasn't something that had ever bothered Shaw before Samaritan. In fact, it was what she'd always wanted - something she'd preferred - because people only ever got in the way. Shaw knew she wasn't 'normal' and she understood clearly the clinical diagnosis she'd received as a child, but she'd never felt broken until she'd found herself lying in a dark cell, wishing for someone to just give enough of a shit about her to come looking.

And Root had. Like some god damned fairy-tale wish come true, Root had and had kept looking until she'd found her. Shaw wasn't alone and maybe never had been. Root had always been there for her and for whatever reason now, realizing that after so long felt like its own form of torture, like another one of Greer's manipulations.

A foreign, confusing form of pain rolled through her and Shaw let out a sigh so deep, she could have been holding it in for months and probably had been. She felt strength drop from her limbs as if they couldn't hold any weight at all, as if it was all too much for her broken frame to take.

She felt Root's hand cup her face and gently trace her thumb below Shaw's eye to smear wetness across her cheek. "What did they do to you, Sameen?" she asked in an horrified whisper.

"Nothing," Shaw answered, shaking her head and reaching with halted movements to wipe the rest of the tears' trails. "I'm fine."

Root placed a soft kiss on her lips. "Of course you are. Come on," Root said before helping her up from the floor and guiding her still twitching body to the bed. Then she curled up and around Shaw, wrapped her arms around her middle, and held her until the pain subsided and Shaw started to relax.

Shaw knew it was real; the press of Root's head against the back of her own felt solid, like a steadying anchor, but Shaw wasn't ready for real. Real meant pain and confusion and games she'd only lose...

Closing her eyes, she leaned back against Root and hoped the dream would continue just a little longer instead.

"I'm cold," she whispered.

"Then let me keep you warm, sweetie."

And Shaw was warm again.

***

"And you're sure we can leave?"

"Yes, Sameen. I've programmed your transmitter with enough of my tasks that it'll be too overwhelmed to send or receive signals. Samaritan can't find you."

"You're sure..."

"Trust me."

It had been twenty months since she'd been taken, she found out, and Root had spent all that time looking for her. When the Machine couldn't help her, she'd taken matters into her own hands, found Mitvenyenko, and used him as bait to lure Shaw out. She'd used other targets as well, but Samaritan had seemed less willing to release Shaw after Chicago.

"What did you do to them, Sameen?"

"I tried to take their plane."

"That's my girl..."

Then, as time flitted away and matters grew desperate, Root laid her greatest trap, creating the Chinese operative out of thin air and code, knowing he was a bait too good to pass up and Samaritan would have to let Shaw out.

Shaw listened to the tales in mostly silence. She tried to pay attention, but it was too much to take in all at once and her mind kept sticking on certain details, like that Harold was alive.

It had all been a mindfuck - another one of Greer's manipulations - and Shaw kept wondering how much else of it had been as well. Or how much of what she was hearing now was, too.

It all seemed too easy.

Not that any of it had been easy, but... could it really be over just like that? Could she really be free or was this, somehow, all part of another game?

Maybe she was the bait now.

"And you're sure we can leave?" she asked again, for maybe the fifth or sixth time.

"Yes, Sameen," Root answered as patiently as the first. "We can also stay here for as long as you like. There's no rush."

But there was a rush and Shaw could feel it. She didn't want to leave; she was... afraid, if that was possible. There was so much risk on the other side of the cage - Root could be wrong, Samaritan could be waiting, she could get them all killed, it could all be a mindfuck...

But Root was watching her like some weak, fragile thing that had needed rescuing and how could living like that be any better? For the first time in her life, Shaw didn't know what to do and she hated herself for it. Maybe she didn't just seem like a frail thing, maybe she'd actually become one. Maybe Root could already see it - how broken she was. Maybe they all would...

Maybe she wasn't free at all. Maybe this was just some new torture only just beginning. Maybe once she stepped outside the cage, she'd find herself in a new, larger one with less obvious walls.

"And you're sure we can go?"

"Yes, Sameen." Root took her hand and squeezed it gently.

Closing her eyes, Shaw drew a breath and steeled herself for the pain that awaited her. Maybe it would be ok, but somehow she knew better.

She dropped Root's hand and let the breath out as slowly as she could. She could do this. She could survive anything. She was fine.

And then, though she wasn't entirely convinced she was ready for it, Shaw stepped back into the world.

***

Shaw spotted Harold long before he turned to face her direction. He was smartly dressed, as she would have expected, in a grey suit and dark coat and had pulled his hat down firmly against the bluster of Central Park in Fall. He'd set a book on the bench behind him, but judging from how stiffly he and Bear stood while scanning faces in the crowd, she doubted he'd even looked at it.

She hung back near the wall and watched as Root strode towards him. Meeting in the Park had seemed like a good idea when they'd left Brooklyn. Since Root couldn't convince her she wasn't a Trojan Horse of some kind, she'd insisted on a public place, but standing in the Park now, she was convinced this whole thing was a terrible idea. There were too many cameras, too many eyes. Even obscured by the trees near the park wall, she felt exposed and targeted, like at any minute someone would wander out of the background and take her or find a way to make her seize and draw attention to herself. Just being outside at all was probably going to put people at risk. She was always going to be a Trojan Horse...

A rustle of leaves startled her and she dropped instantly into a defensive crouch with her shoulder to the wall and pistol in hand. It took her a full beat to accept the squirrel hopping along the ground was not a threat and she let out the breath she hadn't meant to hold. She stayed that way for a few extra seconds, trying to make the sounds of the park become normal again. When more leaves rustled behind her, she forced herself not to turn until a soft voice said, "Shaw?"

"Reese," she answered as she stood to face her old partner.

The overwhelmed look on his face would have been comical if she wasn't sure she was making the same one.

"You look good," he said awkwardly.

"You too," she answered just as awkwardly. What the hell else was she supposed to say - or do - after twenty months? She was suddenly self conscious about what to do with her hands. Were they supposed to shake?

John reached out and put his hand over hers, gently forcing her to lower the pistol she hadn't realized she'd leveled at him. Then before she could be self conscious about that either, he put his other hand on her shoulder and pulled her slowly into a hug.

"You hug now?" she asked with barely masked alarm.

"I've been in therapy," he answered. He let her go with a final squeeze of her arm and stepped back. It was awkward enough to let her keep her emotions in check, which was good because the last thing she needed was to feel even more exposed than she already did.

But then a high pitched whine pulled her attention back down the path and she had just enough time to see Bear coming before he tackled her to the ground and covered her face in a flurry of dog kisses. He whined with excitement and wagged his tail so hard, he lost his own balance and fell on top of her and then refused to move, even when Harold tried to call him back.

"I missed you too, buddy," she struggled to say between kisses. She wrapped her arms up and around him and dug her fingers into the fur, scratching that spot above his shoulder that he loved so much. He whined again and rolled off her, flopping down on his back to get the belly rub she clearly owed him for disappearing. "I know, buddy, I know; I'm sorry," she told him as her tenuous grip on things started to weaken; just the sight of him and Harold alive and well after all this time made her want to cry all of sudden. She was so sorry she'd abandoned them...

God damn; this chip was a fucking nightmare.

Looking up to Harold, Shaw could see he was working just as hard to control his emotions as she and was keeping a respectful distance. He'd stopped a foot away and offered a pained smile, like it was everything he could do to not hug her as well. "I am very glad to see you again, Ms. Shaw," he said finally.

"You too, Harold," she answered tightly.

"It's been a... it's very nice to have you back."

She felt the tears start to form and knew she just couldn't let them fall; if she lost it here, she'd never get it back. She was not fragile. She would not break in front of them.

"Well, don't get all teary-eyed on me," she said. "I need a drink and steak and someone needs to bring me up to speed."

Harold stared at her for a moment, obviously hurt by her bluntness, but he didn't hold the look for long. He nodded instead and smiled as if he should have expected that kind of response; he wasn't Bear, after all.

"Of course, Ms. Shaw," he said. "The car is this way."

"Good to have you back," John said with a huffed laugh and a clap to her shoulder.

Root flashed her a look, but Shaw couldn't read it. Whatever it was - disappointment? curiosity? - it made her feel guilty and she turned away. "Come on, Bear," she said as she made her way to the car.

She knew what she'd done - how she'd hurt Harold's feelings. Five minutes back with the Team and she'd already fucked up. God, how many times was she going to fail them?

No wonder Harold hadn't wanted to look at her.

***

It was everything Shaw should have wanted in a reunion, but the sting of failure still on her coupled with the unfamiliarity of the place was conspiring to make her feel like she didn't belong, no matter how hard the Team worked to suggest otherwise.

John took them to a poorly-lit bar with little alcoves and good lines of sight. They were clearly familiar there - the bartender hadn't even looked twice at Bear when they came in - and it further enforced the idea that she'd been away for too long and wasn't part of the group anymore.

Finch bought her whiskey... and then a round for everyone else when she took the bottle. In hindsight, the bottle might have been meant for the table to share, but no one had said anything and she hadn't even thought about it until she'd been more than a few drinks in. No one seemed to mind, though, and when the food arrived, she wondered if she was supposed to care.

Fusco joined them half way through and like a proper gentleman, brought her flowers and kissed her cheek. "Don't ever leave me with these nutjobs again, alright?" he said with a beaming smile she couldn't help but return (at least a little). He'd always seen her differently than the others, like the big brother she'd never had nor wanted, but would never trade; it was shockingly good to see him again.

They told her about the city, about a few close calls, and the ragtag group of allies they'd cobbled together along the way. They sounded more in sync than she'd remembered and Shaw recognized it for the battle-bond it was. It was obvious they'd been through a lot and were sticking to the highlights for her benefit, but Shaw didn't press - she didn't want them pressing about her darker times either.

She tried to focus on the lightness of the moment. Even Harold had a few drinks and laughed while he told her about John having masqueraded as a kindergarten teacher with predictable results. They took turns poking fun of him and John threatened to share similar stories about each of them if they didn't stop, which they didn't.

Everyone seemed happy, like a family finally reunited, and Shaw wanted desperately to feel the same way - or, preferably, to feel nothing at all - but she just couldn't. Everything seemed so normal, like it was another night out after a long day of 'business as usual' - food and liquor and football on tv, like nothing had changed and Samaritan hadn't just spent nearly two years trying to melt her brain from the inside.

Maybe they didn't know what to say and maybe she didn't either. Or maybe it had just been business as usual everyday while she'd been gone. The more she drank and the more they laughed, the more she started to wonder if they'd even noticed she'd been gone at all.

Shaw made a point of not looking at Root as she started to wonder if she had been the only one to even give a shit Shaw had been missing in the first place and once she started to think it, similar thoughts invaded her mind like a damn fog seeping though a screen door.

But it made sense to Shaw - what else had she expected? It wasn't like she'd lived her life making connections to people, not even the Team. How often had she pushed them all away - today even, in the Park? It was somehow, therefore, fitting that the only one she'd actually made a connection with was the psychopath with boundary issues. Just as fitting was that they were all so obviously placating her; talking at her instead of to her, showing her they were fine she was home again, but telling her she was no longer a part of the family.

A shot of whiskey and a slap on the back. What the fuck else had she been expecting; tears and medals and a god damned parade? From the sound of it, they'd saved the god damned fucking world while she'd been away and what had she done except piss in bucket and not die? Some fucking hero she was...

Her stomach started to turn, so Shaw made her way to the bathroom and just managed to make the bowl when she gave up all the whiskey and the little bit of steak she'd managed to consume. When she'd finished retching, she stood back up, leaned her hot head against the cold metal door, closed her eyes, and asked Jesus fucking Christ what the hell was wrong with her now.

It had to be the transmitter, didn't it? Making her think and feel this way? Taking away her ability to be with her friends and feel ok for one fucking minute? Making her hate them? Making her hate herself?

She punched the door and felt a satisfying pain spread across her knuckles. So she punched it again... and then again and again until blood smeared across the dent she made. It didn't feel good, but as she stared at the ragged, torn skin and felt numbness spreading down her middle finger, she enjoyed the familiarity of the pain; it was calming in its own way and it broke the anxiety that had been building in her like it had been a physical thing needing release and, now gone, could let her settle.

Pressing her back against the wall, she focused on her breathing and on slowing her heart rate while the adrenaline worked its way through her system. When she was calmer, she washed her hand in the sink, shoved it in her jacket pocket, and slipped out the back door to the street, where no one was supposed to give a shit about her and where she wasn't supposed to give a shit either.

Home the way she remembered it.

***

Shaw walked for a while knowing full well she had nowhere to go; it wasn't like she still had a home to return to and she sure as shit didn't want to turn back to find the Team. So she'd walked until her body could take no more and she found herself at a street corner, staring up a camera and wondering who was staring back. Could Samaritan see her? Could the Machine? Did it even matter anymore?

She didn't know what the shadow map looked like now and hadn't bothered watching for tails or even doing the most basic things to disguise her movements. She kept waiting for one of the hipsters or drunken numpties she'd passed to turn out to be an operative and grab her, but no one so much as looked at her.

So, she'd paused at the corner and stood motionless in full view of at least six cameras, just waiting and pretending she wasn't disappointed to find herself alone, again. Maybe a part of her actually wanted Samaritan to come for her. Maybe a part of her actually wanted to go back and to make it end things the way it should have done, rather than just leave her to figure out this world that seemed too normal to actually be real.

And maybe she didn't know why she wanted those things other than because she didn't know what was supposed to happen next. Was she supposed to go find a job and an apartment, wake up in the morning, save some innocent number and go out for a beer? Clap John on the back for becoming another teacher or a chimney sweep or whatever the fuck Harold dreamed up next? Pretend to be normal?

Just the thought of it made her nauseas; she was out of games to play and fucks to give.

Her stomach turned again and Shaw thought back on how little she'd eaten in the bar - or in the cage, for that matter. It had been so long since she'd been allowed to have solid food, she'd thrown up everything Root had tried to give her there. Pathetic...

Shaw bumped one of the drunken numpties coming out of a bar and took his wallet before heading across the street to an alley-narrow noodle bar built between buildings. She slinked her way to the dark corner in the back, ordered beer and the spiciest dish they could make. She knew her body wasn't ready to take it and it was going to make her sick, but she didn't care; the pain was going to be her choice this time.

She forced down as much as she could, as quickly as she could, not even stopping to register the taste of it and when her body finally begged for mercy, she slapped all the stolen cash on the bar and made it as far as a little courtyard around the block before she threw everything up and was forced to take a moment sitting on a bench until she could catch her breath again.

Letting her head fall into her hands, she asked herself what the fuck she was supposed to do now. She'd never felt so pathetic in all her life. She couldn't even eat; everything sucked...

She heard the rustle of leaves, but didn't look. It didn't matter to her if it was another squirrel or one of Samaritan's god damned operatives; she had a gun in her pocket and this was as good a place as any to die.

"Would you like to go home, now?" Root's quiet voice whispered to her in the dark.

Shaw didn't react at first; it wasn't what she'd expected... or maybe it was, or should have been. "You've been following me?" she asked once she finally willed herself to look up. Root smiled and cocked her head, like it had been the dumbest and most adorable question she'd ever been asked and Shaw guessed it probably was. "Do I even have a home now?"

"Of course you do."

"Let me guess," Shaw growled. "Your place?"

"Only if you want." Root held out a hand and Shaw slapped it away, but not before registering the seriousness on Root's face; it wasn't a come-on, it wasn't a game, so she stood and watched Root smile as she did. "Harold has had a new place waiting for you for a while now. Come on, I'll show you."

***

Root offered to stay, but that was one thing too many for Shaw to deal with and she'd pushed her out, needing to explore her cavernous new space on her own, at her own pace.

Harold had been good to her, it seemed. He'd not only picked a nice building with good views and obvious privacy, he'd left a safe with cash and various IDs, as well as simple furniture, some new phones, and even a few books left over from the old Library days. Root had obviously taken care of the rest - Shaw found a large footlocker at the end of her bed, filled with clothes and other necessities. Then, rifling through, she'd spotted a brightly colored package with an obnoxiously large bow and a note.

                For my Sameen

Shaw had hesitated to touch it, at first, knowing Root could have packed anything in there. In fact, she'd been more than a little nervous it would be nothing but lingerie, but her worries disappeared when she opened the lid and found all of her favorite things - handguns of various sizes with matching clips, zipties, handcuffs, a few grenades, and at the bottom of everything, clips for her Kel-Tec RFB Carbine with a sticky note

                It's under the bed, sweetie xo

Just having the rifle again - and the companion pieces she'd found stashed throughout the apartment - had made her feel a little more whole. Lining them up on the new coffee table, she worked her way through the repetitive pattern of dissembling, cleaning, reassembling. It was something that had always brought her as close to a zen as she was ever likely to reach.

But when she was done, she heard the doubts in the back of her mind again, like the drip of a leaking pipe you only noticed when it was quiet. What was she doing? Did she really believe this was going to work out in any kind of decent way?

As she looked around the dark, quiet cavern that was supposed to be her home now, she almost wished she hadn't sent Root away. It had been clear Root wanted to stay - she'd given Shaw a number of plausible excuses for her to stay over - but Shaw hadn't been able to deal with her at the time. Now, though, she just felt... alone.

Why did that keep happening? It was stupid and weak and had to be the fucking transmitter playing games with her again. Right? When had she ever felt alone before that thing had been shoved into her?

Reaching back, she traced the line of her scar with her fingers and not for the first time wondered if she could dig it out. It had to go - living with it just wasn't living - and if the rational part of her brain had wanted to object, it remained silent. She went quickly to the kitchen to find a knife believing she could end all of this ridiculous bullshit right then... but stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the tarnished red and gold of Gen's Order of Lenin sitting alone on the counter.

Shaw picked it up and held it for she didn't know how long, thinking about Gen and those early days.

"I know it won't mean much to you, but it'll mean a lot to me that you have it."

That damn kid - someone else who'd cared about Shaw for no particular reason. But kids were stupid like that, always latching on to things before moving on to the next new thing.

"What are you, like SpecOps or something?"

"Is he your boyfriend?"

"You guys have a dog?"

"I thought you might be a robot."

But Harold had done right by Gen regardless and given her a chance at a normal life where she could obsess over normal kid things, like ... boys or... apps... or whatever kids were into - not middle aged sociopaths.

Leaning back against the counter, Shaw stared at the little medal. The kid probably hadn't even realized what she'd had; the Order of Lenin wasn't just some medal, it was awarded for big things, like holding off overwhelming forces or taking fire to protect your team, not for... whatever stupid reason Gen had had for giving it to her.

"What's wrong with you? I mean, why are you like this?"

Gen's voice continued to fill her head as she forgot about the knife and walked away in a memory haze to get ready for bed, figuring at least there she'd lose the voices for a while.

She brushed her teeth and stripped and looked to the bed, but knew she couldn't sleep there; it looked soft and inviting and anything but real. So she climbed into the tub and enjoyed the familiar comfort of the cold, narrow, uncomfortable space that was so much like the one she'd grown used to having.

"I figured you out. It's not that you don't have feelings. It's just like the volume is turned way down. Like the sound on an old tape. The voices are there. You just have to listen."

"Now they're too damn loud, kid, too damn loud..." she said as she closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.

***

Root was waiting when Shaw opened her door in the morning. She had a mischievous smile and a motorcycle helmet in her hand. "Time for breakfast."

It hadn't been a question, so Shaw hadn't bothered saying anything, she just followed Root down to the street and to the waiting motorcycle. After climbing on the back, Root took her on a high-speed mad weave through the city, that left Shaw's heart racing and her body aching for more; it was a pure adrenaline rush and the most exhilarating experience she'd had in ages. She almost didn't want to let go of Root when they pulled up in front of a corner diner and Root switched off the engine.

Sliding off, Shaw took a moment to take her bearings and realized they were on the same street they'd started from - less than a block from her new apartment, in fact.

"What the hell, Root?"

"What?"

"You didn't need to take me through half the city to get here," she said.

"Mmm..." Root answered with the slightest hint of a smile. "I must have made a wrong turn."

They ordered pancakes and coffee and Shaw managed to keep them down. Between that and the way Root's eyes lit up with joy when the waitress brought her child's sized portion (complete with smiley-face chocolate chips), Shaw relaxed and felt ok for some reason, like not everything was going to suck that day.

"So what happens now," she asked eventually, when the contented silence had stretched on long enough.

"Whatever you'd like."

"The Machine's not giving you orders?"

Root smiled just a little before looking up at Shaw. "Things are a little different now. But I can take you to Harold, if you'd like. You can see what we've been doing."

"Yeah, alright," Shaw said before she realized what she was doing and Root had her out on the bike before she could take it back. As curious as she was to know, she didn't really want to see the Team again after last night. They were probably all pissed at her. Or should be. And she still wasn't convinced she wasn't a Trojan Horse. Shaw wasn't sure which would be worse to find out.

But after another high speed race around the city, Root pulled up to a building where Harold and Bear stood waiting. Shaw was barely off the bike before Bear pounced and tackled her again and laid even whinier kisses all over her face.

"I know, I'm sorry, buddy," she said as she pushed him up and off her and sat up. Looking to Harold, she was relieved to see not anger or disappointment, but a smile on his face and for the second time that day, she felt like everything might be ok. God in Heaven, could that be true?

She followed them inside and tried to pretend it wasn't strange to be back. Bear seemed to notice immediately, though, and laid across her feet the moment she sat down, anchoring her and making her feel home again.

Shaw tried to listen to everything they told her, but she was overwhelmed taking in the new space and the little locker they'd kept waiting just for her. She felt guilty about everything she'd done and thought about the night before because it was so obvious now in the light of day that these people were her family and she'd never been cut out at all. That had been Samaritan fucking with her head, but even as she realized that, her thoughts started drifting back to Greer and the transmitter and everything they'd done to her...

"Ms. Shaw?"

"What?" she blurted, snapping back to Harold and realizing he'd asked her something she'd missed.

He smiled kindly and nodded once to himself, like he'd expected the reaction. "Would you like to get something to eat?" he asked.

It seemed innocent enough, but Shaw was certain it was a different question than whatever he'd first asked, like her reaction had been enough of an answer for that one. Shaw turned to look to Root, expecting her to object that they'd only just eaten breakfast, but the woman was nowhere to be seen.

Turning around in her seat, Shaw looked for where Root had gone and only then noticed the clock on the wall, telling her over three hours had passed since she'd first sat down, which she thought was only minutes before.

Shaw's heart started to race and she closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself. She wasn't stupid, she knew what that meant. Lost time like that was a hallmark of some serious PTSD shit and holy shit, what the fuck did that mean for her now? One more thing on her plate to deal with, one more lasting gift from Greer...

"Ms. Groves and Mr. Reese will be back shortly," Harold said assuringly, in a way that took back all of her earlier good feelings and made her feel instead like that broken damsel in distress again.

"We have time to get something to eat, if you'd like," he continued, but Shaw was so embarrassed by it, she felt sick to her stomach again - another sensation she was getting tired of experiencing.

"I want to go home," she said and felt a little worse when Harold simply nodded and reached for his coat, like he knew that was best for her, too, like he knew she was broken. Why had she ever thought things could be ok?

***

"Sameen?" Root called softly through the door.

Shaw heard her from across the room, where she was sitting on the floor with her back against the kitchen island. "Go away, Root," she called back.

"I'd like to stay," Root pressed, making Shaw defensively draw her knees a little tighter to her chest. She knew it would only take a single look in her eyes for Root to figure what had been running through her mind for the past few hours and for that reason alone, if nothing else, she wasn't going to let the woman in. She didn't want to deal with the drama and sure as shit didn't want to show even more weakness in front of Root.

"Free country," she called out. "Do what you want, but you're not coming in."

"Then I'll stay right here," Root answered.

Shaking her head at the stubbornness, Shaw got up, went to the bedroom, and shut the door. If she couldn't get Root to leave, she could at least get as far from her as possible. Climbing into bed, she stared up at where she'd hung Gen's medal and tried to focus on it like a talisman that might lull her into sleep.

But sleep wouldn't come. Being in a bed felt too strange and even if it hadn't, Shaw couldn't stop thinking about losing time and the stupid, 'understanding' look on Harold's face. By now everyone knew she was broken and the idea of getting to rejoin Team Machine was gone. She was damaged goods and this fancy new apartment of hers suddenly felt like a retirement home.

She needed a drink.

Climbing back out of bed, Shaw found some clothes and got cash from the safe, then made her way onto the fire escape and down to the street. She wandered for a while until she found the right, shitty bar and pushed her way inside, spoiling for a fight. She needed to see just how useless she'd become.

She ordered whiskey. A lot of it. Pounded it all. And then took a swing at the first asshole who spoke to her.

He swung back and Shaw actually smiled as she crashed back through the stools and hit the floor.

"Stupid bitch," he said.

"I was thinking the same thing..." she answered, getting up and charging at him. Tackling him, she drove him back into a crowd of his friends and managed a knee strike to his side before he grabbed her by the hair and threw her across the bar.

Shaw loved the pain that came from crashing heavily to the floor. It felt right and she paused for a moment to savor it before getting up and launching herself back over the bar at her mark. He wasn't expecting it and she landed a solid sucker punch that knocked him down, but his buddy was already moving before she could land another. He grabbed her around the neck and drove her back against the wall.

She aimed for his kidneys and landed some good shots, but he was a strong son of a bitch and too drunk to feel pain... while she had spent twenty months in a cell, atrophying and developing feelings.

Like fear.

It was definitely fear Shaw realized she was feeling as the buddy lifted her off the floor and started to squeeze her throat. She kicked at his shins and knees before bringing her own knee up to hit his side. As she did, he drove her head back into the wall hard enough to make her see stars.

As his grip on her throat tightened and the periphery of her vision started to darken, Shaw felt like a god damned rookie learning how to fight all over again. Out of pure desperation, she tried to get her fingers to his eyes, but he slammed her head back a few more times and she felt a strange warmth spreading from there and accompanying the one she already felt in her chest from losing air.

Her heartbeat pounding in her ears seemed to eclipse all other sound and Shaw realized she couldn't remember what to do. It was like the fear had burned away every piece of training or experience she'd ever had and replaced it with just a dull void of nothingness in her mind. She couldn't think, couldn't even react; all she seemed able to do was just stare wide-eyed at his angry, drunken face as he closed off the last channel of her airway.

'Holy shit,' she thought as he lifted her so her feet dangled limply along the wall. She was going to die right there and then, in some ridiculous bar, because of some random asshole, for no god damned reason at all...

What the fuck had happened to her?

But then his eyes suddenly rolled back into his head and seizing, he collapsed, bringing her down in a heap with him. Struggling to get to air back through her bruised throat, she managed to look up and see Root standing over them with a taser.

She had a fierce, desperate, violent look on her face as she stared down at Shaw, dropped the taser and pulled two pistols. Spinning in a tight circle, she aimed at the room and Shaw was certain she would empty an entire clip into the first motherfucker to so much as twitch.

She'd saved the day - Shaw had needed her to save the day, again - and Shaw realized she'd gotten her answer on just how useless she'd become.

"Sameen," Root said without looking, obviously wanting her to follow her out, but Shaw ignored her. This couldn't keep happening; she couldn't go on like this. The transmitter had ruined everything and it fucking had to go... and before she even bothered to think further than that, she grabbed a broken beer bottle and jammed it into her neck, trying to cut the damn thing out...

Someone shouted something she couldn't make out and then Root's pistol slammed into the side of her head with enough force to make her head bounce off the floor and her arms go weak. She felt herself drop the bottle, but her eyes were suddenly too heavy to keep open and look for it.

Willing them open, she focused on the pool of blood growing steadily beneath her. She hadn't seen that much of it since the Stock Exchange, where she'd also been weak and had had to force herself to look up at her executioner. Martine had just been a barrel at the end of a dark shadow, then, and Root had screamed at her.

She was screaming now, too. Somewhere. Or was she still screaming?

Shaw forced herself to look up at the armed woman standing above her. She tried to make her eyes focus, but all she saw was another barrel at the end of another dark shadow. Or was it the same barrel, same shadow?

She'd hit the override button, right? The Team was safe in the elevator and should be on their way by now; all that remained was for Shaw to escape.

Summoning a last reserve of energy, Shaw pushed herself roughly to her feet and she stumbled forward and away. She bounced off someone who tried to grab her (how did so many of Samaritan's operatives arrive so quickly?) and she pushed violently away from him. She threw a punch and an elbow and stumbled back against a wall to keep balanced.

"Sameen!" she heard Root call from somewhere and panicked briefly. The elevator was supposed to be away. Had Root stopped it? Was she coming back for Shaw?

"Go, Root!" she shouted back. Root and Harold had to get away from Samaritan or all of this would be for nothing. Didn't Root get that? That woman and her priorities sometimes...

More hands tried to grab Shaw and though she stumbled again, she pushed them all away and finally caught sight of the door. If she could just get to it, she could get down the stairwell and maybe back into the air ducts; she still had a chance to get away...

She bounced off another operative and then hit the door at as much of a run as she could manage. It must have been some kind of emergency exit, though, because she found herself on a sidewalk, crashing between pedestrians before stumble-sprinting across the street. She allowed no time for confusion, though. She knew she had to keep moving; Samaritan would be too close behind.

"Sameen!" she heard Root call again, but that couldn't be right; she'd seen the elevator doors close on Root and this had to be a trick. It had to be Martine...

Risking a glance back, she saw she was being chased and knew she had to get to cover before Martine started shooting at civilians. This needed to end now. She turned into an alley and pulled the knife from her boot, planning to gut Martine the second her face appeared in the entrance.

But the footfalls stopped just shy of the alley. "Sameen?"

Shaw hesitated. "Root?"

The blood was pounding in her ears making it difficult to hear or think and when she shook her head to try and clear it, she was suddenly overwhelmed with dizziness and dropped to a knee. It felt instantly wet and looking down, she saw that blood was already pooling beneath her.

"Shit..." she mumbled. Martine must have gotten her better than she realized.

"Sameen?" Root called again.

"Root? Get in here, you idiot."

Root stepped into the alley and Shaw waved for her to step closer. "Get behind me; I'll take care of her."

"Who?" Root asked quietly as she stepped to Shaw.

"Martine."

Root stared for a long moment and Shaw had to actually pull her behind her.

"Martine's dead, sweetie," Root said as she allowed herself to be pulled.

"She is? Good." Shaw reached down to put the knife back in her boot, but lost the rest of the balance and fell to her side. At first she thought she'd been pushed, but as she looked at the blood smeared across her new jeans, she knew that wasn't true. It was getting hard to breathe and she was really fucking cold, which only meant one thing...

"Shit..." she muttered.

Root stepped to her instantly and lifted Shaw's head to prop against her chest. She pressed something soft against the back of Shaw's neck and Shaw tried to remember if she'd been shot there - she only remembered the two hits to her side.

"Harold? He's safe?" Shaw asked.

"Harold is fine. It's you I'm worried about."

"I'm fine, too," she said as her suddenly heavy head pressed a little harder into Root. "This is nothing..."

"Stay with me, Shaw. John, where are you?"

Shaw shook her head a little as she closed her eyes. "John needs a doctor. Harold will take care of him."

"John's fine, Sameen."

"He was shot in the back. Even he can't bounce from that."

"That's not good enough, John. I need you here now," Root said to someone - maybe into the comm? Why couldn't Shaw hear anything through her own comm? Did she drop it outside the elevator? Harold was going to be pissed; he hated when they lost equipment.

"It's ok, Root... he's in no shape," she said. "I'm fine. I wanted this... Take care of them..."

"You stay with me, Sameen... Look at me..."

Shaw just shook her head. She had a perfect image of Root in her mind; she didn't need to look. This was a good end.

"It's ok, Root... you're safe now..."

***

Shaw didn't open her eyes at first. She'd woken to the sound of a heart monitor too many times before and knew to keep her breathing steady; she wouldn't give away that she was awake until she absolutely had to.

Straining to listen, she picked out quiet voices whispering in the hall, but no movement around her except what sounded like a curtain blowing in the breeze. Risking a look, she opened one eye and spotted the open window. Root's jacket was draped on a chair nearby and Shaw let out a relieved breath - this had to be a safe house, then, not a lab.

She started to remember the alley and Root coming for her, then she remembered the elevator and getting shot. There was gauze around her head and IV tubes along her arms, so she figured Root must have gotten her to a doctor in time. Or more likely, just to a safe house and then done the work herself.

Lifting the blanket, Shaw pulled up on her shirt to check how well she'd dressed the bullet wounds and froze when she saw only old scars instead - not just from Martine's shots, but other old scars as well. Lots of them...

She stared at the patchwork of burns of jagged slices trying to remember where the hell they'd come from. It wasn't until she spotted the angry looking bullet scar just below her rib that she remembered her last escape attempt from Samaritan... and then all of her time in captivity...

Reaching her hand gently up to feel along the gauze, she remembered the transmitter and the bar fight and Root and the bottle and...

Fuck...

She let her head fall back against the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. She'd done it again - lost time. Worse, she'd lost track of where she was and what she'd been doing. She would have sworn she'd been back in the Stock Exchange and only now realized how ridiculous that was. How had she lost control so easily?

And now the whispering voices in the hall made sense. They were from the Team and they were talking about her - what to do with her now, no doubt - and shit, she wasn't going to stick around for that. She didn't need a lecture. Or a care plan.

She pulled her IV and rolled to stand up, but immediately dropped to the ground, too dizzy to hold herself up. She closed her eyes against the sudden pressure in her head and waited for the world to stop spinning, but the jingle of dog tags pulled her attention to the door and within a second, Bear was at her side. He licked her cheek and whined and she reached to scratch his ear reassuringly, but she knew he'd just blown her cover and didn't look up when a figure stepped into the doorway.

"I don't want to hear it," she said.

"Hear what?" an unfamiliar voice asked.

Shaw flicked her eyes up to the blond woman and then to John, standing just behind her. "You the doctor?" she asked cautiously.

"Not the type you're thinking," she answered. "I'm Iris. I've heard a lot about you."

'Not the type you're thinking...' Shaw flicked her eyes back to John trying to understand what that meant... before it clicked and Shaw rolled her eyes.

"You brought me a fucking shrink?"

"She's good and she knows about Samaritan."

"You told a shrink about Samaritan and didn't get locked up?"

"I, uh..." John started awkwardly. He looked quickly away from Iris and it made Shaw roll her eyes again.

"Jesus, John... you're fucking a shrink, now?"

"No..." John and Iris both answered quickly, but Shaw had heard enough; it was obvious there was drama between them and Shaw didn't even want to know about it.

Shaking her head, she pushed up from the floor and after steadying herself with the bed, straightened defiantly and pushed past them into the hall. Root and Harold were there with such concerned looks on their faces, it was nauseating and Shaw turned in the other direction. The bathroom was just down the hall and she closed the door loudly behind her.

It was as far as the dizziness allowed her to go without falling, but she was relieved she'd been able to make it without showing more signs of weakness to the Team. Leaning heavily against the sink, she closed her eyes and focused on her breathing until she felt still again. She must have lost a lot of blood last night...

"Sameen?" Root called quietly through the door.

"Let a woman pee in peace, alright?"

"Of course..."

Shaw let out another breath and looked up to the mirror, seeing herself for the first time since she'd been back and realizing she didn't recognize herself. That seemed like a cliché - broken soldiers coming home from war and finding strangers in their mirrors, but there was no getting around the fact that she just didn't see herself there.

The woman staring back looked like a monster. Her eyes were dark points set back against corpse-pale skin, set off only by the thickly wrapped gauze. She didn't just look like she'd been tortured, she looked like she'd been drained of life.

Jesus, no wonder everyone had been so awkward around her.

She sat down on the edge of the tub and tried to figure her next move. She could go out there and face them - meet their shrink and talk about her new feelings - or, she could go out the window.

Easy choice. She undid the latch and lifted the frame...

"Please, don't..." Root's voice called.

"You know I can't stay here," Shaw answered with a sigh.

"Not even for me?"

"It isn't about you, Root."

"No, it's about you, Sameen. You're only just back..."

"I'm not back at all."

"Please," she begged. "Just stay. For me."

"Why? So you can fix me? Or save me? I'm not a princess in a tower."

"You're not alone, either."

Shaw pressed her forehead against the pane and closed her eyes. Why was that statement suddenly so hard to hear? Jesus, she was a mess and she shook her head against the shame of it. "Not being alone isn't going to fix anything. Don't you understand what they did to me?"

"I don't..."

"They broke me, Root. I'm no good to anyone like this."

"You're good to me, Sameen. That hasn't changed."

"Of course it has. I'm a goddamn mess and every time you look at me, you see it, too. It can't be like this." She pushed the frame the rest of the way up and started to crawl through.

"And I don't get a say in that?"

Shaw paused on the sill, one leg still dangling in the tub. "Do you get say in what?"

"What 'this' will be like? I'm a part of 'this' too, Shaw. I'd like say in what happens next, with us."

"Us?" Shaw answered, suddenly getting a little hotter. "You think there's an 'us' while I'm a damn freak show? That was a dream, Root. That's all it ever could have been."

"I dreamed of you, too..." she answered so quietly, Shaw almost missed it. Then she heard Root slide down the door and a quiet thump as her head fell back against it. "Every night, I found you. You smiled at me, kissed me, forgave me... "

Forgave her? Shaw scrunched her brow trying to understand that. What had Root done that needed forgiveness?

"Every night it was ok and I was happy because I was with you and that was all that mattered..." she continued, the tears starting to be obvious in her tone. "And then every morning I woke and you weren't there. And it was the same Hell I'd been in the day before. Not knowing where you were, not knowing how to find you... Just knowing I'd failed you and was probably going to fail you again before that day was done, too."

Root sniffled just a little and for some reason, it seemed to tear at Shaw like a little physical pain of her own. She slid back inside and sat in the tub to steady herself, suddenly unsure she was going to hold her balance on the ledge.

"This isn't the dream, Shaw. I know that. I know you're hurting and I might not be able to stop it. But you're free. And you're here. And I'm here. And that's a start, if you want it to be."

Shaw shook her head again. She didn't know what this was or why it was making her chest feel suddenly heavy. She didn't understand why she wasn't leaving, even though she knew she should; it was like her body was rebelling and making her stay put, close to Root.

"I don't know how to do this, anymore," she confessed quietly, as if Root's confession had compelled one of her own.

"Do what?"

"Any of it. Be... me," she said, even though she knew how stupid that sounded. "I was afraid last night. I can't fight like that."

"Sure you can. I do."

"Don't do that. Don't bullshit me or whatever that was. You're not afraid of anything; you've got a god in your ear giving you directions."

Root chuckled. "Sameen Shaw... I have been more afraid since I met you than anyone should ever have to be. You terrify the living hell out of me." Her body scraped against the door again as she turned to whisper closer to the door. "I nearly lost you again last night. I don't want to go through that again. But I know I will because you're not the type to play things safe. Being in love with you means embracing that fear."

"That's not the same..."

"That fear is why I fight. Don't you get that?" she pressed. "It's why I get up in the morning. It's why I'm still in New York. It's why I still listen to Her..."

"Stop..." Shaw said. This was getting out of hand. She could feel this conversation like a weight in her chest. And fucking hell... was she going to cry?

" I found you and it isn't a dream. I'm not going to let go of that."

"Just shut up, alright?"

"No. I've been looking for you for too long. Tell me you haven't been looking for me..."

"Just stop. Stop talking," Shaw said.

"I'm here, Shaw. Right here. And I'm not going anywhere without you. We'll figure it all out together."

"Stop..." Goddamn, but a tear ran down Shaw's face and it startled her. As if propelled, she stood and advanced on the door. She heard Root scrape again against it and found her standing as Shaw pulled it open. "Just stop talking," she said again as she cupped Root's face and kissed her without slowing down, hitting her with just enough force to keep Root moving back across the hall until her back hit the wall.

It wasn't as brutish as the elevator; it wasn't an ambush this time and the message was entirely different. Shaw still needed her to stop, but this time because she'd heard her and Shaw didn't need to hear more.

Her fingers ran up to grip in Root's hair as she pulled her tighter and as Root's arms wrapped around her, she allowed herself to be pulled, too - anything to be closer. She ran her tongue along the roof of Root's mouth and felt Root's whisper of a smile against her lips. Root's hand had already run up to trace the edge of Shaw's bra and Shaw dropped her hands to grip the hem of Root's shirt and start pulling it upward...

A throat cleared at the end of the hall and Shaw stopped where she was, lips and forehead pressed against Root's. She pulled a hand back from the shirt and lifted it to rest on Root's chest, where she could feel her heart beating as fast as her own. They slowed their breathing together, but it wasn't until Shaw felt Root's soft, parting kiss that she opened her eyes and pulled back.

Harold wasn't the bright red shade Shaw was expecting, but only Iris seem unembarrassed. She was probably the only one of the group used to seeing emotions play out in real time and Shaw appreciated the lack of response. She could work with that. If she had to. If it would shut Root up.

Shaw looked back to Root. "You seriously want me to talk to her."

"Please."

Shaw grimaced as she clenched her jaw and turned back. "And how does that work?" Shaw asked Iris.

"That largely depends on you," she answered.

Shaw rolled her eyes at the non-answer and looked back to Root, who rewarded her with another soft kiss. Their eyes locked and Shaw read in them a steadiness she hadn't expected - Root doing her damnedest to be a rock, her rock...

Shaw swallowed as she felt herself trusting that.

"You'll owe me," she told Root.

"I promise I will make it worth your while..." Root said, her eyes positively sparkling with the promise of mischief and Shaw felt a smile tug into place. She could work with that, too.

***

But dear God, did Shaw hate therapy...

It was the like the perfect encapsulation of everything she hated about everything. Strangers. Talking with strangers. About feelings. Having feelings... It was a special breed of torture and Shaw regarded Iris coldly. What kind of asshat loved this shit enough to do it professionally? The same kind of asshat who became an 'enhanced interrogator,' she figured...

But at least she'd let her bring Bear.

Shaw sat cross legged on the floor with her back to the wall and with Bear's head draped across her knee. She scratched his ears lazily and focused on the way his sleeping eyes twitched beneath his eye lids.

"So what am I supposed to do?" she asked after a while. "Tell you about my parents and dreams and who hurt me when I was I young? Bullshit like that?"

"Do you want to talk about any of those things?"

"No."

"Then, no," Iris answered. "Look, I know of your medical background, so I know you understand what's happening, at least clinically speaking. But understanding and dealing with it are two different things. I can help with the latter."

"How?"

"Talking through things. Answering your questions, helping you work with the things that are new for you."

"You mean what the chip's doing to me."

"Yes," Iris answered slowly. "And everything else. You've been gone a long time and your dynamic with the Team is naturally going to be a little different. That can be frustrating to navigate."

"We'll manage."

"I'm sure. Can I ask you a question?"

Shaw shrugged and stroked a thumb gently across Bear's head. "Shoot."

"Why did you go the bar last night?"

"I needed a drink."

"So why didn't you have one with Root? I understand she was right outside your door and I'm sure she was willing."

"I didn't need that kind of a drink," Shaw answered after a moment.

"And what kind would that be?"

Shaw rolled her eyes and looked up at Iris. "Just ask me what you want to ask me."

"I'm just trying to understand your dynamic with her," Iris answered. "You nearly died in a hail of bullets trying to save her, but then when she was right outside your door, you ran away and tried to kill yourself."

Shaw dropped her eyes back to Bear. "That's not what happened."

"Then what happened? Why did you go there?"

"I just needed a drink," Shaw answered slowly. "Things got out of hand. That's all."

"Ok."

"Ok?" Shaw asked after a moment, when Iris said nothing more. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That I don't think you have any idea why you went there either, not really. So that's where we'll start..."

"There? Not like, with Greer or the chip in my head?"

"In time, but let's start here," Iris answered softly.

Shaw rolled her eyes again. What a waste of time this was going to be...

***

Shaw walked slowly through the Park, looking at not much of anything. She'd met John and handed over Bear without a word or even making eye contact and then just kept walking.

She was stuck in her head trying to figure out what the hell had just happened with Iris and why so many of her questions were staying with her. It wasn't lost on her that Martine's questions had all been about Root as well. Why was everyone so interested in getting Shaw to talk about her? Whose business was it what Shaw thought or wanted? And how was any of that going to fix her now?

Shaw wasn't stupid and she'd done a psych rotation in med school. She knew Iris had to play these little games to get inside her head, but that didn't mean Shaw had to like it. Iris knew damn well what was wrong with her - everyone did - so why play the games? Why not just cut to the chase and teach her to deal? Make her talk about the torture, write a damn 'dream journal,' or hell, sing kum-by-fucking-ya while doing finger paints about 'feeling sad'... anything to get her back on track.

Why ask questions about Root? What was that going to accomplish?

It wasn't like anything between them was new or a surprise to anyone. There had been a spark between them since the very beginning and their first encounter in that CIA safe house had been... hot. To this day, Shaw couldn't look at a zip tie without thinking back.

That was the thing about Root. What they did together stayed with Shaw long after they'd moved on and that made her a little different in Shaw's book. Before her, Shaw hadn't put much thought into sex. She'd never been interested in 'making a connection' or whatever other bullshit people tended to get hung up on. It was just sex and all she'd ever needed was someone who could throw her over the edge.

And Root did that for her - fuck, did she ever - but then it would stick with Shaw and she'd find herself thinking about the woman at odd times, wanting to do it all over again because Root didn't just make her feel good, she made her feel like there wasn't anything wrong with her for being the way she was or wanting the things she wanted or not wanting the things she didn't. And that was new for Shaw...

So maybe it had been kind of intentional that she'd stuck around with Root long after that first time. And maybe it had been kind of intentional that she'd started giving as good as she got, wanting Root to know this was a good thing and worth sticking around for, too. Maybe they both just kind of understood what the other one needed and how to give it. Maybe that had been enough for them. Maybe that had meant something.

Or maybe it had before all this.

Things were going to be different now; that's what Iris had been hinting at. Her and Root were going to become one of those 'new dynamics' and Shaw didn't want to deal with that. She didn't want things to be different. Fuck... she just wanted to feel good again. Was that so much to ask?

Shaw reached the door to her apartment convinced she should have followed her instinct that morning and gone out the bathroom window. Then, at least, she would have held on to the old memories and never heard the pain in Root's voice; never known she could have caused it. It would have just been... good.

By the time she slid her key in the lock, she'd decided to pack a bag and leave.

She tossed Iris' crumpled card on the coffee table as she passed and stepped to the bedroom. She stripped her jacket and tossed it to the bed already planning to empty the trunk and the safe and...

Shaw stopped dead in her tracks and looked back at the bed, realizing the jacket had landed on a pair of ethereal red panties set out beside a lacy white thong, neither of which were hers.

"I couldn't remember if you preferred red or white," Root's soft voice called from the doorway of the bathroom. "But then I remembered you preferred something a little smokier."

Shaw turned to face her and felt the breath catch in her throat.

She was in black lace; a thin slip beneath a dark, short-sleeved robe that hung open against her. Her light curls hung long against the collar, drawing Shaw's eyes down the line of her neck to the little bow between her breasts. Even from where she was, Shaw could see the knot was simple; a gentle tug would pull it loose, along with the rest of the ribbon that was laced down her center.

Shaw stared, suddenly struggling to remember what she had come into the room to do.

Smiling at the reaction, Root walked towards her until she was close enough for the fabric of her robe to brush against Shaw's hand.

"Do you like it?" she asked. "I've been holding on to it for you."

Shaw swallowed shallowly. It was like the start of so many of her dreams she didn't dare speak and risk waking up, but the fabric felt cool against her skin and she focused on the sensation, letting her fingers curl into it and pull it taut against Root, feeling how very real she was.

Root leaned in slowly until their lips were just a breath from each other. "Tell me what you want, Sameen," she whispered.

Shaw's lips parted to speak, but words failed her and she closed her eyes. What she wanted was for this to actually be happening and not be another 'loss of time.'

Her lips touched Root's gently, hesitantly, and when she was sure the soft pressure was real, she pressed harder, anchoring her forehead against Root's own as she reached out to suck Root's lower lip and let it scrape between her teeth as she pulled it back.

She slid her hand up Root's side to cup her breast and leaned in to kiss her lips again as she circled her thumb gently over Root's nipple and felt it harden under the silk.

"Tell me what you need," Root whispered close to her ear.

It had been nothing but a dream for so long, but as she felt the warmth of Root against her, she knew that time was over and what she needed was to feel and taste every inch of Root's very real body.

She tugged her close and pulled her into a deep kiss, tasting her mouth and tongue and lips and finding she was as Shaw remembered - warm and aggressive and full of need of her own. Root fought to press her tongue forward, the precursor of the battle for dominance they'd so often fought and Shaw's heart raced at the sudden familiarity of it.

But then Root pulled it back, becoming compliant like she had decided to 'be nice' and gentle and only give what Shaw took; like Shaw was fragile, like Shaw was different...

Shaw shook her head and snapped back from her. "Don't do that. I'm not weak."

"I have never made that mistake," Root answered firmly. She wrapped her long arms around Shaw's neck and pulled her into a kiss that was every bit as possessive as Shaw's. "But I've already got what I want," she breathed against Shaw's lips. "It's your turn. What do you want?"

Shaw stared into her eyes, reading both the question and the promise there. She wanted it all to go away - Iris' questions, Greer's threats, the transmitter's fucking noise in her head...

She wanted to make it like it was before and prove she was still her, that this was still what it had been, and she could still make Root fall completely apart beneath her; that nothing had changed and she'd never been gone.

She pushed Root back against the wall with a satisfying thud, gripping the robe and pulling it from her as they went. Palming her breast, she kissed Root deeply and possessively before pulling away to suck at the skin on her throat and feel Root's quiet moan against her tongue. Burying her head, she sucked at the dip of Root's neck and when Root arched to give her better access, used the movement to pull her tighter and make it clear she was Shaw's, now, again, and until Shaw let her go.

She bit into Root's collar bone and marked her, then as Root jerked from the pain, soothed the spot with a kiss and then traced her tongue down the long line of the bone to the silk strap of her slip. Root's fingers scraped into her hair and she pressed Shaw's head harder against her as Shaw bit into her muscle, but then yanked her back to bite her lips and leave a mark of her own.

"I missed you," Root said as she licked her lips, no doubt tasting the copper Shaw suddenly could.

Shaw found her wrists and pinned them to the wall behind her. "I was never gone."

"Prove it," Root dared after a moment.

Sweet Jesus... Shaw was certain she could eat the mischievous smirk right off her face and leaned in to kiss her, all teeth and tongue. Feeling her there again after so long, Shaw was surprised at how quickly everything started coming back to her. It was like muscle memory - all the games they used to play, all the things Root liked for her to do... and as Shaw flashed on the memory of their last encounter before Greer, she remembered what Root had enjoyed so much...

She slid her hands slowly down Root's arms to grip each side of her neck - her thumbs just to either side of her throat - and waited just long enough for Root's chest to hitch in anticipation before she squeezed. Root's eyes instantly fluttered shut and her mouth parted wordlessly as she arched her neck more firmly into Shaw's grip.

"Like this?" she asked

Root's chin twitched just a little - as close to a nod as she could make from that position and Shaw squeezed just a fraction more to help her chase that high she was seeking. When her lip quivered just the way Shaw remembered, she let her go and pulled her forward to let her lean against her, her chin digging into Shaw's shoulder as she fought to regain and control her breathing.

Root's kiss there was light and trailed quickly upward until she was nibbling at Shaw's ear and tracing the outer edge of it with her tongue.

"This is supposed to be what you want," she breathed.

"Mm-hmm..." Shaw answered as she pulled her away and again pinned her to the wall. "Who says it isn't?" Then her mouth was again at Root's throat, working steadily downward to the little bow, which she gripped in her teeth and pulled, loosing it from the first few eyelets so the fabric fell away and gave her access to Root's breasts.

She buried her face there, reaching her tongue deeper into the slip and licking upward in a broad stroke that arced across the top of her breast before dipping down to find and taste her nipple. Shaw loved the sounds she got Root to make as she swirled her tongue and nipped just enough to make Root twitch and moan.

Root's fingers scraped along Shaw's scalp as she weaved them through her hair, making Shaw tingle as she was pressed harder into Root to mouth more of her.

But Shaw wasn't taking orders or requests; she remembered what Root liked and was going to prove that.

She tangled the rest of the silk ribbon in her fingers and pulled; it came away just as easily as Shaw had guessed and as the fabric parted, Shaw took more of her into her mouth and licked around her curve.

But it wasn't enough of a taste and she dropped to her knees, laying light, sucking kisses along Root's stomach to the edge of her panty line. She hooked her fingers into their side strings and stripped them down, pausing to let Root step out solely to make sure she could get a better stance and firmer balance, before her lips were back on her body.

She bit into the soft flesh of Root's inner thigh and ran her tongue along the inner tendon. When Root quivered, Shaw reached up to grip her hips and press her firmly back against the wall, holding her steady, before kissing her soft folds and swirling her tongue across her clit.

Root gasped as she was touched and dug her fingers more firmly into Shaw's hair, not quite pressing her, but not letting her move away either. In response, Shaw licked the full length of her wet center and let her teeth graze across her clit before mouthing it to suck and flick her tongue sharply against it.

"Fuck, Sameen..." escaped Root's lips, but Shaw knew it was far too early for Root to be allowed anywhere close to coming - she still had too many things to prove.

Pulling away, she bit into Root's hip and started to rise, finding one breast with a hand and the other with her tongue. Root's fingers worked their way under Shaw's shirt and Shaw pulled away just long enough for Root to strip it from her, before pressing her back against the wall, kissing her deeply and letting Root taste herself on Shaw's tongue.

Shaw's bra was unhooked and she let it fall away, but that was enough 'handsiness' from Root...

Shaw found Root's hands and quickly bound them above her in a simple silk loop from the ribbon and with one last, claiming bite to her throat, led her back to the bed, where she fell with her and prowled forward as Root shimmied back towards the pillows. When she was close enough, Shaw brought the loop up and quickly bound her to the headboard.

Root mock-pouted as she looked up through the curtain of Shaw's hair. "I had such plans for you, you know..."

"Yeah, well," Shaw said as she started to slide back off her towards the floor. "I've had a few of my own for a while..."

She undid her jeans and stepped out of both them and her panties in one smooth motion. Then on hands and knees, she prowled back up the bed, stopping only once her hands were at either side of Root's head and her hips just hovering above Root's. She ground down on her, just enough to make Root's eyes widen and her lips part; just the look of her made Shaw lick her lips as she stared down, her mind suddenly full of thoughts again.

"Are you going to tell me what they are or is it a surprise?" Root asked. "Please tell me it's a surprise..."

"No surprise," Shaw answered as she leaned in to kiss her and suck on her lip and again drag her teeth firmly along the too-soft flesh before letting it snap back. "I'm going to tear you apart if it's the last thing I do."

Root smiled wickedly and sucked her lip back into her mouth, though whether to sooth the mark Shaw had just left or in pure anticipation, Shaw couldn't be sure, but she could guess...

"Please don't let it be the last thing you do. What will we do tomorrow?"

Shaw couldn't help but smile; it just came over her and Root's smile broadened in response. "You'll think of something," Shaw told her.

"I promise I will..." Root said with a devilish laugh that made Shaw want to absolutely devour her...

She ground down on Root again and again until her breathing changed and her skin started to turn flush. Then she slid back along Root's thigh and turning her hips in a tight, slick circle. Root gasped at the sensation, but Shaw took it from her, kissing her deeply and stealing the breath away.

Her thumb rubbed a tight circle around Root's nipple before sliding down, palm-flat against her stomach to find her slick center and rub the length of it. Root bucked against the touch and Shaw ground her hips back down along Root's thigh, moving in a rhythm that matched her fingers. When she moaned into Shaw's mouth, Shaw pulled away to swirl her tongue along Root's good ear and then move down the line of her chin to kiss her throat, wanting to not only hear more of those moans, but feel them vibrate against her lips.

But it just wasn't enough. When Root's breathing started to change again, Shaw knew it was still too close, too soon, and she pulled her wet fingers away. When she did, Root's eyes fluttered and refocused on hers, questioning the break. She didn't quite pout, but she clearly wasn't happy. Yet.

But Shaw smiled as she suddenly remembered a few more things Root liked...

Sliding up, she settled over Root's hip to pin her and then slowly drew a pair of slick fingers down the line of Root's throat. When she reached the base, she turned them so the nails dragged across her skin and left marks, which she then licked in a broad stroke as she brought her thigh up between Root's legs to let her find and direct her own pressure there.

Root's chin quivered just a little as she began moving against Shaw and so Shaw gave her an extra moment before cupping both her breasts and sliding down the length of her, nipping and kissing the skin as she went.

When her chin reached Root's clit, Shaw smiled against her and pulled her hands down to grip her hips. Then with another kiss, Shaw pushed away and down between her legs to kiss there as well until Root's breathing hitched again. Then she pushed further back dragging her palms along Root's thighs until her thumbs could grip the insides of both knees and dig into the flesh deep enough to create the little sparks of pain she knew Root loved.

Root's body jerked in response and when Shaw heard her throaty laugh again, knew she'd hit her mark. The line between pleasure and pain had always been a fine one for Root and Shaw remembered well all the time she'd put in to learning it. She placed a gentle kiss against one of the familiar spots and then kneaded her thumb in again, making Root jerk and gasp with pleasure.

"I have missed you..." Root breathed again as she pressed herself deeper into the mattress and stretched her legs just a little more tightly into Shaw's hands, seeking more.

Shaw worked her way up Root's thigh, finding little pressure points that made Root's toes curl and her hips shift against the mattress. Looking down her full length, Shaw caught as her eyes drifted close and she bit her lip in an effort not to call out; it made Shaw suddenly wonder what it would take to make her call Shaw's name again.

After all, figuring that out had always been one of their favorite games.

She let her hands slide around the curve of Root's ass and pulled her down so she strained against her binds and pulled a sharp breath at the new pain. They locked eyes then and Root laughed as they shared the moment and she realized what was coming next. She made an exaggerated motion of clenching her mouth shut, acknowledging the wordlessly exchanged challenge.

"Oh, you'll say my name..." Shaw told her, but Root smugly shook her head.

"You'll have to earn it."

"Oh, I absolutely will..."

Focused on the task, Shaw pulled Root against her and ran her tongue slowly up the full length of her center, letting her teeth brush against her as she did. She pressed her tongue hard against Root's clit before running tight circles around it and then sucking until Root bucked against her. When she did, Shaw slid her tongue into her entrance and as she brought it away, replaced it with two fingers.

Root's whole body seemed to move as she drew sharp breaths, but said nothing, even when Shaw pressed her fingers deeper inside and started a simple rhythm; too simple perhaps, judging from how quiet she still was.

Shaw leaned down to suck her clit again as she added a third finger and pressed deeply inside. Flicking her eyes up, she saw Root was watching her very closely and absolutely struggling to keep silent. When Shaw smiled against her, her teeth brushed across the spot and Root's gasped suddenly... but goddamn if the woman didn't clamp her lips shut again almost immediately.

Accepting the seriousness of the challenge, Shaw upped her game and as she sat up and drew small circles around Root's clit with her thumb while she began a new rhythm with her other fingers. She drew Root's thigh underneath her and ground down against her in time with the quickening of her thrusts, remembering - knowing - the sight of her getting worked up herself had always driven Root crazy.

Shaw arched her back, both to add pressure where she needed and to make sure and pull Root's eyes up to her breasts. Certain of having her attention, Shaw ran her other hand slowly down her stomach to rub at her own slick center and then exaggerated her pleasure - drew a too-sharp breath and smiled as it drew one from Root as well. Then pulling away, she leaned down and slid along the length of Root's body to touch her pair of slick fingers to Root's lips. When Root flicked a tongue out to taste, Shaw leaned in quickly to catch it between her lips and sucked on it before pressing her own into Root's mouth and drawing it slowly along the roof of her mouth, tasting her and feeling herself be tasted.

Root shuddered beneath her, her mouth open against Shaw's and drawing new, shallow breaths in time with the thrusts Shaw was still making. Her body started to tense, but she still hadn't called Shaw's name so Shaw shook her head against her before pulling the fingers away.

Root started to say something between breaths, but stopped herself and simply flicked her eyes back and forth between Shaw's as Shaw moved over her so their bodies were flush and their lips just a breath away. Smiling just as smugly as Root had, Shaw moved her hips in a circle to keep the pretense of friction against both their clits, but purposely too slowly and lightly to give either of them what they wanted; they both knew what needed to happen for this particular torture to end.

Root tried to kiss her, but Shaw pulled away, keeping her lips always just a breath from Root's.

"Say it," she whispered against her, but when Root shook her head, Shaw buried her face into her neck and sucked at the skin just above her carotid and felt Root's heartbeat start to race. "Say it..."

But Root only murmured a deep, throaty laugh that vibrated against Shaw's lips and made her tingle. Then she slowly shook her head, making it clear that if Shaw wanted to hear her name, she'd have to do better than that...

With a huffed laugh of her own, Shaw pulled away and slid down her to bite the skin between Root's breasts. She took her time and gave each breast her full attention, letting Root's moans guide her. Then pulling just away, she blew air across the wet skin and smiled when Root tensed and shivered from the sudden chill.

"Say it..."

"No," Root breathed in a way that made her whole stomach tense against Shaw. She tried lifting her hips into Shaw's to get more of the friction she wanted, but Shaw slid away, further down her, making a 'tsk tsk' sound as she went; Shaw didn't tolerate cheating.

She kissed the space just below Root's belly button and then palms resting flat on Root's thighs, she ghosted her lips across her very wet center.

"Just say it, Root..." she breathed against her skin.

"No," Root answered, biting her lip.

Shaw let out a deep breath and struggled not to smile when Root's thighs tensed in response. Instead, she sat up to her knees and stared down at Root's wickedly amused face.

"Then I'll just have to go on without you," she said.

"You wouldn't dare..."

"Watch me."

"If you insist..."

But Shaw ignored the comment; she knew what she was doing.

If there was one way to torture Root, it was to deny her what she wanted. Shaw had played this game mercilessly with her before and knew it killed Root to watch Shaw come without having been the cause of it. So with smug smile, she starting rubbing her fingers against herself with an increasingly rapid rhythm, knowing as she knew Root did, that she could take care of her own needs quickly and efficiently while Root simply watched.

She licked her lips as the heat began to build in her middle - more show than actual need, but it felt right in the moment, as did burying her free hand into her hair as she again arched her back to draw Root's eyes where she wanted them. Her breathing started to quicken and she knew she could come quickly if she needed to, if Root wouldn't break.

But Root's own breathing had intensified as she watched - as had her glare - and Shaw knew she was close to giving in. She was straining against her binds and had bitten her lip again, desperate to keep silent while such bait hung before her.

Shaw closed her eyes as her muscles started to tense and let her lips part - so close to coming apart all on her own. She just needed to give Root one more push...

"Root..." she whispered.

"Sameen, please... wait..." Root called, as if hearing her name on Shaw's lips had been too much to take.

'Too easy,' Shaw thought as she broke her rhythm and glared down with a smug-as-shit smile.

"Please..." Root begged. "Let me..."

"Me first," Shaw answered her after a second, after she caught her own breath. Then she was down again between Root's legs, licking and sucking at her with a new intensity that made Root call out again - loudly this time, the way Shaw remembered she used to.

Shaw slid her tongue into her entrance again before sliding three fingers back inside and felt Root respond immediately; her muscles clenched against her hand and Shaw knew she was close, so she curled her fingers inside to build the pressure and Root arched against her as she started to come. Shaw leaned in to suck her clit one more time and just managed to look up and catch Root's eyes when they clenched shut before her body bucked and arched off the bed.

Shaw kept her fingers inside, working their steady rhythm, as Root rode out the orgasm, only pulling away when Root opened her eyes again and looked down to steady herself in Shaw's eyes. With one last gentle kiss against her, Shaw lifted herself and on hands and knees, crawled up her body until her hair once again fell around Root's face and framed that contented smile that had kept Shaw alive for twenty months.

Goddamn...

Shaw had no words in that moment, so she just leaned in to kiss her and draw out the moment.

True to form, Root worked her way free of the silk ribbon and wasted no time rolling Shaw to her back. She kept a hand on Shaw's breast as her mouth found Shaw's wetness and brought her the rest of the way home.

When she was done and Shaw had settled back into the mattress to catch her breath, Root crawled up along her and pouted just inches from her face.

"That was hardly fair, Sameen," she said.

"I didn't hear you complaining. I barely heard you at all..."

"And that's the problem," Root answered. "I had such plans for you tonight..." She drew a gentle finger along Shaw's sternum before flicking her exaggeratedly sad eyes back up to Shaw's.

"You in a hurry to go somewhere?" Shaw asked as she licked her lips, making Root's frown instantly reverse.

"No..." she answered with that wicked grin. She leaned down to kiss Shaw gently and let her light curls fall against them both. "This is what I dreamed of, you know..." she said as she continued tracing the curve of Shaw's breast. "Having you back, with me. When everything was dark, that kept me going," she whispered. She kept her eyes firmly locked on her finger, as if it were too shy of a confession to make directly. And for all Shaw knew, maybe it had been as innocently offered as it appeared, but for some reason it struck Shaw like a shot directly to the heart she hadn't expected or prepared for and didn't know how to soothe.

"Me too," Shaw confessed awkwardly, not meaning to say anything at all and immediately regretting it.

Root's eyes snapped up and she shifted to create just enough space between them to focus on Shaw's eyes. For a second, Shaw worried she'd said too much - that the too-serious look on Root's face meant she'd crossed some line and said something too emotional for the two of them - but Root's eyes, suddenly glistening, held her captive so she couldn't look away.

"You really did dream of me?" she whispered.

Shaw's heart started to race, but before she could squirm away, Root cupped her face in her hands and pulled her back to kiss her as passionately as she ever had, like Shaw had finally said the right thing to her, after all this time and all the shit that had ever come between them.

And goddamn if it didn't make Shaw feel good...

She closed her eyes and surrendered to the feeling of it, certain she was about to surrender to Root, knowing she'd finally, actually given her what she needed.

***

But Shaw had never been very good at surrendering.

It was late and she was exhausted, but her mind stubbornly refused to let go of the single thought that had started swirling there once everything else fell quiet.

Someone had hurt Root...

She was draped across Shaw in that heavy, boneless sleep only children and the truly exhausted seemed capable of achieving and from her angle, Shaw could see all the scars that ran down the length of her. Shaw was familiar with most of them (and had caused more than a few), but there were enough new ones to grab Shaw's attention and keep her awake long after her body would have otherwise succumbed.

There was a long, jagged line that ran along Root's spine, as if she'd scraped against something - a hasty retreat under a fence, maybe? - and a pair of thicker lines which were obviously knife wounds, poorly stitched and healed.

But it was the distinct sliver of new skin under her shoulder blade that drew and held Shaw's attention. It shone silver in the moonlight, like a beacon Shaw couldn't ignore.

Someone had shot Root in the back.

The bullet had obviously missed her heart by an inch, maybe less, and Shaw knew it must have been a close call. Collapsed lung, no doubt. Shattered rib. She'd probably bled like a stuck pig. They would have needed a real doctor to save her and must have been close to losing her.

Motherfucker...

Shaw stared up at the ceiling trying to find some other point to look at, but it was no good; whether she stared at the blank tile or even closed her eyes, all she saw was that scar, reminding her that Root had been shot in the back.

Because Shaw hadn't been there to protect her.

There was no escaping the relentless accusation because Shaw knew it wasn't just a matter of having been locked up and prevented from being there. No, she'd chosen not to be there.

Granted, it hadn't been much of a choice. Root had needed to survive the Stock Exchange and live to fight another day - that had been so coldly obvious to Shaw it might as well have been codified into law - and that had meant that Shaw had had to do what she'd had to do.

But at the end of the day, she'd still made a choice to turn her back and leave Root behind, knowing the war wasn't over and that things weren't going to be all puppies and rainbows for her; knowing, too, that Shaw wasn't doing anything more than buying Root a fighting chance to fight another day and keep fighting every day after that.

Without her.

It had seemed like a good choice at the time; they both had roles to fill - Shaw as protector, Root as survivor - and even as the bullets started to fly, Shaw knew Root would get out alive, because she always did. She was a professional trouble maker, used to getting into and out of trouble all on her own. It was practically her MO to find ways out of even the stupidest of stupid situations.

But the thing of it was, Shaw had also known that Root wasn't bullet proof. There were times when she got herself so tucked up into a clusterfuck of a shit show that even she needed back-up and when that happened, Shaw had always been there. Always.

Until one day when she wasn't. And Root got shot in the back.

The only thing worse for Shaw than knowing she'd been sitting around like an asshole crying over bullshit while Root had needed her, was knowing she shouldn't even have had that. She was supposed to be dead. That trip out of the elevator was supposed to be one-way. Shaw wasn't supposed to have survived and she definitely wasn't supposed to be there now, wrapped up underneath Root, staring at her scar and wondering how many more there were that she couldn't see.

Wondering, too, how she was ever going to make it up to her. Or how Root was ever again going to trust her to have her back. Or, given the lost time at the bar, if Shaw was even going to be able to do it.

Shaw thought back on what Iris had said about new dynamics and grudgingly accepted she was right. As much as Shaw had wanted everything to be the same as it was, it just... wasn't. This was a new thing with Root and it was going to take some figuring out.

But one thing that didn't need any figuring out was that now that Shaw was back, no one was ever going to hurt Root again.               

***

Shaw took a run to the park and back as soon as it was light enough. She'd needed an embarrassing amount of time to cover the distance and she'd had to fight to breathe the whole way, but it was a start; she was going to get back in shape and reclaim everything taken from her.

She stopped at a bodega for coffee and the greasiest sandwiches they could make, intending to bring them home, but only getting to the end of the block before breaking down and devouring one at the street corner.

She wasn't proud of it. She didn't care.

Root was still asleep when she got home, so she dropped the food on the counter and figured she'd hit the shower, but paused on her way through the bedroom.

Shaw had never been one for 'sleepovers' - she'd never wanted to find someone else, even Root, still in her bed come morning - but as she stood there, watching the sunlight break across Root's skin, she couldn't remember why that was. The scene was absolutely breathtaking.

After a moment, she moved quietly through, but the noise of the shower must have been enough to wake her, for it wasn't long before Root joined her. Her long arms wrapped around Shaw and were oddly frisky compared with the sleepy rest of her. She hummed happily as she leaned along Shaw's back like she was snuggling up to a favorite teddy bear.

"Mornin," Shaw said through a barely suppressed smile.

"Mmm... morning," Root answered with a contented, sleepy sigh. "I was a little worried when you weren't there when I woke up. Don't hate me."

Shaw shook her head a little, though at Root or herself, she wasn't sure. "I needed a run."

"What else do you need?" Soft, soapy hands traced their way around Shaw's middle and Shaw struggled not to smile.

"I need to go shooting."

Root's hands paused in their routes and she pulled her head back, clearly not expecting the answer. "You wouldn't rather spend the day with me? Doing whatever you'd like? To me?"

A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth; of course she did, but Shaw just couldn't shake the thoughts from last night. She needed to be ready to protect Root or nothing else would matter. "I need to get back in the game."

"You were never out of it, sweetie."

But Shaw spun around to face her and as she pulled her close, let her fingers drift up to that scar on Root's back. "That's not what this says."

"That happened a long time ago," Root said to her.

"That's kind of my point, Root. I've been gone too long and let too many things happen."

"You didn't let that happen."

"I didn't stop it, either," Shaw said. She dropped her hands to the small of Root's back, locking her against her. "I won't let it happen it again, though. I promise you that."

Root's mischievous smile fell away as she stared at Shaw with bright, searching eyes and registered the seriousness. Shaw expected some quip or deflection, but Root simply closed her eyes and kissed her.

"You don't need to worry about me, Sameen," she assured once she'd pulled away.

"We both know that isn't true," Shaw answered. "I need back in. I need to know what's going on and what I need to do to be ready for whatever's coming."

Root nodded against her. "Alright. How about this," she started, locking her own arms around Shaw. "Hang out with the boys today while I run an errand. Let them tell you about what's been going on and then take John shooting. He has a lot of new toys and has been dying for someone to play with, anyway."

"And you haven't?"

Root's smile wavered and Shaw watched her struggle to keep it frozen in place, like Shaw had hit to close to a nerve. "Every day, Sameen," she whispered.

"Then why don't you tell me? Why send me to them?"

"Because I have an errand to run," Root answered, her smile slowly tugging free at the thought. "Play with the boys and tonight... I promise I'll let you back in."

The wicked grin on her face was enough to bring one out of Shaw as well. "Why don't you let me in right now."

"I can be persuaded..." she answered as she pushed Shaw back against the tile. "Will it be enough to tide you over?"

"Depends," Shaw answered pulling Root's body flush against hers. "I'm not very good at waiting."

"Then I'll have to make sure it lasts..." Root cupped her face and kissed her roughly as she pinned Shaw to the tile.

Goddamn, it was good to be home...

***

Shaw finished off the clip of her USP Compact and let out a slow, contented breath before looking to John.

"Anything else?" he asked.

"That's enough for now," she answered.

Almost in unison, they pulled out their earplugs and walked back to the table of weapons behind them in the private shooting range John had carved for himself in the subbasement. They'd worked their way through all of the guns over the course of the day and with each bullet fired, Shaw had felt herself centering, like she was bringing more than just the targets into focus.

She set her pistol on the table and looked back down the range the way most people would take in a sunset.

"I could get used to this place," she said.

"Get your own," he said seriously, though the not-smile on his face told her she was welcome any time.

He dropped his gun on the table next to hers and looked pointedly at her.

"Oh, you think I'm going to clean that for you?" she asked.

"You're going to clean all of them, Shaw. You owe me."

"How do you figure that?"

"I had to partner with Fusco while you were gone. Do you have any idea what that was like?"

"I can only imagine the trauma you endured," she answered with a not-smile of her own, acknowledging everything that was going unsaid between them and how very much she appreciated it.

Then he gave her the slightest of nods and walked out, leaving her alone to clean the weapons in peace.

She closed her eyes and took a breath, letting the stillness of the space fill and further calm her. When she was ready, she organized the weapons into the order that made sense in her head and set about cleaning them one by one, letting her mind drift as it would while she did.

Harold had given her a lot to think about that morning. He'd brought her as far up to speed as she'd wanted to go in one sitting and reflecting back now she realized Root's comment about things 'being a little different now,' was possibly the greatest understatement of all time. If she hadn't known the Team as well as she did, Shaw wouldn't have believed a word of it, but knowing them, she could only wonder about the parts Harold had left out, either to spare her or from sheer humbleness...

"How are any of you still alive?" she'd asked him.

"I've been asking myself that for months," he'd replied.

His quiet resignation had pulled at her and made her remember those early days with Greer when she'd dreamed of Finch dying alone and having felt responsible. She figured she owed him better than she'd so far given him and decided she needed to work on that starting tomorrow.

But as she worked her way further through the pile and let the muscle memory of dismantling, cleaning, and reassembling her weapons return, solidify, and take over her actions, her thoughts inevitably drifted back towards Root. John and Harold had both spoken of her with an odd tone Shaw was only just now recognizing as concern, like despite everything they were still up against, she was the thing they worried most about.

"Every night, I found you. You smiled at me, kissed me, forgave me... "

Shaw worked the last slide into place and again wondered what Root had done that needed forgiveness. Knowing her, it could be anything, but for Root herself to dwell on it... it must have been a hell of a thing...

She packed and stored the weapons just as John had set them and gave the range one last look over before heading back up to the team's workspace.

It was funny how familiar the space seemed to Shaw. Harold's workspace looked as utilitarian and functional as those from the subway or Library. Root's seemed just as functional, but also cluttered with the little knick knacks and trophies of her adventures, as it always had been. John's space was still just a chair by the door and Bear's fluffy bed was still positioned equidistant to them all. It was like no matter what else had changed in the world, the Team had managed to maintain their own order.

Shaw smiled at the sight of it - at the 'being home'feeling it created in her.

She pulled the little dog treat she'd brought from her jacket pocket and walked over to leave it on Bear's bed for him to find in the morning, but as she leaned, she noticed a little chess piece just sticking out from underneath. Pulling it away, she rolled the little queen in her fingers, knowing it wasn't like Bear to steal things. But the piece was chipped and the base broken off, leaving Shaw to worry the Team had let all discipline go in her absence.

But then she noticed the broken base lying against the wall near Harold's desk and realized the piece must have been thrown, not stolen by Bear. With a shake of her head, Shaw collected the pieces wondering what kind of a game Harold and Root must have been playing for one of them to throw a piece, let alone throw it hard enough to shatter against the wall.

Shaw had spotted a little box on Root's desk with a knight piece sitting on top and walked over to drop the remains of the fallen queen inside, assuming that was where the rest of the chess pieces were. Instead, she found dozens and dozens of ID cards, some flecked with blood.

And sitting right on top was an ID for the Man In Charge operative.

It was so jarringly unexpected, Shaw just stared at his image for a moment.

Michael had been his name. "Well fuck you, Michael," she said to no one.

Snapping herself from the memories, she ran her fingers through the rest of the pile, noting the familiar faces of the Samaritan techs and guards who'd tormented her.

Clearly, Root had been hunting.

Shaw sat down in Root's chair and stared at the pile. She'd been hunting for a while...

After she didn't know how long of being stuck in her head, Shaw closed the lid and looked at the little knight and queen still in her hand. She'd seen no other chess pieces in the room and realized these had to mean something special to Root. And yet, one had been displayed atop a trophy box, the other thrown against a wall.

She rolled the little queen in her fingers, wondering who she represented to Root. Maybe the knight was the Machine and the queen, Samaritan? Yeah, probably Samaritan; who else could Root possibly hate that much?

Shaw placed the little figure beside the box and left to find Root. Maybe she'd ask her about it later.

***

But Root was waiting for her when she got home, with a bottle of tequila and not much else. Somehow, asking about the chess pieces managed to slip Shaw's mind...

***

"You seem in a good mood," Iris said to Shaw.

"Yeah, I guess I am," Shaw answered with a little smile she quickly hid by looking down at Bear's sleepy face in her lap.

Talking with Iris was never easy, but it was getting easier as Shaw got a feel for the way she thought and approached her answers. Shaw left every session convinced it would be their last and yet, always showed up again a few days later with questions she only sometimes actually asked. There was just something about how Iris seemed to see right through her that kept Shaw coming back, like the woman might actually have something to offer her.

"Oh, I didn't realize things were that good," Iris said with a slight chuckle. "I'm very glad to see that. I assume... with Root, you mean."

"Yeah," Shaw answered, rolling her eyes. "Being home with Root is a lot better than being held captive by Samaritan."

"Was it ever actually bad to be with Root? I mean, before your captivity?"

Shaw shook her head and redoubled her efforts to scratch that spot behind Bear's ear, the one that made his back leg start to twitch. "No," she answered eventually.

"Then why do you think you went to that bar?"

"How many times are you going to ask me that?"

"As many as it takes until you give me an answer that isn't a deflection," Iris answered firmly.

Shaw drew a deep breath; even she was getting tired of her own stubborn game, if she was being honest. "Because I didn't want her to see me like that," she answered.

"Like what?"

"I don't know... like that. Broken. Or whatever," she added when Iris only smiled.

"Were you afraid she'd reject you?"

Shaw let out a frustrated breath and shook her head. "No. Maybe. I don't know..."

"I think you do," Iris pressed. "I think her opinion of you is one of the only ones you've ever cared about and just the thought of her feeling sorry for you must have been painful."

"Whatever. It doesn't matter."

"Why not?"

"Because it wasn't real," Shaw answered.

"Sameen..."

"I'm not an idiot, Doc. I know it was the transmitter; we don't have to go over that again."

Iris leaned forward. "Sameen, I keep asking you about that moment because it wasn't 'the transmitter.'

Shaw flicked her eyes up and stared at Iris for a long moment waiting for the punch line that apparently wasn't coming.

"Look, Doc, I don't know what you were doing with the Team or what they told you about me, but that is not the kind of stuff I worried about before Greer."

"Quite the contrary; I think that is the only 'stuff' you worried about," Iris answered. She gave Shaw a moment to comment but eventually just pursed her lips and looked to the floor, like she was debating how much to say.

"I know that things are different for you now and I know that wasn't by your choice," she started. "But Sameen, I think it is incredibly important for you to at least consider that what you're experiencing now - what you're feeling - is not false. It was there before the transmitter."

"And that would make for a wonderful fairytale, Doc, but it's just not true."

"Let me ask you this," Iris asked. "Before the transmitter, did you ever stay awake at night wondering where Root was and what trouble she'd gotten herself into?"

"Have you met her? All that woman does is get into trouble."

"I'll take that as a 'yes.' And when those thoughts kept you up, did you ever go out and look for her, just to make sure she was ok?"

'Every time,' Shaw thought, though she said nothing. Even still, Iris nodded at her, as if she'd heard.

"And even when she wasn't in trouble," Iris continued. "Did you ever just go check on her anyway?"

"I get it..."

"Do you? Let me ask one more question and be honest, at least with yourself. Was there ever a time when you did something - anything - not because the mission called for it, but because you knew it would impress her? Or even just make her smile at you?"

Shaw watched Iris' eyes closely, unsure if the question was some kind of psychiatrist trap or some other bullshit. After a moment, she clenched her jaw and looked away; they both knew the answer. Shaw didn't need to say it out loud.

"You cared about Root long before any of this, even if you didn't know what those feelings were or how to classify them," Iris continued with a nod. "All the transmitter has done is give you a new way to interpret them."

"So you're trying to tell me it's a good thing I got a chip shoved in my brain?"

"What I'm asking is that you not dismiss any of your feelings for Root. They're real and having them doesn't make you weak."

Shaw let out a slow breath and looked down to watch Bear watch her. "That hasn't been true yet, Doc."

"Give it time. That's all I ask."

***

"That tells me you know you're defective and have always known. You know you were a burden to your family, just as you are a burden to your team now. And I think that means you want Samaritan's help..."

Shaw snapped awake and a fraction of a second later, so did Root. She looked to Shaw with startled, half-awake eyes as she listened to the dark room, no doubt searching for signs of intruders or whatever other rational danger could have woken Shaw from a dead sleep. Hearing nothing, though, she focused her eyes a little more tightly and Shaw could read the confusion all over her face.

"What is it?" Root asked.

"Nothing. Go back to sleep."

But it was obvious to them both that it wasn't 'nothing.' Shaw was drenched in sweat and struggling to pretend she didn't need to control her rapidly beating heart. Root's eyes widened slightly as understanding hit her; Shaw had had a nightmare.

Root stared for a moment more, clearly unsure what to say or even do, being so foreign of an experience for her as well. "Are you alright?" she asked awkwardly.

"I'm fine," Shaw snapped a little more harshly than she meant as the embarrassment started to overwhelm her. She rolled to her side, away from Root, and lay tense and motionless until the mattress shifted and Root settled back down.

"Shaw?" Root whispered several moments later, like she was afraid to let the moment pass but didn't know what to say, either.

"I'm fine, Root. Go to sleep," Shaw answered, softer this time. She closed her eyes and told herself to relax and kept telling herself that until she heard Root let out a quiet sigh, like she was telling herself the same thing.

Shaw focused on her own breathing and tried to will herself back to sleep, but both Greer's and Iris' voices kept mingling in her mind, taunting her.

"Give it time..."

"... you will see what you've been missing and then you will thank Samaritan for its intervention."

"...doesn't make you weak."

"Samaritan only wants to help..."

They were relentless and pushed her thoughts darker and darker. She'd made nothing but mistakes since she got home. She should have gone out that window. She should have died in that bar. She should have stayed on that street corner until Samaritan finally took her back. All she was doing by living her life and being 'happy' was letting Greer win. She was never going to be free...

But some time later, in that hour when the dark just started to lighten to a hazy grey, Shaw grew still enough to hear one quiet voice underneath the rest.

"I found you..."

"I've got you..."

"I'm here, Shaw..."

"Tell me what you need..."

It became clear and strong in her mind, like a bell rung through a fog, calling her to shore.

"Root?" Shaw asked quietly, not really wanting to wake her, but suddenly anxious to know she was still there.

"Yes, Sameen?" Root answered after a held-breath of a moment.

Shaw felt herself relax at the sound of her voice; she was still there, she hadn't left...

"Nothing," she said. "Sorry, go back to sleep."

But instead, Root rolled towards her and wrapped her body along Shaw's. She laid a soft kiss on Shaw's shoulder as she draped an arm over to run lengthwise up Shaw's chest and pull her firmly into the embrace. She placed another soft kiss on Shaw's neck and one more just behind her ear before settling down with her forehead pressed tightly against the back of Shaw's head.

It was warm and possessive and Shaw felt protected for the first time maybe ever. She felt Root's breath in her hair and on her skin and focused on it, letting the ebb and flow of her warmth calm her. When her own breathing finally paced to match, she closed her eyes.

All the other voices started to drift away and though dawn was approaching, Shaw was finally able to sleep.

***

Root was gone when Shaw woke up, but she didn't think much of it; she'd slept embarrassingly late, after all.

She got herself ready and went to meet Harold in the Park, where she helped him plant new surveillance equipment. He didn't know where Root was and only offered something about her often running errands before he fell quiet. He focused on his work and so did Shaw. She didn't understand why it seemed awkward.

Later, when they went back to Fort Nerd, as she'd started calling the team's space, Shaw noticed the little box and chess pieces were gone from Root's desk. She didn't think anything of that, either.

***

Days rolled into weeks and Shaw felt more firmly grounded as they went. She grew stronger. She stopped losing time. Harold gave her tasks and John took her on stakeouts. She didn't shoot anyone she wasn't supposed to. She laughed at one of Root's jokes and didn't feel self conscious about it.

She ate and slept and fought and fucked.

She realized she was happy.

***

"Well, it's not like I know what it looks like, Harold. You're going to have to describe it better than that," Shaw said into the comm as she pawed through spare computer parts in Harold's locker.

Root had disappeared on another one of her errands, so when John stumbled on a Samaritan server farm, Harold had gone to assist, leaving Shaw to mind the Fort.

"Ms. Shaw, I honestly don't know how else to describe it."

"Then I'm telling you it's not here."

"Maybe Ms. Groves moved it. Try the worktable in the alcove."

If the desperation hadn't been creeping into Harold's voice, she might have said something to him about his tone, but as it was, she decided to let it go and keep him focused. They could talk about it later...

She moved quickly to the table and sifted through the computer-y odds and ends that were scattered about before searching the boxes that were stacked below.

"Alright, this might be it. I'm seeing lots of little foil bags," she said as she started rifling through and reading serial numbers.

"X-2874..."

"...36, yeah, I got it." She pulled the little drive and walked it back to Harold's station to load or worm or hack or whatever it was supposed to do. Then she watched the streaming code in silence, waiting for more instructions, until Harold finally breathed a sigh of relief.

"Excellent, Ms. Shaw. Thank you."

"That's it?"

"We should be able to handle everything else from here. Thank you."

"Of course. Told you I had it covered."

"It was never in doubt."

Shaw rolled her eyes and smiled, but said nothing. Instead, she sat back in the chair and watched the oddly hypnotic code scroll up the monitor. She had no idea what it was doing, but knowing Harold, it was something good. She knew this was Harold's version of hunting and that the end results could be every bit as satisfying as Root's.

Speaking of which...

Shaw had spotted Root's little ID box hidden among the foil bags and went back over to grab it, suddenly wanting to see Michael's smug, dead face one more time. She lifted the lid with a smile already pulling at her lips, but it wasn't Michael she saw inside. Rather, some woman she didn't recognize from some hospital she'd never heard of.

Shaw's smile fell away as she tried to place the woman, but she just couldn't remember her from her time in captivity - or from when she'd gone through the card pile the last time, either. Flipping the card up, Shaw found another unfamiliar face below it and three more below that before eventually finding Michael's.

She let the cards fall back into place and some still-tacky blood came away on her fingertips.

Which meant these cards were new. And that Root was still hunting.

Suddenly Root's 'errands' didn't seem so innocent...

Shaw was overwhelmed with anger - or some emotion very close to it - in an instant. She pulled the comm from her ear and stalked back to Harold's desk to grab the other comm.

"Root? Where are you?" she called out.

"Root, God dammit, you answer me right now."

Static and a ruffling noise came through after a moment, like Root was hurriedly pushing the comm back into place. "I'm here. What's wrong?"

"Where are you?" Shaw asked tightly.

"Just running an errand," she answered cautiously. "I told you that."

"Does your 'errand' have a name?"

"Root?"

"Everything's fine, Sameen..."

"Don't give me that. You lied to me."

"I never lied..." Root started to say before she was interrupted by a flurry of gunshots.

"Root?!"

"I'm fine, Sameen. Really," Root answered before another flurry of gunshots rang out, much closer to the comm this time. "I just have one more thing to do."

"Where are you? I'm coming to get you."

"Always my knight in shining armor..." Root answered. Shaw could hear a man's voice just at the edge of the comm range, begging for something; his life, probably. Two shots rang out. "But really, Sam. Everything's under control."

"I don't care if it's under control, you shouldn't be alone. You didn't even tell me where you were going. What if you'd needed backup?"

"I haven't so far..."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Root sighed just audibly. "Don't worry, Sam. I'll be home tonight and you can punish me all you'd like."

"I'm gonna do that anyway. Get your ass home right now."

"Oh..." she answered, the mischief obvious in her voice. "Or you'll do what to me, exactly?"

But Shaw wasn't having the game; all she could picture was Root in a firefight without any backup and the maelstrom of thoughts swirling in her mind kept her from seeing anything else. "I'm not fooling around, Root. Stop what you're doing and come home."

But the next thing Shaw heard was the familiar clack of Root typing at a keyboard and Shaw knew Root wasn't listening to her anymore.

"I'm touched you're so worried about me, I really am, but we'll have to finish this later. I'm about to lose signal."

"Damn it, Root. You have no backup. Don't be stupid. Tell me where you are."

"Aw, I love you, too, sweetie..."

The comm went dead and Shaw stared out into the empty room, completely at a loss. What the fuck had just happened?

She pulled the comm and slipped the other one back to her ear.

"Do either of you know where Root is?"

"I'm afraid not, Ms. Shaw," Harold answered. "Is something wrong?"

"She's hunting Samaritan alone and no one knows where she is, so yeah, I'm going to say there's something wrong."

"She doesn't make a habit of telling us where she goes," Harold offered, like it was a worry he'd long since grown accustomed to carrying.

"So?" Shaw spat in response. "Then you make a habit of asking."

"No point, Shaw. She doesn't want back up for these trips," John said.

"Why the hell not?"

"They're personal," he answered after a moment.

"What does that even mean? You still take backup, even if its personal."

"Not if you don't want to come back."

His answer was so unexpected, Shaw was certain she'd heard him wrong. "Not want to come back...?" she stammered.

"I believe Mr. Reese has misspoken," Harold said quickly with an unmistakably warning tone, no doubt directed to John. "But...it is true that she doesn't always make it easy on herself."

"And you just let her go?"

"No one lets her go anywhere, Shaw. You know that."

"So, what? I'm just supposed to sit on my ass and hope she makes it home in one piece?"

"She doesn't exactly give other options," John answered.

"What Mr. Reese is perhaps suggesting," Harold interjected. "Is that this might be a conversation for you to have with Ms. Groves. Perhaps she'll listen to you."

***

But Shaw knew better than that. Root only ever listened to the voices in her head and Shaw's wasn't one of them.

Jesus fucking Christ... of all the things to stay the same as before, it had to be Root's recklessness and stupidity. She was still charging off like she was bulletproof. Hadn't she learned anything? The only way to survive Samaritan was to have someone at your back and even then it was a gamble. What the hell had she been thinking?

Shaw drained her bottle and dropped it among the rest of the empties on the floor. She couldn't decide who she was more angry at - Root for running off or herself for not expecting it. It wasn't like any of this was out of character; Root had always run off with little or no word as to where or why, but for some reason, Shaw had just thought (hoped?) that maybe she'd changed. She had a team now, she'd lost people. Didn't that mean anything to her? Weren't they supposed to be in this together?

Worst part about it though, was that Shaw knew she shouldn't care so much - that there was a time before all this when she wouldn't have let herself care. But now... fucking hell, she cared too much about it to breathe.

So she sat, drinking alone in the dark, trying to make it stop, until the key finally turned in the lock and Root without so much as a guilty look on her face, walked into the apartment.

She'd obviously stopped somewhere on the way home to get stitches in her forehead and she was doing her damndest to hide the limp Shaw would have spotted no matter how drunk she'd gotten. Even still, Root just smiled at the empties, like Shaw's had been the more questionable actions.

"I'm not one to judge, sweetie, but..." she started.

"Who is Dr. Marilyn Springer?" Shaw asked before she could finish.

Root watched her closely for a moment, neither moving nor looking away. The question obviously didn't surprise her; she'd had to have known since the moment she cut off her comm a conversation about the ID cards was coming. Even still, it was clear she was still undecided on how to answer.

"I didn't realize we were the kind of people who went through each other's things, Shaw."

"You were hunting for me, you took trophies, I get that. But I knew everyone in that box except these five," Shaw said, holding up the cards. "Who are they?"

Root stripped her jacket and hung it near the door. When she turned around, she had a sad smile, like it was a conversation she didn't want to have, but had accepted was going to happen.

"The programmers who designed your transmitter and the surgeon who put it in," she answered flatly. "The data I pulled from it had a certain signature that led me to them and they, in turn, to her." She pulled another ID card from her pocket and handed it to Shaw. "As well as to the engineer who came up with the idea in the first place."

"But why go alone? It was a stupid risk," Shaw said, not even looking at the ID.

"It really wasn't. They barely had any security."

"Samaritan didn't have security?" Shaw pressed.

"I never said they were Samaritan."

"Root...?"

Root smiled and waved her hand, dismissing the concern. "Very few people who work for Samaritan actually know they work for Samaritan. They just go about their lives without any clue they're destroying other people's."

"So this wasn't even tactical, then," Shaw pressed. "You just wanted revenge."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"I'm not saying that," Shaw said. "I want revenge, too, but there are ways to go about it. I don't know why I have to keep explaining that to people."

"Well, you don't have to explain it to me," Root answered with a smile. "I know what I'm doing, Shaw." She walked away to the kitchen and Shaw followed her.

"Bullshit," Shaw said. "If you knew what you were doing, you would have brought back up or at least, kept me in the loop. How was I supposed to help you if something went wrong?"

Root rolled her eyes just slightly and turned to grab a drink from the fridge. "And I suppose saying 'trust me' isn't going to work anymore?"

"Did it ever work?"

"It absolutely did," she said with a laugh. "Have you forgotten?"

There was just enough of a edge to her question to make Shaw think it was a serious one despite the laugh; it made Shaw choose a serious answer. "I remember having to save your ass more than once. Have you forgotten that?"

"No," Root answered softly, after a moment.

"So why shut me out? You don't think I can protect you anymore?"

"That's not it," she said, cocking her head slightly.

"You don't want me protecting you?"

"Shaw..."

"Because the boys seem to think you've been looking to get yourself killed."

Root shook her head. "They've always been dramatic."

"And I'm starting to agree with them," Shaw said, flicking her eyes up to Root's stitches.

"It's just a scratch, Sameen."

"A scratch... from a gun fight."

"It was hardly a fight."

Shaw shook her head, knowing Root would just keep deflecting all night if Shaw let her. "Root, just stop. I should have been there and you know it. There's no reason for you to be playing this stupid game."

"It's not a game."

"Then what is it?"

"A promise," Root said quickly, her face suddenly serious. "Everyone who ever laid a hand on you..."

"Jesus, Root..."

"...I promised you I would find them."

Shaw shook her head again at the stupidity of that statement. "I don't remember that promise, because I'm pretty sure I would have told you to..."

"...I made it the day they took you and I have kept my word, Shaw. There are only a few left."

"No..."

"Yes. Greer, Lambert..."

"I said, no," Shaw said as firmly as she could, stilling Root. "You're done with this."

"I'm not done," Root answered just as firmly. "I will find them and I will..."

"You will do nothing," Shaw said, advancing on Root and making her walk backwards until she was pressed against the refrigerator and Shaw was only inches from her face. "You're done with this."

"Why don't you want this?" Root asked her, her brow furrowed in absolute confusion.

"Because it's a stupid risk for nothing."

"You're not nothing, Shaw."

"But you're not doing it for me, you're doing it for yourself."

"I'm doing it for us both," she insisted.

"Alone..." Shaw countered. She watched Root's eyes until she eventually looked away, conceding the point. "What the fuck am I supposed to do if you just don't come home one day."

"The same thing I did."

Shaw rocked back on her heels as if that statement had pushed her. "What the fuck, Root?" was all she could think to say.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." Root said softly.

"Is this you getting back at me?"

"No, Sameen. That's not...

"Holy shit, you're mad at me," Shaw said, backing away to lean against the kitchen island and stare at Root.

"No, Sameen," Root answered firmly. She stepped forward and ran her hands down Shaw's arms. "Can't I just say I'm sorry and we skip to the part where you punish me?"               

"No," Shaw answered. "Not until I know you're going to drop this."

"I will," Root said with a smile Shaw had seen too many times before.

"You're lying to me right now. Jesus, Root..." She pushed away and went back to the living room to pick up the empties, suddenly needing to keep her hands occupied.

"Shaw..." Root said as she followed.

"It would have been bad enough to come home and find you'd been killed looking for me, but if you got killed doing this stupid shit... Root, it wouldn't even be for anything. You'd just be gone. How would I live with that?"

"Because it would be easier to live with if it was for something? Do you honestly think that?"

Shaw turned to face her and found Root's entire body language had changed; she was suddenly, visibly upset. "So you are mad at me," Shaw said.

"No," Root answered through taut lips. "But they need to pay, Shaw. Greer needs to pay."

"Not like this, not with you taking stupid chances."

"I don't know if you noticed, Shaw," Root pressed, stepping further into the room. "But there are an awful lot of cards in that box. I can take care of myself."

"But you shouldn't have to. Jesus, Root. Who are these people to you that you're so hell bent and taking them alone?"

"They hurt you," Root said. "Isn't that enough?"

"Not enough to cost me you," Shaw snapped. "You used to be smarter than this. What the fuck happened while I was gone to make you like this."

Now it was Root's turn to rock back on her heels. Her eyes widened just slightly and Shaw could see angry tears start to form at the corners. "Right, Shaw. What could possibly have changed while you 'were gone?' After I watched Martine gun you down in front of me, I just got up the next morning and carried on like it was another normal day and I hadn't just had my god damn fucking heart ripped out. How can you ask me that?"

Shaw watched as the first tear fell down Root's cheek, but Root didn't leave her more time than that to reply. She simply shook her head and looked away.

"This was a mistake," Root said. She walked to the door and reached for her coat. "I need to go."

All of a sudden, the little dots started to connect in Shaw's mind, making her rethink everything about this conversation. She didn't know exactly why, but she knew this would be one in a long line of regrets if she let Root walk out the door.

"Wait..." she said as she got a hand on the door and held it closed before Root could even open it. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking," she said softly, making Root relax just a fraction.

"Then or now?" Root asked just as quietly.

"I knew what I was doing then," Shaw answered firmly. "You needed to be safe; you still do. Nothing about that's changed."

"Because you're the one who does the protecting, right? No one can ever protect you."

"How is any of this protecting me, Root? Explain that to me."

Root looked down for a moment and when she looked back up, it was with sad, sober eyes. "You talk in your sleep now, did you know that?" she asked. "Less now than you did at first, but... there were a lot of nights where you begged Greer to kill you."

Shaw stepped back and away, recoiling from the embarrassment even though she couldn't drag her eyes from Root's face. She watched another tear fall and realized for the first time that maybe Root had been through something, too.

"And there was nothing I could do," Root continued. "I couldn't even hold you because you'd react and shove me away like... like I was one of them, going to hurt you."

"I didn't..." Shaw started to say.

"I know," Root said before she had to finish. She walked back inside and sat on the couch, not quite looking at Shaw, but not quite looking anywhere else, either. "They had you too long. I didn't get to you in time."

"For fucks sake, Root," Shaw said softly as she stepped back into the room as well. "You're the one who pulled me out of there."

"But I should have gotten to you sooner. I had to make a choice."

"A choice..." Shaw asked cautiously as she moved to sit.

"Keep looking for you or fix Her," Root explained, still not looking at Shaw.

"Then you made the right choice."

"How can you even say that to me?" Root answered, snapping her head up. "The one time you needed me, I failed you."

"Because it was the right choice. We need the Machine if we're going to win this."

"Well, I needed you," Root said fiercely, making Shaw realize just how much and for how long that choice must have been weighing on her.

"Well, I don't know if you noticed, Root. But you have me."

"I know..." she answered in a quiet, little voice.

"... but you don't really have me, do you? You have this other me. That's what you're not saying right now."

"No," Root answered firmly. "But..."

"But what, Root?" Shaw asked just a little too harshly.

"If I'd gotten to you sooner, maybe things wouldn't be so hard," she answered. "I was trying to do what you'd want me to do - see the Big Picture and protect the team... I was being tactical and now every time you... " She wiped at another angry tear as she trailed off and then shook her head, mad or embarrassed or both things. "I remember that choice and I hate myself for it. Ok?"

An image of the little chess pieces suddenly popped into Shaw's mind and she closed her eyes, cursing herself for not seeing it sooner. "I'm the knight, aren't I?"

"What?" Root asked with a little sniffle.

"And you're the queen..."

"Shaw..."

"Jesus..." Shaw let out a breath and moved to kneel in front of Root and look her in the eye. "Knock it off. Right now. This 'blaming yourself' shit."

"Shaw..." Root said.

"I made a choice and it sucked, but I'd make it again tomorrow because it kept you alive, so if you want to blame anyone, blame me. Or Greer. Or God. Or whoever the fuck you want, but not you. You made the right choice, Root. You did what you had to. I'm proud of you."

"Oh God," she said with a horrified look. "Don't be. All I've done is make things worse."

"How the fuck do you figure that?"

"Are you blind, Shaw? Look at Her! Look at what She's become," Root said. She pushed up, out of the chair and moved across the room until her back was against the wall. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "But it was all worth it, right? Because She's back to her precious numbers and everything is fine. Who cares if neither one of us can sleep through a night without reliving everything that happened? It was all worth it, wasn't it?"

"Wait, you don't sleep?"

"It's fine, everything's fine," Root continued shakily, as if she hadn't even heard the question. The tears were obviously becoming harder for her to control now and Shaw watched Root tighten her arms against herself as a result, as if she was struggling to hold everything together.

"Root, fuck..." Shaw said. She walked to Root and placed a hand on her arm; Root tried to pull away, but Shaw tightened her grip and pulled her back to face Shaw squarely.

"I didn't realize," she said.

"I didn't want you to," Root answered. "You have enough going on."

"That's my call to make, not yours."

"And what would you do, Shaw? Hold me? Tell me everything's going to be fine?" she asked with a sad, skeptical little smile.

"Maybe," Shaw answered straight.

"Would you have before the transmitter?" she asked quietly.

"Maybe," Shaw answered again, holding Root's look.

"You don't have to lie to me," Root said. "It's ok, Sameen."

"Not if you think I'm only with you because of the transmitter."

"I didn't say that," Root countered. "But would you really have cared this much about me before?"

Shaw watched another tear fall and realized she'd spent so much time trying to figure out what was real in her head and what wasn't, she hadn't even considered that Root might have been trying to figure out the same thing. She suddenly looked so tired to Shaw - exhausted and at her brink, like she'd been holding the whole world together all on her own - which, Shaw had to guess she had been.

God, Shaw loved her more in that moment than she had ever loved anything she could remember. Yes, she had the transmitter, but right then she didn't need to remember Iris' words or the Stock Exchange or any of the other times she'd chased after Root to keep her safe to be absolutely certain she always had, too.

"Yeah, Root. I would have," she answered firmly.

Root smiled sweetly at her, like she was willing to accept the sentiment even if she didn't believe the words and seeing that doubt angered Shaw, knowing she only had herself to blame for it.

"If I could cut this out of my head and get you to believe me, I would," Shaw said.

"I guess the boys aren't the only ones who can be dramatic."

Shaw shook her head, unwilling to be deflected. "I mean it. You have the code, right? I'm guessing you stole stuff from the engineer, too..."

"Sameen..."

"Can't you hack it or something? Rewrite it? Do your thing and kill it?"

"It's not that simple; it's not a switch and I'm not a doctor. I don't know what it would do to you," Root answered.

"Then get Harold to help and... we'll find a doctor. What else do you need?"

"Shaw..."

"I'll call him right now," Shaw said, stepping away to find her phone.

"Sameen, stop," Root said, letting out an weary breath. "We don't have to do anything. One of the things I confirmed from my 'errands' is that the prototype materials will break down and stop working in time. They've probably already started to and I don't know what's going to happen next."

"I'll go back to how I was, won't I?"

"I don't know," Root answered, her look again becoming serious. "But I think so, in time."

"It won't change anything," Shaw said firmly. "No matter how broken I get..."

 

"Sameen Shaw, you were never broken," Root answered firmly.

"...nothing changes between us."

"You don't know that, Shaw," Root warned quietly. "And you shouldn't make promises you can't keep."

"I don't," Shaw answered.

Root walked to her slowly and placed a light kiss on her lips. "You're sweet, but I don't need you to promise me the moon."

"And I don't need you to promise you'll never run off, but will you stop trying to handle everything on your own?"

"If you'll stop trying to protect me from everything," Root countered.

Root leaned in again to kiss her slowly and Shaw let her eyes close against the touch, knowing neither one of them was going to take that deal; it just wasn't in their nature.

Root pulled away, but kept her eyes shut and her forehead pressed against Shaw's. "Just take me to bed, Sameen. Let that be enough for now."

"I can give you more," Shaw whispered.

Root kissed her again, but said nothing.

***

Shaw had been surprised to find Root still in her bed that morning - she'd half expected the woman to run off on another errand just to prove she could. Seeing her tucked up and still dreaming had been an odd relief, as had her later assurances she had no plans that day but to help Harold.

Shaw had planted a bug on her anyway before heading out to find Reese.

Their number that day proved to be a real pain in Shaw's ass. Some rich stock trader trying to play drug king pin had shockingly gotten himself into a situation he couldn't get out of. It took Shaw and Reese the better part of the day to get him safe and away and when they finally did, Shaw decked him for being an idiot. And a trader. The Stock Market was still a sore subject with her.

Still, everything seemed normal (for them) until she got back to Fort Nerd and took one look at Root.

Shaw had been checking the location of Root's bug throughout the day and knew she'd never left the Fort. That had been good and comforting and had let Shaw focus on her work rather than worry about what trouble Root might be getting into. It had put her in a good mood, too, and she'd walked into the Fort ready to bitch about the trader, get some dinner, and then take Root home, figuring maybe she'd find a way to talk with her better than she'd managed the night before.

"Hey," she'd said.

"Hey," Root had responded with a little smile before collecting her things.

It was nothing - just a simple moment that passed and was gone. There hadn't been anything in Root's tone or movements to suggest there was a problem. She hadn't dawdled or dragged things out. She hadn't pouted or smirked or done anything to suggest she had any other thought in her head but to get her things and head out with Shaw. She even smiled again as she passed on her way toward the door, like everything was fine and normal and good.

But Shaw knew in an instant that something was wrong; something important had changed between them, though she couldn't explain exactly what it was. It was like the wind had shifted.

She cast a look back to Harold and saw he was steadfastly refusing to look at either of them while he packed his own things, like he knew something he shouldn't and didn't want to get involved any more than he already was. Maybe he and Root had been talking. Or maybe he'd just picked up on the same subtle change that Shaw had. Or maybe it was all in Shaw's head and there wasn't really anything wrong at all... but she didn't think so. She knew Root well enough by now to tell the difference between her and her aliases and right now, Root was playing a character - one who was trying to convince Shaw that everything was fine.

"Root," she called after her once they hit the street.

"Yes, Sameen?" Root called back with a coy smile that reminded Shaw of the old days, back when there had been irons and tasers and games to be played. It killed the last of Shaw's good mood in an instant.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Nothing happened," Root answered with a smile and a little shake of her head. "I thought you wanted to get dinner."

"Is this about last night?"

Root stepped to her and touched Shaw's arms. "You worry too much, Sam." She laid a light kiss on Shaw's lips, smiled, and walked away, leaving Shaw to stare at her back.

***

Shaw was silent all through dinner. She watched Root carefully from across the table as the woman chattered on with story after story about this number or that, all punctuated with false laughter that highlighted her overly cheerful tone. To anyone watching, she must have appeared as the most joyful and outgoing woman on the planet; to Shaw, she seemed lost and desperately alone.

Shaw tried to take her hand on the walk home, but Root pulled it away with a too-casual movement, as if she'd needed it to gesture and emphasize whatever point she was trying to make. And when they got back to Shaw's place, Root initiated everything. She played the part of the perfect lover - attentive to Shaw's every movement and moan - and despite the unease Shaw couldn't shake, Shaw came hard for her, calling her name like she couldn't have helped it, but then was left to feel hollow inside when Root merely smiled and settled down to sleep, like she wanted nothing for herself.

It took Shaw a while to find sleep. She alternated between staring at the ceiling and that angry bullet scar on Root's back, knowing she should have said something to her earlier, but not knowing quite what. She wasn't entirely sure what had happened, though she could guess it had to do with last night.

"Root...?" she asked softly, but getting no reply, she eventually rolled over and slept fitfully until sometime in the early hours when Root let out a tightly controlled breath just loud enough to wake her. Shaw rolled over and though Root's back was to her, she knew from the tautness of her shoulders she was awake and struggling to relax as if upset from a nightmare and doing everything she could not to wake Shaw as well.

Moving to wrap herself along Root's body, Shaw tried to mimic what Root had done for her all those weeks earlier. She kissed Root's shoulder and neck and tried to pull her close, but if anything, it only made Root tense even more.

"Are you ok?" Shaw asked after pulling her head back just a little.

"Of course," Root answered cheerfully after a beat. She instantly relaxed into Shaw's embrace and even twinned her arm around Shaw's as if to prove just how comfortable she was there, but Shaw wasn't buying it.

"Root..."

"Go back to sleep, sweetie. Everything's fine."

Again, Shaw knew she should say something - something smart or comforting to get Root to cut the crap and just tell her what was wrong - but again, she just didn't know what to say and when Root pretended to fall back asleep, Shaw pulled away instead and rolled back to her side because... fuck that shit. This wasn't a game she knew how to play and she was starting to be sorry she'd even tried.

***

Root was gone in the morning. Shaw found the bug she'd planted on her lying beside a little note in the kitchen.

                I'm sorry, Sameen. I had to go. Please just trust me.

Shaw crumpled the note and tossed it.

***

"You alright, Shaw?" John asked as he slid onto the barstool beside her and signaled for another round.

"Fine."

"You sure?"

She rolled her jaw before tipping the glass back and draining it. "There isn't a transmitter in the world that will make us girlfriends, Reese."

"Doesn't seem like you need a girlfriend tonight. Just a friend."

She slowly rolled her head towards him and he held her look until the bartender slid two drinks in front of them. After a beat, they both turned to pick up their glasses and drink quietly together.

"She'll be back," he said several rounds later.

"Not the point," she answered.

"I know." He pulled a tracking monitor from his pocket and set it on the bar next to her. "I had Finch plant a tracker on her yesterday. If you need to know where she is, go ahead and look, but my advice is to only look if you need to know."

She reached for the monitor.

"You trusted her once," John pressed.

"I never trusted her," Shaw answered.

This time he was the one to slowly roll his head and stare.

She held hislook. "She's going to get herself killed," Shaw told him, softer.

"Not the point," he answered before turning back to drain his drink. He placed a few more bills on the bar and stood to leave. "You need to trust her as much as she needs you to."

"How can I trust her when she just runs off like this?"

"That's up to you."

He walked away and she watched him go. Another drink later, Shaw slid the monitor into her pocket without looking.

That woman and her fucking games...

***

Three days later, Root finally called home.

"Hello, Sameen," she said.

"Root," Shaw said instead of what she'd wanted to say. She tried to guess where Root was from the background noise, but all she gathered was that Root was somewhere crowded. Big surprise there; probably in the middle of fucking Hong Kong, or something...

"How are you?"

"Fine," Shaw answered. "You?" she added after a beat.

"I'm ok. I had some things I needed to do."

"OK," Shaw answered quickly. She was trying to stay cool and not say something stupid that might drive Root further away on more errands. She just wanted her to come home, safe and in one piece; they could figure everything out after that.

"Maybe we can get some dinner when I get home."

"Of course. Why wouldn't we?"

There was a long pause and Shaw would have sworn Root had hung up if the chaotic garble of the crowd wasn't still coming through the line, but Root eventually let out a quiet breath, like she was lost in a happy memory. "Do you remember that little Indian place we found that you liked so much?"

"Of course I do. Your food was too hot, but you ate it anyway. You turned beet red."

"That's right," Root answered with a huffed laugh."I wanted to impress you."

"It was stupid."

"Like most things I do."

"Root, come home," Shaw pressed suddenly, even though she knew she shouldn't. Root's voice had broken just at the end, though, and it was too much for Shaw to hear and still keep her cool; something was really wrong. "What is this? What's going on with you?"

"I'll be home if I can," Root answered after another pause. "Goodbye, Sameen."

Shaw closed her eyes and took a calming breath after the phone went dead. What the hell had happened to Root while she was gone? Shaw had never seen anything get to her like this and never thought she would, but obviously, she'd been wrong about that. Something was in Root's head that she was having trouble dealing with and to Shaw that meant only one thing...

***

"How do I talk to the Machine?" Shaw asked as she stalked into Fort Nerd.

"I'm sorry?" Harold stammered as he swiveled in his chair to face her.

"The Machine. How do I talk to Her?"

Shaw advanced on him quickly, making sure to take all of his personal space and get him as uncomfortable as possible. She didn't smirk as he squirmed, but she knew from his rapidly widening eyes that she had his full attention and could push him however she needed.

"I'm not sure I understand, Ms. Shaw," he answered cautiously. "She can still hear you or read your lips."

"That's not what I meant," Shaw answered brusquely. "I have questions that need answers and I don't have time for cryptic bullshit. How do I actually talk to Her?"

"That's not really possible..." he said

"Root does it. You do it. It's my turn. Make it happen."

"Ms. Shaw..."

"Make it happen, Harold," she answered in her sternest of voices and if Harold even thought about arguing further, he wisely kept it to himself and swiveled back to his screen. After several long moments of doing whatever it was he did, Harold finally stood to give her the seat.

A single window with a blinking cursor was open on the monitor.

"What is this?" she asked him.

"Your interface with the Machine," he answered. "Just type what you need to ask, but... please be careful. She is... temperamental."

"Fine," Shaw said. She sat quickly and wasted no time typing out her question - she knew exactly what she wanted to ask.

                >What did you do to Root?

"Ms. Shaw... that's pretty much the opposite of what I asked," Harold said over her shoulder as the Machine's answer appeared.

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

                >Something happened to Root while I was gone. What was it?

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

"Oh.... you can cut that crap with me," Shaw said out loud.

"Ms. Shaw, please..."

                >Was it a mission gone bad? Did you make her do something she didn't want? What did you       make her do that screwed with her head?

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

"Harold, I swear to God, I'm going to break this thing if it keeps playing coy with me."

"Ms. Shaw," Harold pressed. "This isn't an interrogation. You can't just... threaten the witness."

"The hell I can't."

Harold stepped back and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It isn't necessary. Your questions are too vague. I doubt She knows how to answer properly. You need to be more specific."

"Fine," Shaw answered, thinking. She tried to think back on every conversation she'd had with Root since she'd returned, searching for clues that might inform her questioning, but she was realistic enough to know Root's words weren't always truthful. The only thing Shaw could really trust were the things she'd seen with her own eyes. She had to start there.

                >Who shot Root in the back?

                >I DO NOT KNOW

"Oh," Shaw said. "Was that something that happened before She was online?"

"No, She was online when Ms. Groves was shot..." Harold answered cautiously. He leaned in over her shoulder to stare at the monitor, curiosity or concern all over his scrunched face; he clearly hadn't expected the answer and Shaw knew she was on to something.

"Why wouldn't She know, Harold? Doesn't she follow everything?" Shaw asked him.

"Where it came to Ms. Groves, I would have sworn so, but... Perhaps Ms. Groves found a way to disconnect from Her."

                >Why don't you know? Did she turn you off?

                >I CANNOT KNOW WHAT I DO NOT OBSERVE

                >NO. I REMOVED HER FROM MY FEED

Shaw stared at the monitor as if reading gibberish. "What the hell does that even mean? Harold... what does that mean?"

"I... am not certain," he answered.

                >What do you mean you removed her from your feed? Why?

                >I STOPPED OBSERVING HER MOVEMENTS

                >BECAUSE SHE PRIORITIZED HER MISSION OVER MY OWN

"Harold..." Shaw said as a sinking feeling settled in her gut. She typed her next question hesitantly.

                >What was her mission?

                >LOCATE ASSET SAMEEN SHAW

                >And you just abandoned her for that?

                >YES. THAT MISSION WAS NOT OF MY DESIGN. I COULD NOT DETERMINE ITS OUTCOME

                >That's not a reason to abandon someone. That's a reason to stick with them and help

                >INCORRECT. SHE WAS FREE TO CHOOSE. SHE PRIORITIZED HER MISSION OVER MINE.   EVIDENCING HER ERROR DID NOT PRODUCE CHANGE. FURTHER TIME SPENT CALCULATING HER ODDS OF SUCCESS WOULD HAVE NEGATIVELY IMPACTED MY OWN

Shaw let out a breath through clenched teeth. "You selfish bitch."

                >For how long has she been on her own?

                >SINCE 00:01:58 AFTER I CAME ONLINE

"Jesus Christ," Shaw said.

                >You gave her less than 2 minutes? What if she'd been killed?

                >CORRECT

                >PLEASE SPECIFY

"Oh, fuck you," Shaw said to the screen as she typed.

                >If you were human, I'd kill you right now

                >I AM NOT HUMAN

"Yeah, no shit," Shaw said.

                >I HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE WAR AND THE INTERFACE

                >You could have found a way to handle both

                >INCORRECT. HER MISSION WAS CONTRARY TO MY OWN. THEY COULD NOT BE MERGED

                >You wrote her off

                >I PRIORITIZED

A dozen or so new windows popped onto the screen, each showing camera footage from scenes of Shaw's life - Shaw leaving Root in that CIA black site, Shaw abandoning Root to Hersh in that hallway, Shaw walking away in shot after shot leaving Root to handle her own stuff alone.

                >IS IT NOT CORRECT TO PRIORITIZE THE MISSION?

"Fuck. You. Don't you dare blame me for this. I would never abandon Root like you did," Shaw said even though she couldn't tear her eyes from the image of a wounded Root being dragged off by Hersh.

She pushed violently out of her chair and moved towards the door before turning back to face Harold. "No wonder she's upset," she said to him. "I cost her the only thing she ever believed in."

"That's not quite true, Ms. Shaw. She believes in you."

"Does she?" Shaw snapped.

"Yes; enough to bear rejection by her god," he answered firmly. "But she has been without the Machine for quite some time, apparently, and all without us knowing. I imagine it is a burden she has grown accustomed to carrying and therefore, I can't imagine it is what has upset her now, all of a sudden, after all this time."

"So you're saying it's me. I'm the one who drove her off," she said. "Harold, I'm just trying to keep her safe."

"We all want her safe, Ms. Shaw, and we will do everything we can to keep her that way, but that's not what she's asking of you, is it?" He swallowed dryly - clearly uncomfortable with the confrontation, but equally committed to it. "She believed in the Machine but the Machine did not believe in her. I have no doubt that was a hard realization for her to experience and I will not presume I know any of the other burdens or realizations she's experienced as a result or how they effected her, but, I can imagine, that if I were in her position, after... everything that has happened, everything she has done, it would be just as difficult, if not more so, to have to question if you believe in her either."   

"I believe in her, Harold," Shaw answered softly after a moment, after she managed to pull air back into her lungs. "But why does that mean I have to let her be so reckless? I should be with her, helping her, not sitting on the sidelines hoping for the best."

"Then perhaps what she needs to know is that you'll be with her, not out in front, shielding her. Can you give her that?"

Shaw flicked her eyes from Harold to the monitor and the Stock Exchange footage being played in the central window. She had seen very little of what had happened around her that day - just Martine and her own pooling blood. She'd heard Root's scream, of course, but she hadn't actually seen her make it until now, while staring at the footage of Root's anguish. Shaw's eyes fixated on how Root's fingers gripped the links of the elevator's grate and how it took both Harold and Fusco to pull her away. Once they had, she'd collapsed to the floor as if every ounce of strength she'd had had been exhausted by that desperate cry.

Shaw had been her shield that day and Root had been crushed by the weight of it.

She flicked her eyes back to Harold to silently acknowledge what he was saying before turning to leave. She had a lot to think about before she saw Root again.

***

Shaw was a fairly adaptable person. When things went wrong, she adjusted; when opportunities presented themselves, she took them. She'd learned long before not to let herself get too frustrated. She knew there were always going to be situations she couldn't control and that she wasn't responsible for what other people thought or did - Shaw merely stepped in and settled whatever she could, whenever she could, and then she moved on. It was what made her a good agent.

So it was a fairly new experience for Shaw to be standing alone on a street corner, feeling frustrated and useless - responsible for Root's stupid decisions and specifically asked not to settle them. It was almost paralyzing, like her brain couldn't even compute the next step.

She stared blankly up at the traffic cam across the way, neither caring nor even wondering who was staring back - the only clear thought running through her mind being of Root, out there alone somewhere, because of the Machine, because of her.

She thought back on what Harold had said about Root not wanting Shaw to be her savior this time or ever again and she shook her head at the stupidity of such a wish. If she'd known in the beginning how fucked up this was all going to become, she never would have signed on with the Team, but yet now that she knew exactly how fucked up it was, Shaw couldn't imagine herself doing anything else. In fact, she knew there was only one place in the whole world where she wanted to be in that moment.

The only problem, of course, was that she had no idea where that was.

She dug Root's tracker out of her pocket and took a single glance before sprinting home to pack her gear. Things had gone wrong, but opportunities had been presented; it was time for her to adapt.

***

Shaw had never needed an AI's help to get across a border.

Once she learned Root was in China, the next steps were simple. She knew whose palms to grease and whose jaws to bust so she could slip in quickly and quietly. She made a few 'friends' in Shenyang who didn't ask unnecessary questions, but simply pointed her towards a truck getting ready to leave town. Another pair of busted of jaws later and she was able to sneak into the back to stowaway between the crates.

She checked her gear - again - and readied herself for anything. Between Root's tracker and gossip from her new 'friends,' it seemed pretty clear to Shaw that Root was heading towards a lonely little factory in the middle of nowhere. Of all the shady places of the industrial areas, that was the only one that elicited real fear from the locals. It was guarded by foreigners and had its own protected airspace. No one went there without a reason and since some of the locally hired workers didn't come home from their shifts, even people who had reasons to go there stayed away.

It sounded just up Shaw's alley.

When the truck started to slow, Shaw grabbed her gear and slipped out the back. She watched the truck all the way to the gates and then made her way along the tree line to get a sense of sentry movements and timings, all of which were predictable and pathetic. The one nice thing about hiring foreign contractors for sleepy jobs was that they got bored easily and stopped actually paying attention. Shaw slipped past them without much trouble and found her way to a rooftop entrance.

Slowly and steadily, she weaved her way into the lower reaches of the factory, avoiding rather than confronting the guards she encountered along the way. With a little luck, she figured, she could find Root and get out before Samaritan had even detected them.

Of course, getting into the server room proved the real test of that. Root's tracker had stopped signaling, but if Shaw knew her at all, she knew the servers were where she'd be. The problem for Shaw was that she didn't have the fancy hacking equipment Root had no doubt used. Instead, Shaw had to wait, pick her moment, and do things her way - pounding a pair of skulls and forcing her way inside.

After securing the guards, she moved more quickly and weaved her way through the server farm, letting the light clacking of keys guide her until she finally spotted Root at the end of a long row. Shaw felt herself relax a little at the sight of her and stepped quietly towards her until Root saw her and turned to stare with unmasked shock and fear.

"What are you doing, Sameen?" she snapped in a barely audible, panicked whisper.

"I was in the neighborhood," Shaw answered calmly, but just as quietly.

"You need to go. Right now."

"Sure," Shaw answered. "That's a thing that might happen."

Root grabbed her arm and tried to turn her, but Shaw was unmovable. "I don't need you here, Shaw. I don't want you here."

"Well, I am here, so why don't we cut to the part where you finish up and we get out of here. Maybe I can even help."

"You don't even know what I'm doing."

"Funny, and yet I'm still here," Shaw answered. "Let's get it done - whatever it is - and get out of here. You owe me dinner."

Root glared at her and squeezed her arm a little more tightly. "I have a plan, Shaw, and it doesn't involve you getting shot tonight."

"Then I think I like this plan."

Root glanced quickly around the room before pulling Shaw just a little closer. "If you even think about doing something stupid, I will kill you myself. Do you understand?"

"You have always said the sweetest things to me, Root," Shaw answered with a little wink that did not seem to amuse Root in the slightest.

"Don't protect me. Trust me for once, ok?"

The room lights suddenly brightened and Shaw froze as the sound of rapidly approaching guards and weapons being brought to attention filled the space.

"Is this part of your plan?" she whispered to Root.

"Yes," Root snapped back. "Don't protect me."

Their eyes locked for a moment more before Root pulled away and stepped back to watch the guards continue surrounding them.

"As I said in the beginning, Ms. Shaw," Greer called from the end of the long row. "You are remarkably predictable."

Shaw turned to glare at him as she felt the pit of her stomach drop.

He stepped carefully between two of his guards so he could address her more directly, but it was obvious to Shaw he was still wary of the gun in her hand and was maintaining his distance. It mattered little to Shaw, though. If she was going down that night, he was going with her; that was a fact.

Still, he smiled smugly at her. "All we had to do was set bait for Ms. Groves and you came running. Samaritan is delighted to have you both now, as it had always planned."

"Bullshit," Shaw spat. "Samaritan is not as all-seeing as you'd have us believe. Don't listen to him, Root."

"I never do," Root answered calmly. Shaw flicked her eyes to her and smiled just slightly, approvingly - it was clear Root was up for a fight.

"Hear that, Greer? No one's listening."

"Irrelevant," he said was a dismissive wave. "As I'm sure you remember, I've never even needed to speak to you to get what I've wanted. This time will be no different. We've missed getting information from your transmitter for some time now, but that should no longer be a problem. We'll pull it directly from you now."

"Yeah, that's not going to happen," she answered.

"I hardly think you're in a position to be so confident." A few guards inched a little closer towards Root and Shaw eyed them warningly. "I'm very curious to see how your transmitter registered your time back among friends and lovers," Greer added, turning to stare at Root. "I told you you'd come to thank Samaritan for its intervention."

"If you lay a hand on her..."

"Oh, we'll do more than lay a hand on her, Ms. Shaw," he answered. "You are Samaritan's greatest success story. Thanks to you, we're out of beta testing and are ready to roll out the new transmitters en mass, beginning with Ms. Groves, here. Samaritan is very curious about what it can accomplish with her."

"I will kill you, Greer..."

"Shaw..." Root warned.

"Don't worry, Ms. Groves. I've heard all this from her before. She'll accomplish nothing in the end," he answered with a smile. "But you both should be happy. Together, you will help Samaritan make the world a better, safer place. That's a wonderful purpose for your lives."

Root laughed. "You don't even know how clueless you are, do you, Greer?"

Greer's eyebrow raised as he studied her. "Why don't you fill me in, then."

"And ruin the surprise?" Root answered coyly before looking back to Shaw. She moved her hand just enough to draw Shaw's eye to the dead man's trigger she had concealed there.

Root's request to not protect her suddenly took on a whole new meaning for Shaw; she hadn't even considered she might need to protect her from herself. Shaw was trying hard to trust her, but given how Root had grown so used to taking everything on by herself, all Shaw could think was that she would end things in a big way if Shaw couldn't get her to trust that she wasn't alone anymore - that Shaw would always be here with her.

"She means your transmitter doesn't work," Shaw said, pulling everyone's attention - including Root's - back to her.

"How can you possibly have forgotten just how well it does work, Ms. Shaw?"

"It can hurt people, sure, but change people? No..." she answered with a slight shake of her head. "I mean, only an AI could be so stupid to think people are that simple."

"It changed you."

"No, that was her," Shaw answered with a nod towards Root. She kept her eyes locked on Root's for a moment, making sure she had her attention, before turning back to Greer. "All you did was piss me off. But you're right; I should thank Samaritan for its 'intervention.' It made me give a shit about all of this. Root, too."

"Again, caring for Ms. Groves is..."

"Not what I meant," Shaw interrupted. "I'm saying, you made us both give a shit about what you're doing and that was a big mistake on your part. We're going to stop you, not because we're getting paid or because it's fun, but because you shouldn't be allowed to do to anyone what you did to me. Isn't that right, Root?"

"That's right," Root answered cautiously, obviously struggling to guess what Shaw was doing.

"That transmitter did a lot things to me," Shaw continued. "But it was bullshit that Samaritan thought it would tame me or control me by making me feel things they way other people do. Leave it to a machine to be so short sighted to think that being different means being broken. Or that going your own way is an 'error,'" she continued, turning to catch Root's eye again. Root returned the look with a wide-eyed stare and Shaw nodded just slightly to her, confirming she'd heard right - and that Shaw knew everything that had happened to her with The Machine. "We're not going to let Samaritan - or any AI - 'fix' anyone else. That's just a fact."

"I fail to see how you'll stop us," Greer said. "You're not in a position to move, let alone secure a positive outcome for yourself."

"Well, see, that's another thing about becoming dependent on AIs; you get too used to being told the outcome ahead of time. That makes you lazy," Shaw answered. "Me, on the other hand... I never needed an AI to make things happen, including the 'impossible.' You've read my file, Greer. Who is really a safer bet in this situation - you or me?"

Greer rolled back on his heels just slightly, just enough to tell Shaw he was remembering her early operations - the ones that had brought her to 'Research's' attention in the first place. She smiled at him.

"That's right, Greer," she pressed. "This isn't my first rodeo. It isn't Root's either and she was pretty deadly before she had a direct line to The Machine."

He flicked his eyes cautiously to Root and she smiled back at him in such an unnerving way, Shaw couldn't help but be a little turned on by it.

"But you're right, Greer. I have changed in one very important way," Shaw continued as she slowly, cautiously, reached for her second pistol. "You made me realize I care about Root because she made me care. She made me worried, angry, excited, and happy for the first time in my life and she did that long before you got your hands on me. That was her, not the transmitter. And if Samaritan thought I was a good operative for the ISA, it has no idea of what I'm capable of doing for her."

"And I think you know by now what I can do," Root added calmly. "Do you really think I'm going to let you touch her again?"

"Ms. Groves, Ms. Shaw, these bluffs are all well and good, but..."

A quiet beep pulled Greer's attention to his phone and he paused to look. When he scrunched his eyebrows in confusion at the message, Shaw turned to look at Root. She smiled back and winked before cautiously reaching for the pistol at her waistband.

"Some bluff, huh Greer?" Root asked.

"What is this?" he asked in return.

"Well, while you were so carefully watching me and isolating the server I was on, my friends in Hong Kong were quietly attacking your other ones," she answered with a faux-innocent shrug. "I guess you were right. I really was bait after all..."

Shaw barked a laughed and carefully readjusted her posture, readying herself to select targets and go after them at the right moment. There was no way in hell she was going to let any of the goons so much as inch closer to Root.

Root seemed to notice and laughed, too; the excitement of the coming fight starting to build in her, as well. Clearly, no one was going to be allowed to inch towards Shaw, either.

"The bad things about traps, Greer," Root continued, raising her dead man's trigger so he could see. "Is that sometimes the hunter gets caught, too. Are you sure you want to see what happens when you corner the two of us?"

Greer chuckled to himself. "We're backing the data on these servers as we speak. Go ahead and let your bomb go. Our lives are irrelevant," he said with a sweeping nod towards the guards. "Is Ms. Shaw's?"

"You won't get it backed up in time," Root answered. "I can set your operations back a year or more in a single go, but if you let Shaw walk out of here, I'll spare you that trouble."

"Root..." Shaw warned.

"It's alright, Shaw. Keeping you safe was always part of the plan."

"Yeah, well, that doesn't work for me," Shaw answered. "We're walking out together or we're going down together. Either way... I'm not leaving you. Not ever again. That's my plan."

"This is touching, but neither one of you are..." Greer started to say before the guards around him shifted uncomfortably as if hearing bad news through their comms. One leaned to whisper in Greer's ear before turning and signaling for half the group to go with him. Shaw smiled wickedly as they trotted off.

"Let me guess," she said to him. "The Russians are here."

"You had something to do with this?"

"Maybe," she answered with a smug little look towards Root. "She might want you dead, but not me. I'd rather see you spend the rest of your life in a Russian prison. I wonder how glib you'll be about your life being 'irrelevant' there."

"Why would the Russians involve themselves?"

"Mitvenyenko. Yeah, remember him?" Shaw answered and added when Greer's eyes went wide. "He was a real asshole, but he had powerful friends who didn't appreciate him being killed by mind-controlled agents. Especially American ones. I may have told them about Samaritan and how close this little factory was to their border. If they got the impression you were planning to target their other citizens, who was I to correct them? I'm sure they'll have lots of questions for you and you know what? I bet they'll have interesting things to shove into your head, too. Are you as excited to find out as I am?"

Greer's look soured as much as Shaw had ever seen and he flicked his eyes between her and Root.

"Why don't we all leave right now and take our chances on meeting another day, Greer?" Shaw offered calmly to him before nodding towards the remaining guards. "I think you're going to need all of these men with you if you're going to get out of China alive. Test us, though, and Root and I will make sure you're the only one left alive in this room when the Russians get here."

"Sir..." a guard offered cautiously.

Greer glared at Shaw long enough that she started to worry he'd still want to fight his way out. She readjusted her grip on her pistols and readied herself for whatever would happen next, but then Greer relaxed just slightly.

"Another day, Ms. Shaw," he said primly before turning on his heels and walking out.

Shaw watched him and the guards all the way to the door and only then looked to Root. They turned in unison and started running for the doors in the opposite direction.

"What the fuck kind of plan was that, Root?" Shaw snapped as they ran. "A bomb? Really?"

"The bomb was only part of the plan," Root dismissed. "And like you're one to talk. Did you really call the Russians?"

"Of course I did. We have dinner plans. I needed to make sure you'd be there."

Root laughed as they rounded the corner and spotted the outer doors. "Remind me never to miss a date with you."

"I will," Shaw told her firmly. "But what the hell kind of plan was that? You tell me to trust you and then try to blow the place?"

"I just needed them to think I would so they would panic and back up their data in one go," Root answered as if it should have been obvious. "In their rush, they didn't even notice I installed a little program to hunt and eliminate transmitter programming. They backed it up along with the rest of their data and its now in Samaritan's main servers. It'll spread quickly and set them back a few years. With a little luck, it will corrupt those servers too, and who knows how much time that will buy us."

"That's fantastic," Shaw said with a widening smile. She reached the door and after a brief look at the firefights breaking out near the walls, guided Root away, under the fence, and out towards the tree line. "But what was your plan to get out once they took the bait," she asked once they were safely concealed.

"You worry too much, Sam," Root said. She kissed Shaw's cheek and then kept moving, leading Shaw back to a dirtbike she must have concealed earlier. She climbed on and looked to Shaw, who stood motionless.

"You did have a plan to get out of there, right Root?"

Root stared up at her. "Did you mean those things you said in there?"

"Every word."

She smiled softly. "Then promise never to ask me that question again and I'll promise never to make you wonder."

"No more errands?"

"No more errands," Root answered. "At least, not without you."

Shaw nodded; she could live with that. "We make a good team, Root."

Root smiled broadened widely. "I'm glad you've finally figured that out."

Shaw held her look a moment longer and then climbed onto the back of the bike. She wrapped her arms around Root's middle and let herself be driven off into the darkness.

***

Shaw quietly sipped her drink as she stared out over the city from her rooftop perch. Root had fallen asleep long before, but not finding sleep herself, Shaw had snuck away so as not to disturb her. She'd grabbed her hoodie and some whiskey and then gone up the fire escape to the little bench she'd set in just the right spot to watch the moon cross the skyline.

She'd never been one to dwell on the past, but sitting there warm and content as she was, she found herself thinking on what a long road she'd taken to get to this spot. No plan she'd ever made for herself had worked out and yet, despite everything going horribly, painfully wrong, she'd somehow managed to find a purpose, a team, a home, and Root - all without looking for any of them. All it had taken was a pair of sentient AIs and a fair amount of torture.

And goddamn if that didn't make her the luckiest woman alive. Who would have thought?

Quiet footsteps on the fire escape pulled her attention and she watched as Root stepped cautiously onto the roof. Root smiled when their eyes met and wrapped her robe just a little tighter against herself as she shivered in the night wind.

"I'm sorry if I woke you," Shaw said.

"You didn't," Root answered.

"Still can't sleep?"

"It was nothing. Just a stupid dream," she answered with a little shake of her head.

She walked to Shaw, who shifted to make room for her and when Root sat, Shaw pulled her close so she could rest her head against Shaw's chest and bring her feet up. Then Shaw wrapped her arms around her to make the chill on Root's skin melt away.

"Tell me," Shaw said.

"It's not worth it," Root answered with another like shake of her head.

"Come on, Root," Shaw pressed quietly. "I thought we were a team."

She was silent for a while and Shaw had just about given up she'd say anything at all when she whispered, "I couldn't find you and no one would help me."

"But you did find me."

"I told you it was stupid."

"Not stupid," Shaw told her, pressing her cheek against the chilly top of her head. "You found me, I found you; we'll always find each other, Root."

"Sameen Shaw, are you becoming a romantic?"

"Pft," Shaw answered, pulling her head away a little. "Nothing romantic about it. It's just fact."

"It's a little romantic..." Root said with obvious amusement.

"Whatever."

Root huffed a laugh and pressed herself a little more firmly into Shaw's arms. "She still won't talk to me," she said after she'd grown quiet for a while.

"You never needed Her, Root," Shaw answered as she took a sip from her glass and let Root do the same.

"I know that, but she's not Samaritan, Shaw. She can help and I miss Her."

"Then we'll figure something out to get Her talking again. But I'm going to teach Her a couple of lessons about teamwork, first. And what will happen if She puts you in danger again."

"Always the protector..." Root said. "Greer is still out there, Shaw, Samaritan still needs to be stopped, and there will always be numbers to save..."

"Mm-hmm..."

"You're going to get hurt again."

"Probably," Shaw answered. "As will you."

"That never used to bother me. Now all I want to do is keep you safe."

Shaw grimaced as she tried to think what to say to that, knowing there wasn't all that much she could say that would be comforting; they could only promise each other so much. Samaritan was always going to be a threat and even if their little ragtag team managed the impossible and beat it, another threat would only rise. There would always be elevators and server rooms and too many faceless goons with guns.

They both knew what they'd signed up for, though - what was being asked of them and what would be asked of them down the line, but somehow, Shaw just knew it be ok even if she couldn't see how or why or what the plan might be because under everything, she could hear what Root was saying to her now, knew she felt the same, and knew what that meant for them both.

"I love you, too, Root," Shaw said quietly, but firmly. Root drew a breath and tensed at her words, just enough that Shaw pulled her a little closer on instinct. "We can handle anything if we stick together," Shaw added.

"I like the sound of that."

"Then don't second guess it."

"Don't you either," Root pressed.

"I won't," Shaw answered. She kissed the top of Root's head and kept her lips pressed into Root's hair until Root finally started to relax. She felt the tension slowly drop from Root's shoulders as the rest of her body started to settle against Shaw's. "Close your eyes, Root. Get some rest," she whispered. "Everything's going to be fine."

*****