Work Header

Slowly Spirals

Chapter Text

Jason got bored of the knife quickly. Or maybe he was just squeamish, the cuts he inflicted on Root never seeming to go that deep, drawing blood but not enough for her to lose consciousness.

And all the while Shaw never once took her eyes off her.

She made herself watch, wishing it was her in Root’s place, wishing that she could somehow take away the pain that danced in Root’s eyes like a manic gleam.

But she wasn’t too worried about Jason’s ministrations, at least not until he decided to switch from the blade and brought out a taser. Maybe he knew how much damage it could do beneath the surface, or maybe he thought he was inflicting an odd sick sense of irony, using Root’s favoured choice of weapon on her. But every time he brought it against her skin, every time he sent a fresh current of electricity through her, Shaw wondered if it would be the last, if it would be the one that would stop Root’s heart.

Shaw had been counting, and after the seventh shock sent Root’s body shuddering, Root ended up slumped in her seat, head lolling listlessly as she lost consciousness. Shaw tugged at her bonds, knowing it was useless, but struggling all the same, savouring the way the hard plastic cut into her flesh, making her bleed. She counted how long it took for Root to wake up. Too long. And she wasn’t sure how much more of this Root’s body could take.

Jason glanced at her, the look he sent her way was distant, as if he weren’t responsible for his actions and she hated the way he kept caressing Root, kept muttering things in her ear, like he was apologising, like he had any right to touch her. Shaw clenched her fists tighter, dug her nails deep into her palms and knew what he wanted from her. But Root’s eyes kept telling her to keep her mouth shut. And she did, she kept her silence. Used the pain in her wrists, her shoulder, her head, used it all to fuel her anger and maintain her silence and used it to give her the strength not to give in and give Jason exactly what he wanted, no matter how much she wanted to give it to him with every fresh wave of pain and suffering he exacted on Root.

“Tell me where the Machine is,” Jason said, holding the taser up to Root’s neck.

“Jason,” said Root, her voice weak and cracked, like it struggled to get past her lips and into the air, “please.”

But Jason ignored her pleas and continued to stare at Shaw long and hard.

Shaw bit her lip and forced herself to look as Jason sent an eighth jolt of electricity through Root’s body. Root eventually stopped convulsing, her hands clenched tightly, sweat beading every inch of her bare skin, mingling with the blood from Jason’s ministrations and Shaw knew she was struggling to keep her eyes open this time.

“You don’t have to do this,” Root said, her voice slurred as she looked at Jason, peering at him as if the room were dark and she couldn’t see his face properly.

“Shut up,” Jason snapped.

“Please,” Root begged.

Shut up,” Jason hissed, like he couldn’t bear to hear the weakness in her voice. “The only person who should be talking right now is her.” He looked at Shaw then, his stare hard and cold and Shaw knew that his patience was thinning, knew that he was running out of time. That whatever virus he had unleashed upon the Machine would soon consume it. And when that happened, Shaw knew that neither she nor Root were going to make it out of this building alive.

“I’m getting bored of this, Mr Greenfield,” said Greer.

It was the first time he had spoken since Jason had started and up until then he had remained silent upon his perch, watching indifferently. Shaw glanced at him; he looked bored and impatient and she wondered if he too knew how little time they had left until the Machine was lost for good.

“End this,” said Greer.

Jason froze for a moment; it was subtle, but Shaw saw it and she wondered if he had thought about how far he would have to go here, if he felt he was really capable of it. But then she remembered Daizo, his face pale and his blood drenching the floor and she knew that he was. Jason may not like getting his hands dirty, but when he was desperate enough, if it was a necessity, he would.

Shaw was the one that froze then, stilling her arms against the struggle to get free and she watched as Jason tossed the taser aside, as he took the trimming knife back out of his pocket and walked around to the back of Root’s chair. Shaw wondered if he had positioned himself so he could look Shaw in the eye as he did it, or if he was just trying to avoid looking into Root’s.

Jason dug the tip of the blade into Root’s neck and Shaw clenched her teeth as blood trickled down Root’s throat, a thin red line looking so bright and bold against Root’s skin, like it didn’t belong there. Root closed her eyes briefly before opening them again, looking directly at Shaw and Shaw felt like she was struggling to breathe, like something was blocking her throat, constricting it and squeezing it tight.

Shaw saw Jason’s wrist flick at the same time as someone shouted, “Stop,” and it took Shaw a few moments to realise it was her, her voice unrecognisable to her own ears, faraway and crispy.

“I’ll tell you where the Machine is,” Shaw said, but it was like someone else was speaking, taking control of her vocal cords, making them work without her permission. “Just leave her alone.”

Jason dropped the blade away from Root’s neck and smirked, but there was a hint of something else flickering in his eyes, like he was more than a little relieved that he didn’t have to go through with it.

Root was shaking her head, silently telling Shaw not to say anything. Shaw ignored her and looked away.

“Well?” said Greer. He had moved from his perch, stepping over to Shaw slightly and watching her carefully, like he was afraid this was some trick and she would suddenly jump at him.

Shaw looked at him, because it was easier than looking at Root and Shaw wasn't sure what she would find there if she did. But she knew, that whatever it was, she would give in to it, she would do whatever Root wanted, even if it cost Root her life. So she kept her eyes carefully trained away.

"Let her go first," said Shaw and this time her voice sounded more like her own, guttural and low and threatening even though she was in no position to be threatening anyone.

"You misunderstand us, Miss Shaw," said Greer, standing up straighter and staring down at her like one of those stern British schoolmasters she had seen in movies and she was the misbehaving student who was cowering underneath his reprimand. "You have no bargaining power here," Greer continued. "Now where is the Machine?"

When Shaw didn't say anything, too busy thinking about Harold and Daniel, how vulnerable they would be to a full on Decima assault, Greer gestured to Jason and she saw him move towards Root again. Harold and Daniel may not be able to hold their own against Decima, but she knew Reese was there, could take out an entire Decima trigger team without breaking a sweat and used that knowledge to justify opening her mouth. Her voice had taken on that distant quality again as she reeled off the address and her eyes found Root's. Shaw couldn't hide from the betrayal that she found there, as if she were the one responsible with tampering with the Machine in the first place, for putting them in this position. And maybe she partly was, maybe Shaw could have prevented all of this if she had pursued her concerns about the Machine sooner, if she had told Harold or Reese, if she had stopped ignoring whatever was going on with Root. But Shaw hadn’t done any of that, she hadn’t wanted to deal with it so she had ignored it and pretended everything was fine when it wasn’t and now here they were.

Greer took his phone out and started dialling. "Mr Greenfield, as soon as my men have verified the Machine's location... Kill them both."

Jason smirked and moved towards Shaw. "I think I'm going to start with you."

Good, Shaw thought and waited for him to get closer.

He held the knife loosely in one hand, careless and arrogant as he sauntered towards her. He still had the gun tucked in the front of his pants and Greer was unarmed, she thought, but still within easy reach of her own gun from when they had disarmed her earlier. Shaw took note of all this, her brain carefully calculating her options. There weren't many, but if Jason got close enough...

Shaw kept one eye on Greer; he was still busy on the phone and Shaw knew she would only have seconds to do something if she was going to do anything at all without getting herself killed. She only had one chance to get them both out of this alive.

Shaw waited until Jason was close enough, schooled her features so he wouldn't notice she was up to something until it was too late and lifted her leg up, placing a well-aimed foot hard into his groin. Jason groaned loudly and leaned forward, clutching at himself in pain. Shaw grabbed the knife out of his hand and she had her arm free in one deft move, dropping the knife quickly onto her a lap and reaching for the gun at Jason's waist before he realised what was happening.

"Rule 101 of interrogation," said Shaw smugly, "restrain all limbs. Just in case."

Now unarmed and defenceless, Jason staggered backwards holding his hands up defensively. Shaw saw Greer move out of the corner of her eye and turned her attention into him, ordering him not to move, but it was enough of a distraction for Jason to make an escape, dashing out of the door that they had come in. Shaw sent off a few wild rounds and missed, cursing under her breath but not entirely surprised that he had made a run for it the first chance he could get.

Shaw quickly turned her attention back to Greer. "Call off your men."

Greer just smiled at her and Shaw quickly let off two shots, taking out Greer's kneecaps for the second time before his lips could even finish curving upwards. Shaw waited a moment to be sure he wasn't about to move then quickly dropped the gun to her lap and picked up the trimming knife, cutting her other wrist free.

Shaw quickly got up and moved over to Root. She had lost consciousness again and Shaw didn't like how fast her pulse was when she checked it. Shaw let her fingers linger for a moment, savouring the feel of the heat radiating off Root's skin, the erratic beat of her pulse that let Shaw know that she was alive. Her movements when she stood straighter were reluctant and Shaw kept her eyes on Root as she moved towards Greer again. She snatched up the cell phone that had fallen out of his hand and quickly dialled, moving towards Root once again. The line picked up almost immediately.

"Reese," said Shaw, not giving him time to say hello. "You're about to have company."

"What's going on?" asked Reese.

"We're at Decima," Shaw explained, kneeling down in front of Root as her eyes fluttered open briefly. Shaw cut her loose with one hand as she continued to talk to Reese. "Greer knows where the Machine is. He sent a team after you."

"How?" asked Reese but Shaw didn't answer him, just dropped the knife once she had cut Root free, letting her fingers rest lightly against Root's wrist, using it as a reminder that Root was okay.

"What about the access nodule?" Daniel asked, his voice sounding strained as it came over the line.

"What about it?" asked Shaw. She had almost forgotten about it during Jason's little torture session.

"Do you have it?" Daniel asked, a little more forcefully.

Shaw shrugged, realised that he couldn't see her and then said, "What does it look like?"

"Uh," said Daniel, "probably like a laptop but with some sort box or attachment on the side."

Shaw glanced around the work shop. There were bits of computers and other tech all over the place, but when her eyes landed on the bench that Greer had been using as a makeshift chair, she saw a white laptop with a rectangular box sticking out of the side.

"I think I found it," said Shaw.

"Good," said Daniel, "I think we might be able to set it up remotely from our end and stop the virus."

"How?" asked Shaw, regretting it almost immediately as Daniel stared reeling off a set of instructions that left Shaw's head spinning. "Daniel," she snapped and he shut up. "Would Root know how to do that?"

"Um, yes. Probably," said Daniel.

"Root's with you?" Reese asked, sounding like he knew exactly how Decima had found them and wasn't happy about it. But Shaw ignored him again.

"I'll call you back," she said as Root started to stir again and this time managed to keep her eyes open. "Hey," said Shaw, letting her hand drop from Root's wrist, "don't try to move."

"You shouldn't have done that," said Root thickly, like she was struggling to speak and she peered at Shaw with defiance in her eyes and a little of something else. Shaw looked away, glancing down at Root's wrists, raw and bloody from when her body had struggled against the taser. "My life doesn't matter," Root continued and Shaw looked up at her sharply.

"You idiot. It does matter," Shaw blurted, but there wasn't any harshness to her voice. She sounded tired and defeated and Shaw wasn't sure where it was coming from. "It matters to me."

Root looked at her steadily and whatever hint of betrayal had been flashing in her eyes before quickly slipped away, replaced with something else that Shaw found she couldn't take for very long, like it was burning her with more heat the longer she allowed Root to keep looking at her.

"Come on," said Shaw, gripping Root by the elbow and helping her to her feet. "You've got work to do."


Root couldn't stop her fingers from trembling; making it difficult for her to type anything into Jason's access nodule and it was taking her an insane amount of effort just to keep her eyes open. Daniel talked her through what she had to do from her end. He was patient with how slow she was being, but she was conscious of how little time they had left and Shaw hovering over her shoulder once she had tied up Greer wasn't helping. Something was different about her now, Root thought. Where she had expected coldness and distance, Root found an odd warmness to Shaw's touch, gentle in the way that she checked Root's wounds, as if she thought Root was some fragile piece of china that would break at the slightest touch. Root wasn't sure what to do with it, how she should feel and what it meant, how they could go from a break up to whatever this was. She did wonder briefly if Shaw was messing with her head, if she could be that callous. And she tried not to think about how Shaw had so readily given up the location of the Machine, put Harold and Reese and Daniel all at risk just to save Root's life.

She didn't think she deserved it, to have her life saved, to still be breathing when Daizo lay cold and still, never to move again.

"Hey," said Shaw softly, nudging Root slightly and Root realised she must have lost consciousness again. "Still with me?"

Shaw smiled at her slightly and Root brushed off her concerns and turned away.

"How are we doing, Daniel?" said Root with a coldness that wasn't for him. Root could feel Shaw move away from her slightly and hoped that she had hurt Shaw as much as Shaw had hurt her, but doubted she had succeeded.

"Waiting for you to patch me in," said Daniel, sounding unsure of himself. She realised then that they had already been over this, that he had explained to her what to do and she had started coding before she had spaced out and forgotten what she was supposed to be doing. She could hear gunfire from his end of the line and knew that whatever Decima teams Greer had sent had found them.

“Everything okay over there?” asked Shaw, managing to keep the indifference in her voice and Root wondered if she felt at all guilty about the situation she had just put them in.

“I think so,” said Daniel, although his voice sounded shaky as the gunfire continued relentlessly.

“Detective Fusco has joined us,” said Harold, “although we appear to be rather outnumbered.”

Root looked at Shaw, watched the way she carefully avoided her eyes and didn’t say anything in response to Harold’s comment. But they both felt it, Root thought, the guilt that came with knowing that they were in that situation because of them and Root felt the guilt eat away at her, felt it just as bad as the thought of Daizo bleeding in her arms because he had jumped in front of a bullet meant for her. How many more of them would have to take a bullet because of her? How many more of them would have to suffer and die? Her own suffering she could live with, but not theirs. Not now. Despite everything, despite whatever issues she had with Harold, despite whatever latent dislike still lingered between her and John, she still couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to either of them because of her. And Daniel…Daniel, the only one of her team left that she hadn’t broken or been betrayed by and she wondered if he felt Daizo’s death and Jason’s betrayal as much as she did, if it sat in him like a heavy weight, slowly realising toxins and poisons, sending out a sharp stab of pain whenever she remembered how foolish she had been not to have seen it coming.

Jason's nodule was elegant and sleek in design, but its interface left a lot to be desired and Root was finding it difficult to navigate. Root found the code she had been working on, realised it was a jumble of letters and numbers that made no sense and had to start again. Root clenched her fists in annoyance, dug her nails into her skin in an effort to stop the trembling, knowing that Shaw was watching her carefully.

"You sure you can do this?" Shaw asked.

Root ignored her and began typing, slowly and deliberately until she was done, sweat dripping from her face, head aching and her body feeling like it was about to tear itself apart. She patched Daniel through and he took control of the nodule remotely.

"This thing is amazing," Daniel exclaimed, "this isn’t just to get into the Machine. It’s a remote hacking device to get access to any computer system, even if it’s not networked."

Root was barely listening to him. She slouched back in her seat, struggling to keep her eyes open, her heart racing worse than ever before.

Shaw's hand gripped her wrist tightly and when Root made herself focus, Shaw was suddenly kneeling in front of her with more concern on her face than Root had ever seen.

“What?" said Root, trying to sound annoyed but it just came out slurred, like she had been drinking hard liquor for hours.

"You passed out again," said Shaw and the neutral mask was back in place, like the concern had never been there at all.

"I'm fine," said Root, trying to sit up a little straighter and failing, her arms too weak to push her body weight up.

She watched Shaw bite her lip and wondered what acerbic comment she was trying to suppress. Root wanted to say something harsh and cold, something that would drive Shaw away, but she couldn't muster the energy. Instead she watched as the concern slipped from Shaw's face, turning into confusion and it took Root a moment to realise why.

"Is that your phone?" Shaw asked and Root batted her hand away when she tried to help her find it.

Root slipped the phone out of her back pocket with still trembling fingers, knew she wouldn't be able to get them under control enough to answer it and reluctantly let Shaw take it from her.

"It's Gen," said Shaw frowning.

Root felt panic spike in her then. Gen knew only to call if there was an emergency. But the kid had never been one to follow Shaw's stupid rule and she did wonder if she was just calling Root to talk, thinking that she was still holed up in bed with a leg wound, immobile and bored. She didn't know about Daizo yet, didn't know what Jason had done, how he had betrayed them all. And the panic just seemed to settle itself within her more, like an extra layer underneath her skin, insulating her and making it difficult to breathe or think or do anything.

Root watched Shaw carefully as she answered and knew that her fears were well founded when she saw the colour drain from Shaw's face. She could only hear Shaw's end of the conversation and Root wanted to scream at her to put it on speaker, to let her hear what was going on, let her talk to Gen so that she could reassure her that everything was going to be okay.

"It's okay, kiddo," said Shaw. Then her whole demeanour changed and whatever gentleness had been in her voice quickly disappeared, turning it cold and harsh. "You lay one finger on her and I swear I'll-"

But whatever Shaw was going to say was cut off by whoever was on the other end of the line. And Root didn't need to guess, didn't need to ask to know who it was. She had forgotten that Jason had been there when they had sent Gen away with Zoe and Root had foolishly allowed herself to believe that Gen was safe. She must have passed out for longer periods of time than she had realised and Root just added this to the list of things that had gone so wrong tonight that had been her fault.

Shaw listened to whatever Jason was saying and then hung up, clutching the phone tightly in her hand and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Jason's got Gen," she explained. "He wants the nodule."

Root frowned. Jason would never be able to take control of the Machine in time before the virus destroyed Her completely. But then she remembered what Daniel had said, about the nodule being able to gain access to non-networked systems and knew that was what Jason wanted it back for. It would certainly increase the scope of the work he could do as the ghost, not to mentioned how much a device like this would sell for on the black market; hacking without the requirement of basic coding skills would be a valuable thing indeed and Root wasn't at all surprised that Jason had designed it. He had always been good at getting into things, and the nodule was designed to get into anything, including the Machine.

Shaw made to grab for the nodule, but Root reached out a hand to stop her.

"Wait," said Root, "we still need to get rid of the virus."

Shaw clenched her teeth. "I don't care about the stupid Machine."

"Please," said Root. Even though she couldn't bear the thought of something happening to Gen, she couldn't lose the Machine either. Not now, not after everything. "Just give me ten minutes."

Shaw looked at her darkly and Root knew she was sceptical about Root's ability to do anything in that short space of time. Root doubted it to, but she was determined to try and she thought with Daniel and Harold's help, she might just be able to do it, might manage to save the Machine before She was lost forever.

"You have five," said Shaw tightly and stood back to let Root work.

It took her seven and only because Daniel's fingers were doing most of the typing on his end, Root watching the nodule's screen as he slowly eradicated the virus, restoring the Machine's original code before Jason had corrupted it.

"I think that's it," said Daniel when the virus had been completely removed. But Root didn't need him to confirm it, the Machine was doing that all by Herself and suddenly there was the familiar sound of the Machine in her ear again, static and Morse code and a mixture of random numbers as the Machine tried to get Her bearings.

Can. You. Hear. Me?

"There you are," Root whispered as the Machine continued to talk to her, told her how many Decima agents were on their way up here now on the elevator, how Jason was almost at the place where he had told Shaw they were to make the exchange, Gen tied up in the back seat of the car, but otherwise unharmed. How Zoe was lying unconscious on her apartment floor, but unlikely to have any serious injuries. She told Root how many Decima agents were still trying to gain access to Her servers, the odds of Reese and Fusco being able to take them out without getting themselves killed (they were low, Root noted and quickly sent Daniel and Harold an alternative escape route out of the building.) She also told Root the status of her own health, the rate of her heart beat, how well her leg was healing and how much damage she had done to it on her journey over here. But Root ignored that and focused on the nodule on front of her, began typing more code as the Machine informed her that Daniel and Harold were making their escape, Reese and Fusco not far behind them.

"Root," said Shaw warningly, stepping closer.

"I just need one more minute," said Root, not taking her eyes off what she was doing.

"What are you doing, Miss Groves?" Harold asked, sounding concerned. His breathing was erratic as he hurried to out run the Decima agents on his tail.

"Making sure that no one can infiltrate the Machine again," Root informed him absently, her fingers a blur as she continued to type code that would set the Machine free, allow Her to overcome the servers that trapped Her like a cage.

"Are you doing what I think you’re doing?" Daniel asked, sounding surprised, and maybe a little intrigued. But Root ignored him, ignored Harold and his concerns too, ignored the way Shaw was hovering at her elbow, silently urging her to hurry up. She even ignored the Machine who tried to tell her it wasn't necessary. Root focused on the code in front of her; it didn't take her long until she was done, and then she left the Machine to decide what to do with it next, a gift for all the times the Machine had saved her. It was the only gift that Root could think to give an all seeing artificial intelligence, but she gave it to Her anyway, gave the Machine the ability to set Herself free if that's what She wanted.

Root shut the nodule and turned to Shaw. "We need to take the back stairs."

Shaw snatched up the nodule, tightening her grip on her gun as she led them out of the workshop. Root felt a little lightheaded as she stood up. Her entire body ached, and she rested both hands on the work bench in front of her, leaning heavily as she struggled to keep her breathing under control.

"Are you okay?" Shaw asked, pausing at the doorway and shooting Root that look of concern again.

Root ignored her and pushed herself straighter, forced herself to limp across the room and tried not to let it show how much it hurt. She could tell by the look on Shaw's face that she had failed. But Root ignored that too and this time she took the lead, directing Shaw to the back stairwell that the Machine told her to take. "We have forty-five seconds before the elevator reaches this floor," Root tossed over her shoulder when Shaw didn't move. "You don't have enough ammunition to take out every Decima agent. So let's move," she added more forcefully and it was more for herself than for Shaw.

Shaw seemed to snap out of whatever trance she was in and quickly followed her, sticking close to Root's side as they pushed the stairwell door open.

"What about Greer?" Shaw asked, taking the lead again and checking they were clear before gesturing for Root to follow her down the stairs.

"What about him?" said Root. As far as she was concerned, Greer could bleed out from the knees. Although the Machine told her his injuries weren't serious. "Unless you're willing to carry him down all eighty floors... leave him."

Shaw scowled, but didn't argue and Root understood her reluctance to let him get away once again. And this time, Root doubted planting drugs at his place was going to cut it to keep him out of trouble. But the Machine already seemed to be formulating a plan, chattering incessantly in Root's ear, so fast that Root was sure the Machine was trying to explain about four things at once to her. But Root didn't mind. It was familiar and comforting and she hadn't realised how much she relied on the Machine until She was gone. How much she had missed Her.

They had only made it down three floors when Root had to stop, gripping the railing tightly as her vision swam in front of her, the world spinning like she was on a merry-go-round gone wild. She thought she was going to throw up, the nausea biting at her to get her attention. Root closed her eyes and she didn't realise Shaw had moved back to her side until she felt her hand grip her forearm.

"Root," said Shaw hurriedly. "You need to keep moving."

"I can't," Root said, shaking her head.

"Yes you can," said Shaw and squeezed Root's arm tightly to force her to move.

"It's taking too long," Root said, thinking about all those steps still to go, how her leg was burning already with the effort, how her heart was racing so fast like it was trying to escape her body. "We're not going to reach the meeting point in time."

"So we'll be a little late," Shaw said. "I don't think Jason's capable of killing a kid."

"You don't know that," Root mumbled and couldn't get the image of Daizo out of her head.

"Yeah, maybe I don't," Shaw agreed. "But I'm not leaving you. So get moving."

Shaw didn't give Root time to protest and all but shoved Root down the next flight of stairs. Root was unsteady on her feet, but Shaw kept her grip tight and somehow they made it down another five floors before Root had to stop again.

"Three guys are about to burst through that door," Root said, leaning against the railing as she caught her breath. Shaw handed her the access nodule and drew out her gun, levelling it at the door. Shaw took the three guys out before they had even made it through the door fully. Root limped over to them and picked up one of their fallen weapons before stepping over them and through the door.

"Where are you going?" Shaw snapped.

"She says there is a service elevator that we can use," Root explained, feeling more than a little relieved that she wouldn't have to attempt the stairs again. The Machine told her where to go, Shaw following behind her dutifully. They were clear for now, but the Machine counted seven hostiles two floors below them that were slowly making their way up.

They reached the service elevator and the Machine reeled off the four digit access code to get into it. Root's fingers had started shaking again, preventing her from typing it in properly.

"What ‘s the code?" asked Shaw, pushing past her gently to type in the code herself, and Root didn't miss the look on her face. It was that look of concern, mingled with something else that Root couldn't decipher. It wasn't a look that sat well on Shaw's face, like it didn't belong there. But Shaw quickly hid it again, as if it had never been there at all, and Root wondered if it even had been, if she had just imagined it in her struggle to stay upright, to stay awake and not give in to the blackness that wanted to consume her.

But Shaw didn't let her, gripping her arm tightly again. "What's the code, Root?"

Root found she couldn’t speak and closed her eyes tightly, leaning against the wall as her leg started shaking underneath her and only Shaw's firm hold on her kept her from sliding to the floor.

"Two-Seven-Three-Nine," Root said and Shaw let go of her briefly to quickly type it in.

"Root, you need to stay awake," Shaw said, gripping Root's arm again and shaking her slightly.

Root nodded and it felt like someone had slammed a brick into her head. She opened her eyes again to find Shaw's face right in front of her, so close that Root wanted to reach out and touch her, find comfort there where she had found it so many times before. Shaw squeezed her arm tightly, hard enough to bruise and Root thought that was more comforting than any gentle caress that either of them could give.

"Just go," said Root weakly. She had slid to the floor at some point, but she couldn't remember when and she wondered absently if she had passed out again. The nodule was sitting on the floor at her side and she wondered if she had dropped it. It still looked intact though, but looking at it just reminded her what was at stake and she couldn't understand why Shaw was still here, why she wasn't moving and going to get Gen.

"Root, get up," said Shaw sternly.

"You're running out of time," said Root. "Go."

Shaw shook her head. "Get up."


But Shaw just grabbed Root by the arm and lifted her to her feet, then she scooped up the nodule and dragged Root into the service elevator. Shaw let her sit on the floor and Root closed her eyes, finding the hum of the elevator as it descended soothing. When she opened her eyes again, the elevator had stopped.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Nothing," said Shaw. "You passed out again. Come on." She lifted Root to her feet and led them out of the elevator.

The Machine chirped in Root's ear. "We've got company," Root said and took the nodule from Shaw so she could fire her gun whilst still holding onto Root.

"How many?" Shaw asked.

"Seven," said Root and told Shaw where to fire.

"Fire exit," said Root, nodding to their left once Shaw had taken out the last Decima agent. Shaw kept her gun out, still half carrying Root as they made their way to the fire exit. Shaw kicked it open and alarms started blaring almost immediately, almost certainly alerting every Decima agent in the building to their current position. Shaw cursed under her breath, glancing behind her to check they were still clear.

"We're okay," Root assured her. "She says there is a car around the corner we can use."

Shaw nodded and when they rounded the corner she let go of Root, leaving her resting against a building with the nodule held tightly in her hands. Root watched as Shaw stealthily approached a guy as he unlocked his car, bringing the butt of her gun down hard on the back of his neck. He dropped to the ground and Shaw kicked him out of the way so she could open the door. She glanced at Root, looked like she was about to come over and help her again, but Root pushed herself defiantly off the wall and limped towards the car, getting into the passenger seat before her body could protest too much about the sudden movement.

Root was pretty sure she had passed out again because the next thing she knew they were at the meeting point, the headlights of Jason’s car shining brightly in her face. Root blinked rapidly until she could get her eyes to focus and she found Shaw staring at her.

“You ready?” Shaw asked.

Root nodded and got out of the car, clutching the nodule tightly to her chest. She couldn’t see all that well because of the glare from the headlights, but she thought she could see a shadow up ahead, a looming figure looking dangerous as they moved round to the side of the car. It was Jason, she was sure, and then she saw a smaller figure get out of the car and her heart lurched at the sight of Gen being held tightly in Jason’s grip, like she was some rabid wild animal that had to be tamed and not an innocent kid.

“Bring me the nodule over,” Jason called, “but keep your hands where I can see them.”

Root glanced at Shaw and she nodded for Root to go, never taking her eyes off Jason, the gun steady in her hand as she aimed it in his direction.

Root shuffled slowly forward, pushing herself through the pain and the nausea and everything else that felt wrong with her entire body. The Machine continued to mutter in her ear, and she let out a sigh of relief when She said that the guys had gotten out okay, that they were on their way to check on Zoe.

Jason reached out a hand and snatched the nodule from her as soon as she was close enough, looking so much like a greedy child at Christmas who had opened up all his presents but still wanted more. He still kept one arm tight around Gen, holding her close as he checked the nodule was still intact, resting it on the hood of his car. Gen struggled in his grip, but Root smiled at her reassuringly, shaking her head slightly and Gen stilled, staring up at Root, her eyes shining brightly with fear.

“Satisfied?” Root said coldly when Jason was done.

He nodded slightly and looked at her carefully and she could see the edges of a smirk on his face.

“One more thing,” he said, looking past her slightly to look at Shaw and Root could feel her move closer, knew that Shaw’s trigger finger was probably itching. Jason’s eyes fell on Root again and she knew what he wanted, didn’t see the point at feigning ignorance as she stepped closer to him. Gen was within her reach now and Root found her hand, gripping it tightly as she leaned her head closer to Jason’s. She closed her eyes when he brought his lips against hers and she all she wanted was for it to be over, for him to be gone and faraway, never to touch any of their lives ever again. She thought of Daizo then, felt something swell in her chest and tighten her throat and she didn’t think she had hated anyone more than she hated Jason right now.

And then it was over and Root was pulling away, bringing Gen with her. Shaw took a step closer to Jason as Gen tightened her grip on Root.

“You’re not going to shoot me,” said Jason confidently. “Not in front of the kid.”

Shaw clenched her jaw and Root knew she was struggling hard not to do it, regardless of the fact that Gen was there. But Shaw didn’t pull the trigger, instead she watched Jason leave with the nodule in his possession. Root watched him drive off, wrapping her arms around Gen and pulling her closer.

“You okay?” Root asked. Gen nodded but Root could tell by the way that she gripped Root tightly, buried her face in Root’s side that she wasn’t, that she was acting brave and fine because that’s how she thought she should be acting.

Shaw walked over towards them. She looked at Gen, swallowing hard, looking like she wanted to say something but not knowing how.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Shaw said eventually.

Root nodded and led Gen back to the car.

“Is Zoe okay?” Gen asked, glancing up at her nervously.

“Yeah,” said Root, as the Machine gave her another update. “John’s with her.”

Gen visibly relaxed and got into the back seat. Root shut the door for her and then turned to Shaw, biting her lip as Shaw stared distantly at the spot where Jason had disappeared.

“There’s a Decima team on the way,” said Root, the Machine telling her that Jason had sent them, probably to prevent them from pursuing him. “We need to go.”

Shaw nodded and moved towards the driver’s door but Root got in her way. “What?” Shaw snapped.

“Let’s not tell her about Daizo,” said Root, glancing at Gen through the window. “Not yet.”

Shaw’s features softened slightly and she nodded. “Okay.”

Shaw looked like she wanted to say something else, but once again words seemed to fail her and Root got into the car, feeling annoyed and confused and not at all sure where the hell any of them were supposed to go from here.