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Take Cover

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Left on Lexington

 

She walks down the empty street, turns left on Lexington. The blinking lights of the city hurt her eyes and her footsteps echo loudly, too loudly against the closed-down buildings. It isn’t a nice part of town but it isn’t why she worries, and she knows she would swallow nervously if only she could produce saliva. A side effect from all the drugs, perhaps?

 

Turn right on 37th

 

She turns right and walks down a few buildings before the Machine gives her an address. She repeats the numbers in her mind a few times, concentrating on the darkened facade until she finds it. When she does, Root knows her mind isn’t quite back to normal yet because she should have recognized it earlier – the neighborhood, the street. Shaw’s. She stops.

 

Need medical assistance

 

Root rolls her eyes. “I’ve been doing fine on my own,” she complains aloud, but runs up the stairs all the same when a police car drives down the block. It’s ridiculous, of course – she’s not running from the NYPD, not this time at least, and yet, she can’t shake off her fear. This creeping terror that someone will grab her and force her back into that cage, it presses on her lungs until she chokes.

 

She throws up in one of the empty flower pots garnishing the entrance of Sameen’s building.

 

Withdrawal may cause increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, seizures, anxiety, paranoia, extreme fatigue, cardiac arrest

 

“Along with nausea and abdominal pain, I presume,” Root jokes as she wipes the back of her hand against her dry lips. The Machine doesn’t glorify her statement with an answer; the hacker guesses She’s angry, or worse – worried. She looks at the apartment numbers, wondering if she should ring up Shaw’s so that she would let her in through the front door. Gleefully pretends, for a minute, that she is a normal person, just visiting a friend. If it wasn’t two in the morning, and most importantly if she hadn’t been tortured for hours by Control only moments prior, she might believe it.

 

Back alley, third level, fourth window

 

Sometimes, Root wonders if She can hear her thoughts, too, but she knows it’s too romantic an idea to actually exist. Nevertheless, she makes her way towards the back alley, easily finds the right fire escape. She climbs up three flights of precarious stairs to get to Sameen’s window, fighting the urge to retch again. Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the glass, she notices the sweat darkening her t-shirt and the patches of dried blood down her neck. She frowns. She doesn’t like the idea of being seen this way – especially by Shaw.

 

Asset is asleep

 

“Good,” Root replies, yet she doesn’t know what difference it makes, whether Sameen is awake or not. She lets her body slump against the cold metal of the fire escape, back uncomfortably resting against the railing. There are tears coming up her eyes and she doesn’t want to go forward.

 

Need medical assistance

 

“I know,” and she closes her eyes for only a second. When she opens them again, the dizziness is stronger than before and she thinks she won’t be able to resist throwing up this time. A noise just in front of her startles her; a window opening.

 

“What the hell,” Sameen steps through – or at least, Root believes it is her. As the light in Shaw’s living room is now turned on, she’s almost entirely blinded, and all she can distinguish is an agile shadow holding a gun. “Root, that you?”

 

The weakened body that was once Root tries to open her mouth and speak, but nothing comes out. The shadow moves closer quickly and reaches to her. “Fuck,” Sameen complains as her fingers check for the hacker’s pulse. She finds it weak, and then searches for broken bones. When she’s certain she can move the unconscious brunette without worsening any previous injury, she hesitates only a moment before pulling her into her apartment. Root’s uncontrolled limbs hit the railing a few times, the metallic noise echoing through the night until a neighbor yells a strong “hey, it’s fucking two in the morning, man!”

 

Shaw is acutely aware of the late hour. She’s tired and was quite frankly enjoying some rest, after the fucked up day she’s had. Hammer time, although very fun, really takes a lot out. Still, she can’t bring herself to abandon Root outside, bloodied and unconscious. Plus, there’s a storm on the way. She winces – those aren’t her words.

 

She’s just managed to pull her onto her bed when Root conveniently wakes up, blinking lazily, pupils dilated.

 

“Couldn’t wait to get me into your bed, Shaw?” Root flirts, but her voice is broken. Shaw rolls her eyes, knowing better than to answer that. She leaves to grab supplies from her bathroom, and when she does come back, the half-conscious woman resting on her mattress has managed to pull herself up. She sits upright, back against the wall, and doesn’t look very good.

 

“You were shot?” Shaw shakes the memory of Root lying on the floor, of her panicked voice reciting the elevator’s code. A lot’s happened since then, and obviously not just with Harold and Arthur.

 

Absently, Root nods and points to her left shoulder, where Hersh’s bullet went through.

 

“Anywhere else,” Shaw asks, although she is already replacing the bandages around the wound. Root shakes her head, and the quick motion causes her eyes to widen and her skin to turn pale. “You’re gonna throw up?”

 

Shaw instinctively reaches down, grabs a garbage can and empties its contents on the floor beside her bed. She unceremoniously drops it on Root’s lap, and orders; “in the can. If you mess up, I send you back where you came from, understand?”

 

Her words are impatient and angry, but her eyes aren’t quite speaking the same language.

 

“Yes ma’am,” Root replies with a small salute. Tears have gathered at the corner of her eyes, but after a few deep breaths they have disappeared.

 

Once Shaw is finished with the bullet wound, she leaves Root’s side for a few seconds and returns with a washcloth. Only then she manages to ask the question that’s been bugging her ever since she laid eyes on the hacker. “Wanna tell me how you got that blood on you?”

 

Root smirks, despite her obvious unfavorable predicament. “Don’t worry, it’s all mine.”

 

It’s not reassuring, Sameen thinks, but she would never admit it aloud. She brushes the towel against Root’s skin, more careful than she usually is – mostly because the girl winces every now and then, even though Shaw only finds futile cuts and a few bruises. When she gets to the wound on the right cheek, the hacker starts to tremble again. After an impatient sigh, Shaw’s left hand snakes her way behind Root’s head and firmly holds her in place. Under the pressure, Root cries out loudly and pushes Sameen’s arm away.

 

Her pupils are dilated as if she was going to pass out, but she stares at Shaw nonetheless, a defiant look on her face that the agent can’t explain. Her right hand cups Root’s chin and turns her head to the side, raising the long brown curls to reveal a deep cut.

 

“Don’t,” Root warns, but it comes off as a whispered begging.

 

Shaw blinks a few times. She’s seen that type of scars before, but only in manuals. She’s never seen a real life stapedectomy before, and she suddenly realizing how odd it is that Root’s wounds have been cleaned and bandaged up already, and with professional and clean supplies even, whether than with the usual cheap emergency kit stuff.

 

“What happened to you?”

 

The agent stares, waiting for an answer, even as a shaky hand pushes her away. A weakened Root shoves the garbage can into her as hardly as she can manage before she slips off the bed, trying to get back on her feet.

 

“You don’t look so good,” Shaw insists when the hacker almost falls, holding herself up by leaning against the wall. Her hands are shaking and a tear has broken the dam, running down Root’s cheek. “Don’t do that shit,” Sameen orders.

 

Root brushes it away.

 

Detoxification will require Naltrexone, Clonidine or Methadone

 

The hacker tries to move away from the wall but loses her balance. She falls back on the bed and laughs shortly. “I won’t cry.”

 

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you look like a fucking junkie right now,” Shaw tries, noticing the erratic breathing, that crazy look in Root’s eyes. The hacker avoids her stare and her silence tells Sameen that she’s onto something. She grabs the brunette’s arms, examining the skin under the sickened sweat. “Fuck,” she repeats, finding here and there the familiar pricks of a needle. A constellation on Root’s trembling arm.

 

“Your old boss is fun,” the hacker answers in a twisted, childish voice. “She gave me free drug samples, a lot of them,” the brunette continues, her eyes closing despite her best efforts. She pulls her limb out of the agent’s hold. “And then she took my ear.”

 

Shaw is familiar with the kind of torture, though she has never tried it herself. From what she heard, it is far from being fun, and very hard to resist. She wonders how strong Root’s resolve must have been if she pushed Control into creative mutilations in a matter of hours.

 

“You need a hospital,” Sameen says, more for the formality than anything else. She knows very well that Root won’t step foot in a medical facility – she is, after all, on the run from the ISA and therefore, most authorities.

 

“The Machine says I need you,” Root replies, head turning so that their eyes meet once again.

 

“I’m no doctor,” Shaw argues, although she knows it is too late. Now that she has dragged her into her apartment, she made Root her problem, and she won’t be able to get rid of her that easy.

 

“That’s not exactly true, is it,” and she crosses her arms over her stomach, clutching until her knuckles turn white, obviously in pain.

 

Shaw sighs loudly – one last rebellion before she caves in. She leaves the hacker’s side to grab a few more things from her kitchen – another recipient, filled with cold water; a jug of orange juice from the fridge; a pair of scissors and the container where she keeps all her medicine vials. When she returns to the main room of her loft, a feverish Root has already made her way under her bed sheets and trembles in a fetal position.

 

“You’re buying me new sheets,” Shaw declares, leaving the orange juice on her nightstand before she refreshes the washcloth in the cold water.

 

As soon as it makes contact with her skin, Root hisses. “Does it have to be this cold?”

 

“You’re running a fever,” Sameen explains as she pulls off the sheets to apply the cloth on the hacker’s neck and arms.

 

“Is that your way of saying I’m hot,” the brunette jokes, although right now she is acutely aware of how unattractive she is.

 

“Yeah, I like my women sweaty and nauseous,” Shaw complains as she continues her task, ignoring the few moans of protest coming from under her. When she’s done, she respectfully waits a few seconds before she asks; “how many?”

 

Root pulls herself up once again, eyes blinking in confusion.

 

“How many doses did she give you?”

 

Seventeen doses of Thiopental, seventeen doses of various amphetamines

 

Root laughs, and Shaw looks at her like she is crazy but waits for an answer anyway. “Thirty-four in total,” she finally offers.

 

“And you managed to keep count?” Shaw sounds impressed.

 

“No, She did,” and they both know who she’s talking about. The Machine. The one who should have prevented that Root would be taken prisoner in the first place. Sameen has never been one for working in teams, but still, she knows damn well that no one’s supposed to be left behind.

 

She opens her mouth to say something – she doesn’t know what exactly, it feels like an apology but it cannot be because Sameen never apologizes for who she is and what she does. Still, she cannot find out, because the hacker cuts her off.

 

“She said She was sorry,” and while Root smiles, Shaw wonders what she is supposed to reply to that. Awkward, stuck with her unspoken words, she stands up once again.

 

“I’ll get you something to wear; it’s not good that you stay in stained clothes.”

 

It’s a strange decision, and she doesn’t know where it comes from, but still, she goes through her drawers, finds a pair of boxers and a tank top and returns to the bed. There, Root is barely conscious as Shaw cuts open her t-shirt so she can easily take it off without brushing against the right ear’s open wound. It takes more effort to pull down the pants, especially since the brunette isn’t helping, and then to finally put on fresh clothes, but Sameen manages.

 

After she’s thrown the stained t-shirt and pants away, she checks her medicine supplies, searching for the right drug, mentally calculating the dosage for a quick treatment. Withdrawal therapy isn’t even close to her specialty, but she devises a plan anyway. When she picks one vial out of the lot, a trembling hand places itself on her thigh.

 

“No needles,” Root begs, half-conscious. “Please.”

 

She knows right away that it won’t be possible – she doesn’t have the right kind of dosage in pills and even if she had, Root’s system wouldn’t have the strength to keep them down long enough to digest them. Yet, she finds herself unable to tell the hard truth.

 

“Not tonight,” she promises, putting her supplies aside.

 

There’s a smile on Root’s lips before she completely loses consciousness, and Sameen doesn’t know what to do with it.

 

 

[...]

 

 

Shaw’s foot buries deeper in the mattress every time she pours herself a glass, one eye on the clock. It’s five in the morning now, and yet she sits, chair balanced on two legs, staring at her unconscious, uninvited guest. She watches as the peaceful traits twist, as Root’s body starts turning from one side to the other, restless. Shaw almost loses her balance when the hacker suddenly springs upward, lunging towards the opposite side of the bed and grabbing the trash can as a life buoy.

 

When she’s done emptying the contents of her already emptied out stomach, Root blindly pats around her until she finds the washcloth beside the pillow. She cleans up her face and runs the wet towel on the back of her neck, desperate for some relief. Her sickened and tensed body is pained furthermore by a major headache. She sighs as she turns around, only to see a smiling Shaw pouring herself another drink.

 

“That’s disgusting,” Root complains, rearranging the sheets to cover her bare legs, seemingly surprised by the change of clothes.

 

“No, you’re disgusting,” Shaw opposes, taking a sip from her glass before she grabs another one, already filled with orange juice. “Here, drink up,” she offers the disgruntled hacker.

 

With her back resting against the cold wall, Root brings the drink to her lips and grimaces. “Does it really have to be warm?” Shaw only shrugs, and so the hacker resolves to drink a mouthful. As soon as the liquid hits her tongue, the brunette makes a face, staring at the juice as if it were poisoned. “Is there salt in this?”

 

“Helps with dehydration,” Sameen explains, obviously amused by Root’s expression. “Come on, it’s not even that bad,” she insists, setting her own glass aside to grab her medical kit. “Who knew you were so grumpy in the morning?”

 

“You’re the one to talk.” Root pouts. “And I’m sick.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Shaw grabs a pack of antiseptic wipes, small gauze pads and some tape from her first aid kit. “Time for your shot, junkie.”

 

Although Root winces, she doesn’t say a word as she obediently sets her orange juice on the settee. Shaw mentally thanks her for not making a scene; she doesn’t know quite what to do with a tortured hacker, and finds the crazy flirty chick way easier to handle. She moves to sit by her side on the bed, where she prepares the injection.

 

Eyes locked onto the needle, Root’s breathing becomes erratic as the syringe fills with the methadone. In her ear – the good one, she thinks bitterly – the Machine describes the concoction and its effects on withdrawal patients. She absently extends her arm, letting the back of her hand hit the mattress seconds before Shaw’s fingers snake around the limb. Sameen has set the needle aside, holding Root’s arm against her palm while she disinfects the curve of her patient’s elbow. The antiseptic wipe is cold and rough against the hacker’s skin, a sheer contrast with Shaw’s warm, firm hold.

 

When Sameen throws aside the antiseptic and grabs the needle, Root braces herself as for impact. She swallows hardly, eyes widening while the syringe approaches her arm. With her muscles contracted she stops breathing, as if suspended, awaiting for the pain that is sure to come.

 

“Don’t look at it.” Shaw instructs, and the hacker suddenly looks up, a surprised look on her face, like she’s only now recognizing the woman holding the needle. As if she had expected someone else.

 

“Just admiring your work, Sameen,” she flirts after a beat, though it sounds rushed and forced.

 

Shaw shrugs. “If the muscle’s too tensed it’s gonna hurt.”

 

Root laughs then, a broken laugh that brings tears to her eyes. “Yes, yes it will.”

 

Shaw feels like she should reply something, maybe inquire about the torture but the worrying look on Root’s face disappears in a flash, and the muscles start relaxing under her fingers. She notices the hacker has closed her eyes, now breathing down deeply.

 

In. Out. In. Out. In.

 

The Machine creates the slow, soothing rhythm in her ear and Root focuses on her breathing pattern to match it. She continues to do so even as the syringe pierces her sensitive skin, up until the needle finally has retreated from her arm. When the hacker opens her eyes once again, Shaw is taping a small square of gauze on the injection site, a pointless measure seeing as there is barely a drop of blood spilled.

 

“Am I high, or do you actually have good bed side manners, Shaw?” She questions after one of Sameen’s fingers slowly brushes down her arm. Root lets her head rest against the wall behind her, her sleepy eyes barely opened, a sad smile wavering on her face.

 

Shaw knows she would normally roll her eyes or say something mean just to deny her ever being nice. This time, perhaps because she’s tired, or because she discerns the beginning of Root’s intoxicated buzz, she doesn’t feel like it. She raises her bottle of whiskey, “it’s the alcohol.”

 

“Hm, drinking makes you soft,” Root rolls the words around her tongue, her hand snaking her way up Sameen’s thigh.

 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Shaw opposes, grabbing the adventurous hand and placing two fingers on the wrist. As she mentally counts the heartbeats, she runs her eyes on Root, remarking her erratic breathing, her difficulty to remain conscious. She knows she hasn’t miscalculated the dosage of the methadone, yet can’t help but worry. When she’s finally convinced there is nothing wrong with her patient, she shoves the orange juice back into Root’s hands. “What did Control want from you?”

 

Root smiles like a kid and hides behind her glass when she replies absently, “she had questions.”

 

“What kind of questions?” Shaw insists, ignoring the hacker’s grimace after she takes another sip.

 

“Questions without answers,” Root cryptically says, eyes closing once again. “I’m cold,” she complains, though she could easily pull the sheets tangled on her legs to cover herself more.

 

Shaw leaves her side to open a nearby closet, taking out fresh bed sheets. “Yeah, well get used to it, ‘cause this is only beginning,” she announces, throwing a spare blanket towards the bed. Despite her dilated pupils and slowed reflexes, Root catches it in one smooth motion, smiling.

 

“I can see the war coming,” the hacker starts, suddenly serious even as she wraps herself deeper in the covers. “It’s all over the horizon, like a storm,” she continues, settling between the sheets, cocooned in Shaw’s bed as if she belonged there. “It’s inevitable.”

 

Shaw swallows hardly, busying herself with creating a makeshift bed out of her couch. She doesn’t like to think about fate and inevitable catastrophes, doesn’t believe in it really, but suddenly her loft seems so very silent, and empty.

 

“Sameen?”

 

Her eyes find Root’s, but she doesn’t say anything. The hacker moves deeper in the covers of the bed, lying down in strange diagonal amongst Shaw’s sheets.

 

“She says she wants to save you.”

 

For once, the agent would really like to be angry. She’d enjoy getting mad at this cryptic bullshit Root always spits out instead of the truth. It would be so much simpler; to want to punch her and lock her up again, lose the key and forget the hacker ever existed. Instead, Sameen worries. She shrugs.

 

“And what about you,” she questions as she turns her back again, fingers slipping between the cushions, pushing the sheets as far as she can.

 

“I want to save you too.”

 

Sameen doesn’t have the heart to tell Root that it isn’t what she had meant.

 

[...]

 

 

“So, no new numbers then?”

 

Shaw’s deep voice barely reaches her through slumber but still, it wakes her up. Root’s head, heavy against the pillow, hurts as if crushed by invisible giants. She moves slightly, muscles aching as they comply, crawling under the sheets as she lifts her head enough to spy on Sameen’s phone conversation.

 

Eyes still closed, she hears some quiet ruffle coming from the other end of the loft. “Yeah, I guess that’s good news,” Shaw continues, the end of her sentence punctuated by the sound of the toaster oven going off. “For your information Finch, I do have a life.”

 

Root ignores the hunger in her own stomach, absorbed as she is by the foreign sounds of Sameen’s domestic life; drawers opening and closing, the clatter of utensils, knife buttering up toasts. When her head drops down on the pillow, she can’t hear the familiar noises anymore; Control’s courtesy. The smell of burnt bread invades her nostrils and leaves her slightly nauseous.

 

“Well I can take care of Bear...” Shaw suggests, and it brings a smile to Root’s face, this surprisingly child-like wish, well hidden under the agent’s faked indifference. It soothes the nausea instantly, or perhaps that’s simply because the hacker has opened her eyes. From the warmth of the bed, she admires Sameen, currently standing behind the kitchen counter, a cell phone locked in place between her shoulder and her ear. After she closes a peanut butter jar, the agent absently sucks on the tip of her fingers. As if she had noticed Root’s spiked interest in her, Shaw lifts her eyes and immediately meets the hacker’s stare.

 

“Alright, well, I gotta go,” the brunette rushes her interlocutor abruptly. “Yeah, if I hear from her, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

As soon as Sameen disconnects the call, Root pushes herself up, turning around on her back and resting on her elbows. Despite a tired grin on her face and wild bed hair, she taunts; “well, look who’s being a pretty little liar this morning.”

 

Shaw rolls her eyes and puffs. “Because I didn’t tell Finch you were here? Please.”

 

Root laughs before she pushes herself further up so that she’s sitting on the bed, her back resting against the wall. She brings her knees close to her body and wraps her arms around them, waiting a beat before she finally asks; “how is he?”

 

“Finch?” Shaw questions as she grabs her plate from the counter top. She returns to the main room and crashes on the couch, breakfast on her lap. She takes a bite from a peanut buttered toast right after she answers; “he’s okay I guess.”

 

Root rushes a hand through her hair, but not fast enough to hide the fact that she’s unwillingly shaking like a leaf. Shaw’s trained eyes notice that the hacker is sweating less profusely than the previous night and seems to have regained some colors on her cheeks. In better shape than she was when she appeared hours ago, but still far from being back to normal, Shaw musters – though she wouldn’t be able to say just how normal Root could ever be.

 

“I should go”, the hacker announces, yet she’s not moving.

 

Shaw hastily swallows the bite she had just taken and raises a brow. “Where do you think you’re going exactly?”

 

Her voice lingers, an unspoken threat underneath the words.

 

“Am I your prisoner, Shaw?” Root smirks, putting her wrists together in front of her. “Maybe you should handcuff me; you know we’d both enjoy it.”

 

Sameen purposefully ignores her and resumes eating her breakfast. After a few seconds, Root lets her hands fall down, fingers absently toying with the sheets.

 

“Before I passed out, the Machine told me the bank manager was found dead in a closet,” Root explains. “She was murdered before you even showed up at the bank.”

 

The brunette frowns. “So... who was the woman in the vault with Arthur and Finch?”

 

“That’s what I need to find out.” Root answers when she pulls herself up, but as soon as she stands, she swoons. Feeling weak, she places a hand against the wall and closes her eyes, dizzy as if the whole room was suddenly spinning out of control.

 

“Good luck with that,” Shaw mocks, but nonetheless moves her plate aside, ready to jump up and catch Root if she does collapse. “As much as I can’t wait for you to leave, I don’t think you’re going to run out the door anytime soon.”

 

“I’m useless here,” Root states angrily, sighing with frustration before she opens her eyes again. She breathes down deeply, gathering her strength, then taking a few cautious steps towards the bay window.

 

“Seems to me you’ll be useless out there too,” Shaw continues, still staring at her from the couch.

 

Root doesn’t turn around, but Sameen can hear her smile; “I love your pep talks.”

 

“Anytime,” the brunette replies, returning her attention to her breakfast. After a few bites, she lifts her eyes to see that the hacker still hasn’t moved. “You stink, by the way.”

 

It takes a moment before Root abandons her post by the window. She takes one whiff at her clothes and winces. “Care if I use your shower?”

 

Not granting her an answer, Shaw leaves the hacker alone in her living room. Seconds later, Root hears a door opening and closing before Sameen returns, a clean towel in hand, which she carelessly throws at Root. “Down the corridor, first door on your left. Try not to drown.”

 

“Hm, I really wouldn’t mind you performing CPR on me, Sameen.”

 

“And I really wouldn’t mind cracking a few of your ribs.”

 

Root flashes a smile before making her way towards the bathroom, hand leaning on the wall for support. It’s only when she’s closed the door behind her that she notices how quiet everything is. She reaches for her ear, ready to take off her earpiece, and realises it isn’t there anymore. The hacker frowns as she considers returning to the living room to confront Sameen about it. She hesitates only a second before turning on the faucets instead, too exhausted to walk down the corridor again.

 

When she’s finally managed to get in the warm shower, she closes her eyes again, breathing deeply. Somehow, the Machine’s absence isn’t as scary as it had been, only hours earlier, in the cage. The silence is less threatening with the sound of the water falling all around her, and her aching muscles progressively relax under the heat, fatigue weighting down on her even though she feels strangely reenergised.

 

When Root steps out of the shower, she notices that a stack of clean clothes has just appeared, neatly folded beside the sink, with an unused toothbrush placed on top. She smiles, delicately running a finger on the fabric before her hunger returns, stronger than before.

 

After putting on a pair of black sweatpants and a t-shirt of the same color – both smelling like Shaw, Root happily notices – she walks out of the warmth of the bathroom. The change of temperature weakens her balance and once again, she finds herself leaning against the wall, lightheaded.

 

When she finally reaches the living room, Shaw helps her to the couch without a word, then brings her a glass of water.

 

“Do you have a computer?” Root questions before she empties the glass.

 

Shaw laughs as she returns to the kitchen. “You think if I did have a computer, I’d actually let you use it?”

 

“Yes, I think you would,” Root replies, serious despite the fact that she undoubtedly remembers coming to Shaw’s apartment with a cell phone and an earpiece, and that both are now nowhere to be seen.

 

“Well, I don’t.”

 

“Who doesn’t have a computer?” Shaw shrugs, and Root rolls her eyes. “Fine. Give me your phone then.”

 

“Nope,” the brunette answers, indifferent. She grabs an apple from the counter and throws it at Root who barely manages to catch the fruit, then takes one for herself. “Finch is searching for the fake bank manager’s identity. We’ll know when he finds something.”

 

Disappointment settles in Root’s guts. “You told him I was here?”

 

“Said you called me with some news.”

 

A smirk appears on the hacker’s face. “Sameen, Sameen,” she teases, leaving the comfort of the couch to join the brunette in the other part of the loft. “I knew you wanted to keep me all to yourself.”

 

“Finch is already going crazy with John being AWOL,” Shaw explains, lifting herself to sit on the counter top. “Plus he’s taking care of Arthur until he can send him to Canada so, I really don’t think he needs your charming company right now.”

 

Root throws her apple from one hand to the other, toying around before she walks towards Sameen, unconvinced. “Sound reasoning, but I don’t think you’re telling me everything, Shaw,” she smiles knowingly as she settles between the agent’s knees, leaning on the counter and placing the fruit back with the others. “Admit it, you just like having me here,” she coos, placing a hand on each side of Shaw.

 

In their current position, Sameen is taller than the hacker, and Root has to step up on her toes to lean in. Before she can make her move, the agent abruptly steps down from her seat, causing her body to press hard into Root, who refuses to move despite Sameen’s obvious attempt at intimidation. She claws at Shaw’s clothes, securing her balance by pulling herself even closer.

 

The agent’s eyes leave Root’s to glimpse at her mouth for only a second, but it is enough for the hacker to notice. She leans in, but before her lips reach Sameen’s, a warm hand cups her face and pushes her away slightly.

 

“Don’t,” Shaw warns.

 

Root steps back, faking a smile to hide her disappointment. “I wasn’t doing anything,” she objects.

 

“You were going to kiss me.”

 

“Maybe,” Root smirks, raising one hand to reveal Shaw’s cell phone. “But maybe not.”

 

Obviously proud of herself, the hacker gleams as she returns to the living room, already dialing. Shaw recovers from her surprise quickly, but too late to stop Root from hitting the call button. She frowns, crossing her arms as she stares at the brunette disapprovingly.

 

“I wish you’d listened, Harold,” Root immediately scolds her interlocutor when the call gets picked up. “We were supposed to help Claypool together.”

 

Shaw didn’t know who she was expecting the hacker to call exactly, but it clearly wasn’t Finch.

 

“Maybe then the drives wouldn’t have fallen into the wrong hands,” the hacker continues. Sameen hears her boss’s voice through the phone, but not nearly loud enough to understand what he is answering. She only hears Root’s side of the conversation, her condescending tone; “and it’s my problem now.”

 

The hacker pauses again, and her facial expression rapidly changes from annoyed to sad. She moves further into the living room, her steps unsteady now that she isn’t leaning on anything. “Please, put Arthur on the phone.”

 

Sameen can only imagine how Finch must be as surprised as she is by the request.

 

“The Machine has something for you,” she speaks almost compassionately, and Shaw deduces that she isn’t talking to Harold anymore. “To send you on your way.”

 

When Root hangs up a few seconds later, the agent only waits a beat before she asks, “what was it? Arthur’s gift?”

 

“Memories,” Root answers cryptically before she moves away again, reaching the bay window, and although she looks like she’s about ready to pass out, this time Shaw keeps her distance.

 

The agent understands briefly what the Machine is giving Arthur – a chance to remember his wife before he died; one last glimpse of the happiness they once shared together. She wonders vaguely what will be her own parting gift, when her number finally comes up.

 

In front of her, Root has turned around, a soft smile lighting up her eyes as she reaches towards Shaw, offering her the cell phone back.

 

“Thank you, Sameen.”

 

 

[...]

 

 

“Are you nearly done?” Shaw asks, bothered.

 

Beside her, Root’s left foot has been shaking for over ten minutes, and the constant movement has been driving Sameen mad.

 

“What?”

 

The hacker lifts her eyes from her book and blinks, obviously unaware, but the movement stops nonetheless. With a sigh, Shaw ignores her uninvited guest and returns her attention towards her disassembled rifle.

 

“Can’t you open a window or something?” Root suggests for the third time, eyes squinting from the solvent’s strong smell. She waits for an answer, attentively staring as Sameen pushes the cleaning rod down the barrel. When she realises the agent has no intention of answering her request, the hacker rolls her eyes and returns to her reading.

 

She misses the covert smile that flashes on Shaw’s face then. It is, however, short lived; the smirk disappears as soon as Root’s foot starts shaking again. Dropping the cleaning rod and the gun part on the living room table, the agent sighs loudly and grabs a wet cloth.

 

“How long are you staying here anyway?”

 

Her obvious annoyance doesn’t deter Root, who closes her book slowly before she turns to look at Shaw. “As my doctor, you should be the one to tell me,” she gleams.

 

“I’m not your doctor,” Shaw reminds her, “and I’m pretty sure the Machine has already settled on a date.”

 

Root watches carefully as Sameen washes her hands and upper arms with a wet cloth, pressing the fabric down her skin so hard that it reddens. Water sticks to it, catching the sunlight every now and then, underlining her firm muscles. Shaw doesn’t acknowledge the hacker’s stare, yet there is a slight tension forming in her jaw that Root believes is caused by her, and it makes her smile.

 

“Tomorrow,” the brunette finally answers, with a voice somehow both sad and hopeful.

 

Sameen throws the cloth back into the soapy water it came from and takes another towel to dry off. “Do you know where you’re going?”

 

“No,” Root shrugs, indifferent, although one of her fingers absently runs down the scar behind her ear.

 

When her eyes meet Shaw’s again, she stops, throwing one look down in apology – Sameen has warned her several times already not to touch her wounds and simply let them heal, but Root finds herself fascinated by them and she often ends up caressing them lightly, despite her best intentions.

 

“Does it ever bother you?” Shaw asks, and for a rare, brief moment the hacker appears confused. Still, instead of revelling in the small victory, Sameen returns her eyes to the twisted towel in her hands. “Not knowing.”

 

Beside her, Root shifts. “No.”

 

The answer lingers in silence for a while as Shaw ponders whether it was honest or not.

 

“That’s good,” the agent continues, face unchanged, but Root feels something different in the air, as if the conversation had become private, intimate almost. “This line of work... asking questions gets you killed.”

 

There’s a ghost in Sameen’s living room and Root knows its name, but she refuses to speak it. Refuses to challenge the dead.

 

“If I didn’t know better,” she teases, though it lacks her usual glee, “I’d think you care if I live or die.”

 

Shaw shrugs and tosses the towel aside, and Root knows the discussion is over. She smiles with a strange relief until Sameen speaks again. “Time for your shot.”

 

“Oh,” the hacker’s muscles tense up even as she tries to ignore the discomfort in her stomach.

 

Shaw rolls her eyes while she rises to her feet, going to grab her med kit before she positions herself in front of Root, carelessly sitting on the living room table. “Stop it.”

 

“Stop what?”

 

“You’re already cringing,” Shaw accuses, “and I didn’t even take out the syringe yet.”

 

Root glares and her foot involuntarily starts shaking again, betraying her nervousness despite her best attempts at relaxation. Without a word, Shaw places a firm hand on the hacker’s ankle, the warm pressure bringing it to a stop. She raises her eyes and plants a look in Root’s, grounding her before she returns to the shot’s preparation. The stare lasts only a few seconds, but its effects go on a bit longer, as the hacker focuses on her breathing.

 

Root forgets all of that as soon as Sameen finishes swiping the antiseptic. She takes in a ragged breath when the needle plunges into her skin, and then stops breathing altogether. Shaw notices the change, yet she doesn’t say anything, focused on ending it as soon as possible. Once the syringe is emptied, she pulls it out and sticks another patch of gauze on the injection site, her thumb brushing softly over Root’s upper arm like a silent apology.

 

Then, Sameen observes the changes she has come to expect; Root’s pupils dilating, muscles relaxing, her breathing growing deeper. In one swift motion, she takes a hold of the hacker’s wrist and mentally counts the heartbeats. All the while, Root allows her to work in silence, a strange routine settled in between them. When the agent finally lets go of her limb, however, the hacker protests with a small whimper.

 

“Don’t go weird on me,” Shaw threatens, and the brunette replies with a sleepy smile.

 

Through a hazed stare, Root observes while Sameen disposes of the needle, carefully replacing every supply back into its place in her homemade med kit. Still, when Shaw finally returns to her side, she finds the hacker fast asleep, head resting on the couch’s arm.

 

Despite her curled up position, Root’s legs cross over the cushions and onto Sameen’s side. The agent hesitates briefly before she sits down on the edge, elbows resting on her knees as she considers picking up the task of cleaning her disassembled firearm. The sudden shift seemingly awakes Root, who starts pulling up her legs to make space for Shaw. When a hand encircles her ankle, the hacker stops, her eyes blinking in confusion until Sameen pulls the limb towards her slightly, allowing the brunette’s legs to return to a more comfortable position.

 

With Root’s feet cosily settled against her lower back, Sameen cleans her rifle, unconsciously suppressing a smile.

 

 

[...]

 

 

Another cold wave rushes over Root from the toes up and seizes her lungs into a rigid stupor. In her ears, the Machine beeps Morse code like hammer on nails and spells out sorry, sorry, sorry; when the hacker tries to answer, she chokes violently. Surrounded by darkness she finds herself unable to remember her own name, how long she has been there or why she has come to this awful place.

 

At once, all sounds vanish in one flash, as with the snap of divine fingers, and she can finally cry out. A firm grip settles then on her upper arm, strong fingers holding her in place hard enough that she already feels the bruises forming under her skin.

 

It’s only after she throws the punch, after the pain sears through her knuckles that Root wakes up, panting and confused, with a smirking Shaw gleaming over her head.

 

“Still got some kick in ya, uh?”

 

Hovering above her, Sameen runs two fingers against her collarbone, soothing the skin where Root’s fist just crashed. She looks more amused than pissed, which the hacker would take as a good sign if she wasn’t baffled by the whole situation.

 

“It’s so dark,” she questions with a raspy voice.

 

“Yeah, it’s one a.m.” Shaw explains as she sits down on the couch beside Root. “You slept all evening.”

 

With her heart still trying to beat its way out of her chest, Root crawls slowly on the cushion, curling up at one end and letting her upper body rest on the couch’s arm. There, she blinks, staring at the darkness as if something dangerous was about to emerge from the shadows. When her hand absently returns to fondle with her damaged ear, Shaw slaps her arm away.

 

Root rushes a nervous hand through her hair. “Did you wake me up?”

 

Shaw hesitates only a second before she answers, mindfully avoiding the subject of Root’s nightmares. “Well I need my beauty sleep, princess, and you’re on my bed,” she jokes, rising to her feet and offering a hand to Root.

 

“No, I was on your couch,” the hacker contradicts, accepting the help off the couch nonetheless. “You could’ve slept in your bed.”

 

“You need to rest more than I do,” Shaw replies, moving out of the way as Root laboriously crosses the room. “Besides, I don’t mind sleeping on the couch; it’s comfortable too.”

 

“My neck and back say otherwise,” the hacker complains when she finally settles on the bed. She’s still shaking from the nightmare and her muscles are hurting more than they were when she had initially went to sleep – the drugs have clearly wore off, and she fights her desire to ask for another dose. She hides under the covers. “Look, I promise not to cuddle or punch you in your sleep,” Root smiles, moving to one side of the bed.

 

When Shaw comes to grab her pillow, the hacker takes a hold of it as well. She wipes the smirk off her face as she insists; “you don’t have a back-up anymore, Shaw. What happens when the next number comes and you’re not rested enough?”

 

The agent doesn’t answer, only stares, but the hacker notes the slight hesitation in the way she shifts from one foot to the other.

 

“What is it?” Root asks, and she feels her stomach tightening in anticipation.

 

Shaw rolls her eyes and sighs. “You’re on my side.”

 

“Oh, we have sides now?” Root teases, but moves to the right nonetheless.

 

“If you try anything,” Sameen starts, threatening, as she pulls up the sheets and slips in beside the hacker.

 

“You’ll kill me, I know,” Root completes, a wide grin stuck on her face.

 

The next morning, when Shaw wakes up, she finds the bed empty, and her cell phone long gone. She winces, not having to search the rest of the apartment to know that the hacker has given her the slip. On the other pillow beside her rests a scribbled handwritten note; Thank you, Sameen. I’ll see you when I see you.

 

Before she leaves for her morning jog, Shaw places it on her settee, and with the sunrise, Gen’s Order of Lenin casts on the card a little round shadow, dangling over the words.