The subway car was quiet. A little too quiet. It made the machine’s return to silence that much harder to bear.
Feeling utterly alone, Root bowed her head and submitted to the pain in her shoulder, letting it wash over her, through her. It left her eyes watering, but she refused to let a single tear fall. She wouldn’t give Samaritan or that blonde bitch that shot her that satisfaction, even in private.
But for one lonely moment, Root wished there was someone in her life who could care for her, who she could fall apart before and whose touch would heal more than her aching wounds. The quiet reminded her that there was no one.
She had come hoping to find Harold there, needing some kind of human connection when she was beginning to lose her own sense of self, but to no avail. Harold would come soon enough, and even though she would never tell him so, she was desperate enough for company that she would wait.
The shadows and quiet pressed in on her. Root’s already troubled mind welcomed the darkness that twisted her thoughts and fed her insecurities. She was too tired to put up much of a fight, to try to convince herself the things her soul whispered to her weren’t true, not anymore. The world was crashing down around them, closing in every second of every day. They were like rats, trapped in an ever-shrinking maze until some day soon when they ran out of places to run. Root knew that day was close. Too close. The knowledge weighed heavily on her, and the temptation to lie down and never get back up sounded so good it hurt almost as much as her gunshot wounds.
The sense of being watched slowly began to creep over her. When Root lifted her head, she barely stifled a gasp at the sight of Shaw standing in the doorway, eyeing her without a word.
“Rough spot.” Shaw’s voice was gruff.
“What?” Root adjusted her sling, unable to hold Shaw’s gaze. Memories of a message that had been left unsaid drifted to the surface and she stifled the urge to speak it now. It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing really did anymore.
“Rough spot,” Shaw repeated, stepping almost soundlessly into the car. “That trajectory… bullet would have bounced around a little.”
Root raked a hand through her hair and sighed. “I think that was the point.”
Shaw nodded, her features a tight mask, but her eyes looked worried. “You could have come to me.”
“No I couldn’t. Even if I had wanted to.” The last part was a lie. Root had wanted Shaw’s touch almost desperately after the shooting, but she knew to go to her at such a vulnerable time could have gotten them both killed.
The former assassin wasn’t buying the excuse, but she didn’t argue the point. “You got patched up, though, right? Someone… took care of you?” Her right hand wrapped around one of the poles before she leaned against it, looking down on Root.
“Someone.” Root swallowed. “I’m sure you would have done a better job, but beggars can’t be choosers.”
Shaw opened her mouth to say something only to close it, a confused look on her features. “Wasn’t sure I was going to see you again,” she said finally, her dark eyes staring at the floor.
Something twisted in Root’s chest, hurting more than her wounds, but this time it was a sweet kind of ache. “Would that be so bad?” she teased faintly, her dark spirits lifting slightly with Shaw’s beauty and nearness. She knew her over-the-top flirting often wore on Shaw’s nerves, but she couldn’t help herself.
Glancing up, Shaw’s gaze captured Root whole. “The machine isn’t the only one who has your back. You know that, right?”
The fatigue. The loneliness. They retreated into the pervasive shadows of her mind if only for one amazing, fortifying moment. Root drew in a deep breath, suddenly more mentally equipped to deal with the pain, the mission, all of it. She stood slowly as Shaw watched her, drawn to the other woman as always but doing little to fight it. Her own hand slid around the pole, resting just above Shaw’s, but oh so careful not to touch her.
“Harold told me. About changing identities every three days. Why can’t you just stay here? Rest in the shadows for a while?”
“Because every moment I rest, Samaritan grows stronger. He’s winning, Sameen.”
“But we need you.” Shaw’s voice wavered slightly even though her gaze didn’t, boring into Root with an intensity that stripped away every pretense, every defense mechanism, and left Root feeling both strangely raw and empowered. “You’re… one of us.”
“Shaw…” Root’s voice failed her as Shaw’s fingers slid upward, hesitantly covering her hand with warmth where it rested on the cold metal. She wasn’t sure which of them was more startled by the display of comfort.
“I can’t tell you not to be reckless. It’s like… asking Niagra not to fall. But next time… next time remember that there is more than a machine to back you up.”
Root was too tired to deflect. Hurting too much to brush Shaw’s gesture off with a quip. Instead, she gave in, reaching for the shorter woman and pulling her into an awkward, one-armed hug. At first, Shaw stiffened, but after a moment, her arms, strong and warm, wrapped around Root’s waist and held her tightly.
It was the safest Root had ever felt, and she satisfied her hurting soul’s need for the touch for as long as she dared. “My hero,” she joked because she was afraid not to, but she meant it, praying on some level Shaw would hear the truth in her voice.
When Shaw pulled away, she wore a disgruntled expression, but somehow Root knew it was just for show. Before she could think better of the impulse, Root leaned down, kissing warm lips softly. “Thanks, Sam,” she whispered against the other woman’s mouth before she withdrew and fled, returning to her private battle, suddenly feeling a little less alone.
Shaw watched her go, drawing in a slow breath as she spied Harold watching from the shadows.
“You care for her,” he murmured, a hint of surprise in his voice. Harold came closer, his ever-present limp more pronounced by his fatigue.
“As much as I’m capable of caring for anyone,” Shaw deflected. She schooled her features into a neutral expression, wanting to reveal nothing of the confusion or turmoil she felt.
“I believe that capacity might be a bit greater than it once was, Ms. Shaw.”
Her mouth twisted, showing just how likely she believed that to be. Shaw glanced past Finch, the compulsion to chase after Root annoyingly strong. “She’s going to get herself killed.”
Finch stopped before her, his lips thinning into a fine line. “She’s prepared for that. Perhaps even welcomes it.”
“I’m not…” Shaw bit off the rest of what she was going to say, stifling the sudden anger she felt at both of them, at the machine, at Samaritan.
“I’m not prepared for it, either, Ms. Shaw.” Harold’s voice was sympathetic. “I’m not prepared to lose any of you, but I have to accept that in this war, it’s likely I will.”
“She keeps walking around thinking she’s going to die, she’ll make it happen. She needs to fight, Finch. That was a woman who is giving up.”
“Perhaps.” Finch eyed her in the fluorescent light, his glasses reflecting the computer screens behind her. “Perhaps what Root needs is a reason to live. Something more than the machine.”
Shaw swallowed. “Like what?” she asked weakly, already suspecting the answer.
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Now Harold smiled, just a little. He brushed past her and sat at his computer. “Maybe you could pick up where Ms. Groves left off. You certainly didn’t seem to mind her attentions.”
“Never figured you for a peeping tom, Finch.”
“Just allowing you to have your moment, Ms. Shaw. We may have so very few of them left.” He turned around and looked at her meaningfully.
“I don’t even know where…”
“I’ve already sent Root’s coordinates to your phone.”
Shaw wasn’t sure, but she suspected she might actually be blushing. “Playing Cupid, Harold?” She did her best not to snarl.
“Reminding us all that we still have something to live for.” Harold looked away, focusing his attention on his computer once more. “We should all take our moments where we can, Sameen. Remember that there is more to life than this.”
When there was no answer, Harold turned to find himself alone. He smiled.