THE FIRST SONG
(Sigur Ros; Untitled #2 (Frysta/The First Song))
And the symphony ends like this.
The first time she hears her voice, 7000 bullets fly through her head and she remembers giving up everything to avoid this.
It echoes in her head like the semblance of a lost girl, like fingers curling and merging and filling all the empty holes she said she'd lived alongside. They were meant to fix each other.
She imagines taking the earpiece out, putting it back on the table and going back to the makeshift bed in the makeshift room with sheets that smell of cinnamon and Root.
"Thought you'd got rid of me, Sameen?" It says (perhaps she could pretend).
She spends two minutes gripping the wood in front, sways with the waves of pain the voice brings. "You're not her." Is what comes out, instead of the whispers wrapping around her chest.
Quietly, "no," and "not completely."
"Not at all." (She could be, if Shaw closed her eyes and tried to forget.) "You're just her voice."
"Oh, Sameen," it says, breathy and beautiful and bold, so close she's practically alive and breathing. Filling the hollows from the birth of her death. “Isn’t it better than nothing?”
And Root could’ve written her own symphony, she thinks, with the way her voice can sound like a lullaby at times and crash down like thunder at others. Her voice was never meant to be accompanied alone. What could have gone wrong in this life to rid the world of such a smile.
Varnish from the wood comes away with the sweat seeping at her palms. “I don’t know.” Shaw says, and rips the piece from her ear.
Fusco says, “she looked dead,” and “I don’t know,” and “white, I guess, ya’ know that dead look people get.”
No doubt, he’d said when he returned from the morgue with a leather jacket hanging from his fist. There was no doubt she was dead. Shaw doesn’t ask again, doesn’t doubt either. She feels it in her chest, feels something akin to fear and a foreign feeling of forgetting something too important to remember.
“I’m fine.” Is what she tells them, shakes her head at Reese’s prying eyes, praying for some sign that she hasn’t caved in completely. “There are more important things to think about right now.”
And it’s the truth; it could be the truth if she wasn’t thinking about the day before and the hand that had clasped her own. Finch is still missing and his number is still written across the board in shining red.
Finch is still missing and Shaw can’t bear to take orders from a Machine that robbed its biggest fan of her voice.
Shaw has lost people before, but she’s never lost someone she spent 7000 bullets saving.
The jacket is dropped; Fusco offers it up to her before they leave. His arm jolts up and head bobs down and his eyes remain on the floor. There’s blood on the sleeve, a button missing and a hole where the heart might’ve been.
Shaw reaches out, at first, grazes the leather and feels the burn before the material singes her skin.
The jacket is dropped, and Shaw thinks she smells rubble and rust and Root as it falls to the floor.
“You have a beautiful voice.” She imagines saying, pressing the piece in her ear. “I hate it.”
They corner the car on a backstreet leading into the city.
Finch falls out and trips over the gun he drops at his feet. “I did it.” He says, pride and hesitation in his voice. Disgust and dread and death. “I killed some operatives belonging to Samaritan. How do you-”
He’s shaking, stumbling along the gravel. His foot hits the sidewalk and he falls into Reese’s side.
“How do you get rid of this feeling of,” gagging, fingers swirling in the saliva in his mouth, “of-of needing to be sick. I think one of them was alive, when I left him. I think perhaps the bullet didn’t go the whole way through. He didn’t bleed as much as the others. Maybe-”
Root, in her head. In Reese’s head and Fusco’s head. “You need to go, they’ve been following him from a distance. Prepare for some uninvited guests, and they’re not coming empty handed.” (It’s not Root.)
“Got it.” Reese says, pulling at Finch’s arm, dragging him towards their own car. “Thanks, R-”
He stops himself in time but Shaw can’t stop the wince already reacting.
As if she’s not dead and lying beneath a sheet in a fridge awaiting someone to claim ownership, Finch says, “I think, in a strange way, this is what Root would have wanted. I think that perhaps she knew.”
And Shaw has been staring at the blood lacing patterns along his shirt, so she doesn’t bite back or snicker in his face. She watches him smooth down the stains once again and look wistfully as his number is rubbed away with Fusco’s sleeve.
“They’ll pay though.” It doesn’t sound like him, anger swelling along the curves in his voice. “They will pay for what they’ve done.”
Shaw already knows this, decided it a long time ago.
She dreams of somewhere she once deemed safe, and yet ironically always ended up being the opposite.
She dreams of Root, staring at the metal roundabout rusty with rain and age.
“Here.” She says and there’s no gun in sight. “With you.”
Root smiles, her body is whole and there aren’t any holes seeping blood to drag her away.
“You were my safe place.”
It’s a dream and she wakes.
Wakes, and expects to feel the urgent need to check behind her ear, to check the skin at her temple.
Instead, the earpiece still pressed inside her ear hums.
“I’m not Root.” It says. That voice used to open up her lungs and veins and force her heart to move so much quicker than she was used to. “But she is in me. She helped create who I am now, after all.”
She curls away, hugs the blankets draped across her waist and tries to imagine the possibility that this is just another scenario. They’ll be reunited again and she’ll wake in Greer’s grasp with wires twisted around her limbs.
Somehow, that has become the best possible outcome.
Finch is doing something in the Faraday cage with the laptops he’s locked inside.
“She’s done it.” He shouts, after spending three hours watching the screen. “Root was right all along, I should’ve listened, I should’ve-”
“What are you talking about?” Reese asks, walking to the cage and staring in.
Finch looks up, a smile on his mouth and sadness in his eyes. “Root gave Her the ability to defend Herself. And She’s,” he looks down, taps a few buttons and back up again to the awaiting audience. “She’s finally winning.”
(After everything Root did for the Machine, it left her with nothing. Not even a voice to claim as her own.)
Reese asks, “can we get a location?”
And Finch shines. “Eventually,” he says, nodding slow, “She’ll get everything.”
The dog is grumpy. There are slippers by his bed and Bear stares longingly before chewing at one of the rabbit’s ears.
It’s soggy when he releases the fabric. It flops down and Bear looks back to Shaw before doing the same.
Here. She was small and young and stumbled from the spinning metal to be sick.
Root stands still. A smile starting.
“You were my safe place.”
The roundabout creaks and starts to spin and she looks at that before noticing Root’s shadow disappear.
It’s a dream and she wakes.
She helps Fusco pull out the map, balances bullets at the corners to stop the world crumbling.
She helps Finch decipher where she was kept prisoner with the co-ordinates offered from his Machine.
She helps Reese fill the bags with anything she thinks could be used as a weapon and zips it tight.
“I’ll help you with this.” She says, staring at the camera connected to the screen. “But you need to help me with something too.”
The Machine doesn’t reply, doesn’t say anything until she’s pulled the bag onto her shoulder and reached the first pillar.
She says, “anything.”
And something snaps and she feels the band that has always dragged her towards Root fall limp.
“Anything for you, Sweetie.”
Her hand reaches out, nails scraping at the pillar stone and pulling her upright. There’s silence for a long time, the bag drops and the guns inside clang together. Eyes welling up, she feels the loss like a roundabout spinning. A gun reaching up, a hand reaching out. She feels the loss like waking up again, again, again in a world where she’s still no closer to the woman who keeps finding her in her dreams.
In her periphery, she sees a woman standing tall. Dressed in black with brown hair folding over her shoulders. She smiles and tips her head forward. Shaw doesn’t turn, she fears she’ll lose her altogether.
Root’s mouth moves as one with the Machine.
“This is what she would’ve wanted.” The Machine says, Root says from somewhere sordid in her mind. A voice that appears to come from her lips and yet starts nowhere near. “I know you don’t want to believe me.”
The hand, still pressing for a hold against the pillar, slips and grapples again.
Shaw whispers. “But I don’t want this.”
Root, still standing out of reach and out of sight, says, “what do you want, Sameen?”
She cranes to keep her face ahead but eyes searching left. She feels her breath become slow and heart become fast. She heaves against the cold and feels her legs give way, her knees struggle to keep her steady. She feels 7000 deaths, whispers, “just you,” and turns in time to see the ghost of the woman who left her behind fall with the tear clinging to the corner of her eye.
“I know.” It says. “And you’ll have her.”
It takes ten days, seven pit-stops to kill the people following them and an array of bullets to land at the prison gates.
Root’s voice rings softy in her head. She can hear the others replying as if it’s not a step up from being an automated cluster of words pulled from recordings in time. As if its new voice has given it a new life and ability to be human.
(Shaw misses the actual human.)
“Eight o’clock, nine, turn to your two.”
“Left down the corridor, fifth door on the right.”
She follows the instructions and takes the compliments she’d think too mild for Root.
It tells her to stop before she opens the door. Hears Reese breathe as he catches up, the tap of Finch’s stick, the clatter of Fusco and the person he’s decided to drag behind.
“Open the door,” he pushes the man forward, “or you’ll be eating one of these bullets faster than you can say ouch.”
He eats one anyway, because Shaw’s not in a charitable mood.
“Well,” Root says, the Machine says and Shaw cringes before taking the first step in. “Looks like we’ve hit the jackpot.”
The room is filled with monitors and screens and cameras on every wall.
She only really notices the blood pooling on the floor as she makes her way to the office at the back. The bodies that fall as she passes, the bullets that fly as she grips a pistol in each palm and pulls at the triggers.
Maybe some of the blood is her own, maybe she’s limping and maybe she’s walking perfectly with power in her stride. She doesn’t feel a thing and kicks at the wood, watches the handle fall away and doesn’t blink as she aims forward.
“I always knew you would come home, Sameen.” He says.
Behind her, the war rages on. In here, Greer is trembling.
“Isn’t it funny,” he looks behind her, at the mess they’re all making. “You spent nine months trying to escape. And here you are again.”
She nods. “I’ve come to kill you.”
“My dear, you’ve already done that.” His eyes find her gun, find her eyes and itching finger. “Over 7000 times actually. Did it make you feel better? Did it bring you any joy at all?”
The answer falls from her lips, pulls a smile onto Greer’s face before it’s snapping back.
“No.” She whispers, quiet over the noise of screaming. He’s already dead, there’s a hole in his face but she still says, “but maybe this time it will.”
It doesn’t. She feels empty all the same.
The bullets stop. The shouting stops and she has time to feel the scrapes along her skin.
Finch moves to help her, scatters away at her frown.
“Where’s the virus, Finch?”
His attention is flipped back to Reese and he’s nodding and hobbling closer to the device of his choice.
Fusco’s moaning, scratching the back of his head and murmuring, “you guys don’t half bring me trouble.”
He’s ignored in favor of her wounds. Reese points, says, “you should get them seen to.”
And she nods, touches her skin and doesn’t feel the pain. “They’re minor,” but “yeah, I’ll be right back.”
“I helped you.” She says to the voice in her ear. “You promised to help me, too.”
Again, she follows instructions from a voice she pretends not to recognize.
The room has been kept almost exactly like she left it. The bed still sits in the middle, the straps still loose and the sheets still pulled from the corners. The glasses are attached to a screen attached to a monitor and it comes to life when the Machine says, “a deal is a deal.”
The patches stick to her skin as they had before. She lies against the sheets, pulls the wires from where they dangle and straightens them along her body. She pulls at the glasses, slides them over her ears and pulls at the earpiece still buried inside.
And with one last breath, “take me away.”
It’s a spinning sensation, always. It balances her on the edge of reality and fiction.
And then she’s swallowed up, spat out and she gasps and stumbles forward against the wooden flooring of the safe house.
As if an automatic reaction, she reaches behind and feels the lack of a chip behind her ear. Breathes relief and goes to stand before hearing the unlocking of the door in front. Hears footsteps and the handle turning.
If they’re all just shapes in this universe, she thinks perhaps she used to be a circle. Touching with others but never sticking, bouncing around unable to hold a connection. Root wore her down, though, grated at her side and created an angle only for her.
Now, there’s a hole only Root can fill and it’s empty.
It’s empty but-
“Hey,” she says, stepping through the threshold. Her smile like light and life and everything in between. Shaw almost falls again, swallows from her place on the floor, winces from the pain of it.
Wrapped in the only safe place she ever really needed, Root swings the door closed behind her, steps closer, smiles wider.
“Are you kneeling for me, Sameen?” She asks, stopping when her shins hit Shaw’s knees. Offering a hand down, she drifts through the time and distance between them like it’s a normal day and Shaw doesn’t belong somewhere else.
(She belongs here.)
Shaw grips at soft fingers, reaches up to nestle her thumb against Root’s palm, and she stands.
Perhaps they could both survive in this world, forever.
If she keeps them both alive, perhaps she won’t ever have to leave.
She is her safe place, after all.