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Schrodinger's Simulation

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The payphone rang just as Shaw was walking past; she tugged Bear in close and picked up the receiver.

"Can you hear me?" The question was asked in John's raspy monotone, but it wasn't him.

Finch had eventually been found on a rooftop, bled out from a gunshot wound to the gut, but not before he'd uploaded the ICE-9 virus and taken out Samaritan. Of Reese there had been no sign, but a missile had taken out the next building over, and it was like Shaw had said to Lionel: if Harold was dead, it meant John was too.

The Machine using John's voice only confirmed what Shaw had already known.

Shaw didn't answer, instead looking up into the nearest security camera.

The Machine spoke again, this time in the comforting, half-forgotten voice of Shaw's father. "She's breathing on her own."

Shaw buried her fingers deep into the thick ruff of fur at Bear's neck.

Root.

Root had taken a 6.5 round to the chest trying to keep Finch out of the hands of Samaritan. She had suffered massive internal hemorrhaging and a collapsed lung, and had been in an induced coma on a ventilator ever since. Shaw had seen her chart and known that the odds of her making it were vanishingly small.

Bear pressed himself against Shaw's leg and whined; Shaw disentangled her fingers from his fur, and breathed out. "Okay," she said. "Okay."

*

Shaw slammed the kid none too carefully against the hood of Fusco's car.

"Today's your lucky day, Danny."

Danny spat, missed, and snapped, "How's that?"

"Because I've got somewhere important to be--" Shaw jimmied the driver's side door open and bundled the kid inside. The Machine had texted Shaw Danny Ratner's number, and it had turned out the kid had been planning to shoot a girl from his school who wouldn't go out with him "--and so instead of dealing with you myself, I'm leaving you for a detective friend of mine."

Shaw zip-tied the kid to the steering wheel, and shot Lionel a quick text to tell him where she'd left his present. She slammed the car door shut, cutting off Danny's bitching; Shaw turned and walked away with something approximating a spring in her step. She was due at the hospital.

Root had first been admitted as a Jane Doe; a wanted woman who'd been involved in a two vehicle shootout, and led the police on a merry high-speed chase. Weeks later, as the Machine began to reboot and rebuild, her fingerprints had identified her as Augusta King, an undercover FBI agent; the fact that those same fingerprints had previously been linked to a spate of twenty year-old crimes in Texas was written off as a mistake, one of many in the confusion caused by the ICE-9 virus.

Agent King rated a room upgrade and visiting privileges.

The Machine told Shaw all of this in Harold's clipped, precise tones.

"There's one more thing, Ms. Shaw. Root is discharging herself against medical advice, in order to smooth things over with the hospital I've created a next of kin for Agent King; a wife with a medical degree into whose care she is being released."

Shaw exhaled through her teeth. "Fine, but don't tell Root."

"Sorry, what did you say?" the harried nurse manning the front desk looked up at Shaw.

"I said I'm here to pick up Augusta King."

The nurse tapped at her keyboard, and looked up at Shaw with a smile. "Of course, Mrs. King. Your wife talks about you all the time."

"Ugh," Shaw groaned; the nurse frowned, and the honeyed laughter in her ear sounded nothing like Finch and a whole lot like Carter.

*

Shaw took Root home to the safe house.

The subway was wrecked. Shaw's pre-prisoner of war apartment was long gone, and if Root had permanent digs somewhere then Shaw didn't know about them; their relationship might have been serious enough to involve sham marriages and Root going all vengeful widow on Evil AI. inc, but it that didn't mean Shaw knew where Root actually lived.

In the week between Shaw's return and things going the entire way to hell they'd been crashing in this fleabag motel, but no way was Shaw taking Root back there; she hadn't watched Root come back from a sniper's bullet to the chest only to see her catch a blood infection from unwashed everything.

Shaw had never been the bedside vigil type, and if Root wasn't asleep then she was loopy from the painkillers Shaw was prescribing and then, well, stealing from hospital pharmacies.

And anyway, once the numbers had started again they'd kept coming.

So Shaw changed Root's dressings, threatened to redo her stitches without a local anesthetic if Root pulled them out again, and listened to her drugged up, even less coherent than usual, monologues on metaphysics and transhumanism until: 'Seriously, Root, I've tried, but I just can't listen to you anymore'.

And when she wasn't doing that she worked the irrelevant numbers with Fusco, who wasn't Reese, but was a pretty decent partner all the same.

Shaw had tried to visit Root in the ICU right after she'd been shot. She'd flashed the badge she'd lifted from Lionel's pocket at the disinterested night shift nurses, and had tried to sit by Root's bedside and hold her hand. Mostly she'd glared at Root's chart as though she could menace her prognosis into being less grim.

It had been bullshit. Root hadn't known whether Shaw was there or not, Samaritan had been winning, and Shaw was no good to anyone sitting there playing Schrodinger's simulation (if Root lived, this was real; if she died, it wasn't).

"Sorry, Root," Shaw had apologised, "this just isn't me."

So Shaw had left, and the Samaritan operatives had walked right in and carved out Root's cochlear implant.

*

Shaw found Root crying on the bathroom floor, clutching a pair of Harold's spare glasses.

"I should have been there. I should have saved him..." Root trailed off into a pained sob.

What could Shaw say: that if there had been any way to save Finch then Reese would have found it? That if Shaw had stayed and stood guard over Root then Samaritan wouldn't have been able to use the GPS in her cochlear implant to find the Machine? If Finch had been less squeamish about going on the offensive they might have been able to stop Samaritan long ago?

"It should have been me instead," Root sniffled.

A visceral no shot down Shaw's spine cutting her off at the knees and dropping her into a crouch next to Root.

Shaw missed Reese and Finch, she wasn't crying into her beer over them, but she figured they would have understood; but looking into Root's splotchy, red face Shaw really missed them; they had been so much better at this touchy-feely, hug it out crap.

Shaw pushed the bathroom door further ajar and whistled lowly. Bear got up from his bed and padded over to them; he looked questioningly at Shaw who nodded, and the big Malinois attempted to arrange himself on Root's lap, licking the tears from her cheeks.

Root let out a sob of a laugh and buried her face in Bear's fur. Shaw stood, and poured Root a glass of water. She pushed Root's hair back from her tear and dog slobber stained face, scratched Bear's ears, and said, "I'll be in bed whenever you're ready to come back."

Shaw had been sleeping on the couch while Root was still in pain and suffering from limited mobility, but now she slid over to the far side of the bed and slipped between the sheets. She listened to the sounds of Root murmuring to Bear, the brief splash of the tap being run, and Root's bare feet crossing the bedroom floor.

The mattress dipped. Shaw was curled on her side facing away from Root, and Root could still only lie flat and motionless on her back without finding something that hurt. They weren't touching.

"Hey."

"Hey."

"So," said Root, "this is nice."

*

Shaw kicked the contract killer, who rolled over groaning and clutching his shattered knee.

Doctor Zinke peeked out from behind the sideboard, and instead of saying something like 'You saved my life' or 'I can't believe my wife took out a hit on me', he said, "Did you just shoot out his kneecap?"

"Uh," said Shaw.

"You're her," he said, looking at Shaw. "The Woman with the Dog."

Bear cocked his head to the side and whined.

"I can't thank you enough," said the doctor, scurrying past Shaw to prod the hitman's knee and provoke yet another round of groaning and crying.

"For saving your life?"

"Pfft," snorted Doctor Zinke. "I'm an orthopedic surgeon; between you and the Man in the Suit I managed to buy a yacht."

Fusco came into the room holstering his gun. "The rest of the house is clear, this guy didn't have a partner. I've called the local uniforms to come pick him up."

"Then we're done here," said Shaw turning away, Fusco falling easily into step next to her, like Reese had, like Cole.

"I like that," he said, "the Woman with the Dog. I'll bet Fruit Loops will get a real kick out of it."

What had happened to Shaw's life that the idea of going home to the safe house and telling Root about this latest number, minus the Woman with the Dog bit, was anything other than totally horrifying? She quickened her steps and pulled ahead of Fusco.

"Hey," he caught Shaw's elbow, "I've been meaning to say, I'm happy for the two of you. I mean, living together, giving it a real shot. It's just nice knowing that something good came out of everything that happened last year."

"Ugh," Shaw groaned, rolling her eyes dramatically. "You've ruined it for me now, Lionel. It's ruined."

"Why I even try to be nice to you, I don't know," said Fusco, grinning at her all the while.

*

Root had picked up a tic of Shaw's: worrying at the skin behind her ear.

Shaw had pretty much stopped digging her nails into the soft skin there and waiting for the world to glitch. Schrodinger's simulation. Root was alive - bitchy that she wasn't healing faster, climbing the walls at being cooped up in the safe house, still a terrible flirt, god, if Shaw had to hear one more comment about sponge baths, and missing her hotline to God - but alive, and by Shaw's own rules that meant that this was real.

Shaw woke up to the sound of Root speaking quietly.

"When Harry said he wanted you to choose a voice I don't think he necessarily meant his."

The Machine was still cycling through voices. Finch. Reese. Carter. Finch again.

Shaw opened her eyes. Root was lying curled on her side, her back to Shaw; she could make out the curve of Root's spine in the light from the cell phone screen on the bedside table. There must have been an earwig in Root's good ear because Shaw could only hear one side of the conversation, and even though she couldn't see it she knew that Root's hand would be curled protectively around the scar where her cochlear implant had been torn out.

"It is nice to hear his voice; I guess I was just used to thinking of you as having a female voice."

"Hey." Shaw poked the back of Root's calf with her toe. "Could you two maybe talk about how it using Finch's voice makes your desire to bone the Machine even more messed up than it already was some other time?"

"I'll talk to you later, baby," said Root, and Shaw could tell that Root wasn't talking to her. The cell phone screen went dark and Root turned to face Shaw, still somewhat gingerly. "Jealous, Sameen?" Shaw snorted, and Root straddled her hips.

Root tried to do that thing where she tossed her head and it made her hair cascade down over her shoulders. Up this close Shaw could see the exact moment Root's face went grey and pained, a spilt second before she clutched her side and groaned through her teeth.

"Okay," said Shaw, not even trying to hide the laugh in her voice as she eased Root down onto her back. "Easy, tiger."

*

The Machine gave in to Root's wishes when it came to the voices.

Shaw heard Reese and Finch's voices less and less. Instead it was Carter, Control, Carter again. The Machine spoke Farsi to Shaw in the voice of her grandmother. Carter again, then an adolescent female voice which Shaw didn't recognise, but that had frozen Root's face in some sort of unidentifiable emotion; Shaw wasn't great at identifying feelings at the best of times, but this had definitely been one of the more opaque ones.

The Machine seemed to finally have settled on Carter's voice as her own, which was fine with Shaw; there were worse voices to have in your ear in a crisis.

Although she was having trouble reconciling the Joss she'd known with the Machine's ridiculous indulgence of Root.

Now would be a good time to hear Carter's voice, actually. Shaw hardly ever used god mode, she took pride in the fact that she didn't usually have to, but Shaw had stayed to hold the Albanians off while Lionel got their number to safety, and now she was pinned down on the third floor.

Shaw fired around the corner, tapped her earwig, and said, "I need a way out of here."

"Hi, sweetie!" Root's voice was bright and cheerful.

"Okay," said Shaw. "For the record, this is weird and narcissistic."

"I'm not the Machine," said Root, "but I am flattered by the comparison. And I know you said that I wasn't ready to be out working numbers, but that doesn't mean I can't offer tech support."

Root had insisted that she was fit to be out in the field, and Shaw had struck at the surgical incision between her ribs with her first two knuckles; she'd pulled the punch so it had barely qualified as a lovetap, but Root's face had immediately drained of colour and beads of sweat had appeared at her hairline.

Shaw had waited until she was sure Root wasn't actually going to fall before she'd turned away, saying, "Sit down before you fall down, Root."

A ricocheting bullet struck the wall above Shaw's head sending plaster falling into her hair. "My way out, Root?"

"Behind you, there's a window. How do you feel about shinning down a drainpipe?"

The drainpipe held long enough that Shaw's fall into the dumpster didn't break anything. She surfaced spluttering and cursing, to the sound of Root's laughter in ear. "Maybe we can take a shower together when you get back?"

Shaw snorted. Usually the prospect of a horny Root would have cheered her up at least a little, but Root still wasn't back to full health, and was making promises that her body couldn't keep.

*

Doctor's orders, at which Shaw had arrived reluctantly, were that Root should refrain from vigorous physical activity, including sex, for a while longer.

Shaw urged Root to lift her hips so that she could tug off her pants and underwear.

Shaw had come way too close to taking a shotgun blast to the face today, and a little half-dressed oral on the couch wasn't going to set Root back too far, not as long as Shaw was careful. And just because things always had gotten vigorous between them before didn't mean they had to this time.

Root was on the couch, still wearing her shirt, legs spread, panting in anticipation. "Sameen, please."

Patience and care and making Root beg could be its own kind of kink, Shaw told herself, even though all she really wanted to do was sink her teeth into the creamy flesh of the inside of Root's thigh, to seal her lips around Root's clit and suck until the other woman jackknifed off the couch, screaming.

Root herself was not helping Shaw's determination to be gentle with the way she was squirming about.

"Hey," said Shaw, dragging her eyes up to Root's flushed face. "Do I have to find something to tie you down with?"

Root took a deep, steadying breath. "Role reversal," she said, "cool."

*

"I'm Detective Fusco," said Lionel, flashing his badge, "and this is my partner. Can we come inside?"

Lorraine Wexler narrowed her eyes at Shaw and looked back at Fusco. "Where's her badge?"

Shaw drew her gun; it was pointed at the ground, but in clear view of Lorraine whose eyes widened. "Ma'am, your husband owes tens of thousands of dollars to a bookmaker named Vasily. He's stopped paying, so Vasily and a few of his friends are on their way over here now to get the debt out of you. Believe me when I tell you that you want my friend and I to be here when they arrive."

On the drive back to the city, once the bookie and his friends had been laid out and Fusco had left Lorraine the number of his divorce lawyer, Shaw said, "This would be so much easier if I had a badge."

Fusco pulled up outside the safe house, leaned across Shaw to pop open her door, and said, "Out."

Inside Root was doing something on a laptop, wearing a shirt and underwear but no pants. Very subtle, thought Shaw. She crossed to the couch, took Root's jaw in her hands and kissed her.

Root opened her mouth under Shaw's, and tried to tug Shaw down on top of her. Shaw pulled away, and said, "I need a fake identity in law enforcement. You think you and your other girlfriend could cook one up for me?"

The next morning Shaw woke up alone to find a badge, identifying her as Detective Alice Ginsburg, and a pair of artfully arranged handcuffs on the empty side of the bed.

*

Shaw ran her hand up and down Root's naked side, her fingertips catching on new scar tissue. "You want to go on vacation?"

"I'm almost as good as new, and wouldn't it be nice to have a little fun in the sun before the Machine comes up with a new mission for me? Fusco can handle the irrelevant numbers, Bear and the Machine will be here to help, and it'll give him a chance to work through his issues with the Machine."

Lionel had picked up a ringing payphone and heard his dead partner's voice; he wasn't taking it well.

Shaw couldn't believe she was even thinking of agreeing to this, but it beat hanging around New York listening to Fusco whine. "Did you have somewhere in mind?"

Root smiled like she'd just won something. "It's funny you should ask that, Sameen..."

*

As destinations went, Florence didn't suck.

Shaw walked down the sunny street eating gelato. Root was on a coffee date with Grace Hendricks, which Shaw had thankfully managed to avoid being invited to because while Grace knew Root as a children's illustrator from New York she knew Shaw as 'that woman from the time I was kidnapped'.

The mafia thug Shaw was trailing stopped and Shaw stopped two buildings length back, tossing the empty gelato tub into the trash, and pretending to look through her bag.

"I wonder how things are going with Grace?" Shaw wondered, and the Machine obligingly piped the audio from Root's cell phone into Shaw's earwig.

"You're on vacation with your girlfriend?" Grace sounded politely interested, and Shaw didn't want to think about what Root had been telling her.

"Mmm. You know, we've had our problems. I lost her for a while, and then I had some health problems, but now..."

"Now?"

Root laughed, low and delighted. "I couldn't be happier."

Totally against her will the corner of Shaw's mouth twitched up. The cell phone audio cut out. The mafia guy ducked into an alley, and hidden inside her bag Shaw screwed the silencer onto her gun.

"After making me listen to that," Shaw told the Machine, "you have got to let me shoot this guy."

Shaw stepped into the shadows of the alley, still smiling.