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The solitude of ambiguous states

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“She has the mysterious solitude of ambiguous states; she hovers in a no-man’s land between life and death, sleeping and waking.”

― Angela Carter, The Lady of the House of Love

 ————

 

The first time she wakes up, she’s barely conscious. Her mouth is dry and her throat raw, and her brain feels sluggish in a way that’s she’s come to associate to generous amounts of painkillers starting to wear off.

 

She can hear the continuous beep of hospital machinery coming from somewhere on her left, but when she tries to open her eyes, she finds she can’t. She tries to move her hand to remove what’s she thinks may be tape used in surgery, but they are both restrained in a way that’s far from standard hospital procedure, too close to the IV and clearly intended more for their safety than hers.

 

It comes back to her in chunks.

 

She remembers the stock exchange and the clusterfuck she found when she finally made her way there. She can see Reese getting paler by the second, half-carried by a worried looking Finch and Fusco, and Root looking serious and worried in a way that was just wrong and that made Shaw want to shoot someone, and that damn override button—

 

The beeping starts to speed up, and after a moment she hears a click and a soft whirring sound as what she assumes are sedatives are pumped into her IV.

 

She loses consciousness again shortly after.

 

————

 

When she wakes up again, there’s no longer a beep and her head feels a little less like someone changed her brain for cotton balls and more like a really, really bad hangover.

 

Her body is a whole different story.

 

By the amount of pain that seems to spread from her side, Shaw guesses she’s been off the good stuff for at least six hours. She feels the pull of stitches on her arm and on her side, but other than what feels like a fair share of bruises, it all seems to be in working order.

 

She stays still though, keeps her breathing steady and tries to figure out by the sounds if she’s alone wherever she is. After a while with nothing but her breathing, she opens her eyes slowly.

 

The room she’s in is spartan at best. There’s the bed she’s laying on: a small thin mattress and a pillow that have seen better days and a metal frame bolted to both the wall and the floor. In the opposite corner, there’s a door with a small window and no sign of anything remotely similar to a handle on the inside — a cell then, not a room —, and next to it, a small table with a plastic cup with what she assumes must be water.

 

And in one of the upper corners, a camera.

 

Of course.

 

Knowing that Samaritan’s watching, Shaw decides there isn’t much use in trying to hide she’s conscious again, so she sits up slowly and more than a little awkwardly as she tries not to pull any of the stitches. By the time her feet touch the floor, she’s short of breath and her side has started pounding and she thinks that maybe the last time they gave her painkillers is closer to eight hours than to six.

 

Shaw takes a closer look to her wounds.

 

The one on her arm seems little more than a graze, and well on its way to healing. So is the gash on her head and the big bruise on her left hip, a mix of purples, greens and yellows that’s still tender to the touch.

 

Her side is another matter altogether. The wound itself is not big, less than a dozen stitches, but she finds other small scars nearby, clear signs of endoscopic surgery, and a tell-tale hardness under her touch. From the entry point and probable angle, Shaw guesses the bullet at the very least perforated her intestines, which means someone has gone through a lot of trouble to keep her alive.

 

She is not sure yet if this is a good or a bad thing.

 

At the end of the bed there’s some clothing, a pair of yoga pants and a loose t-shirt that seem a much better option than staying in the hospital gown she’s woke up in.

 

When she finally manages to stand up and take a look around, she doesn’t find anything else but two tablets of Advil next to the glass of water. She leaves the tablets but takes a small sip of water, just enough to check if there’s something extra in it without being knocked out if it is.

 

And then she waits.

 

She figures out that with the nanny cam in the corner it won’t be long before someone from Decima comes either to gloat or to tell her what it is that they want from her.

 

Time goes by and nobody comes. She alternates between laying down in the bed and getting up to stretch her muscles lightly, trying to ignore the increasing pain as well as the nagging voice in the back of her head that reminds her that she has no way of knowing if the rest made it out okay.

 

Shaw waits and waits, and gets more restless by the minute, and an hour after the lights in the room are dimmed and her side has started throbbing again, she reluctantly takes the tablets with what’s left of the glass of water.

 

She falls asleep running possible escape scenarios in her head.

 

————

 

Shaw is startled awake, her heart pounding and a scream dying in her throat. She doesn’t remember coming back from the interrogation, much less falling asleep so she assumes the latest cocktail didn’t exactly go as they expected. Pity.

 

She checks her pulse, and takes deep breaths in an attempt to slow it down, but the tachycardia doesn’t go away, and Shaw wonders if maybe good old-fashioned physical torture wouldn’t be better than this. At least that way you can see plain and clear the damage they are doing instead of just a collection of puncture marks in your arms.

 

She concentrates on her breathing, in and out, trying to relax and ride out the worst of the drugs’ effects.

 

She usually has company for this part, people asking questions she doesn’t know anything about or has no intention of ever answering. In a way it makes it better: it’s a distraction, a way to focus until whatever they have injected her with has done its worst (some days, it’s just until the next injection comes and then she has to start all over again).

 

She falls in a fitful sleep, and spends the next few hours going through the worst possible combination of half-dreams and full-on hallucinations. She startles herself awake at times, hears and sees things in the room that she knows cannot be there, only to doze off minutes later and find them gone.

 

She sees Gen once, looking the same as the last time they saw each other, and she’s up and halfway across the cell trying to get to her before Shaw realizes it’s not real. She returns to the bed and ignores her — ignores it —, even if that doesn’t stop Gen from talking, rehashing conversations they had and mixing them with details Gen could not possibly know.

 

Shaw closes her eyes, and Gen talks about feelings and volume, and then Shaw hears Root screaming from the stock exchange lift as Martine’s bullets find her, and for a lucid second she thinks that maybe her subconscious is onto something. The thought goes as quick as it comes, and then there’s silence again.

 

She goes back to counting her breathing again, in and out — wash, rinse and repeat — and after what feels like days she finally feels her heart start to slow down. She’s sweaty and feels more drained than any of the days in which they are actively trying to get something out of her, and somehow she hopes they don’t notice the difference.

 

——

 

Shaw wakes up to some sort of commotion outside her cell, dark shapes moving across the door’s small window and the muffled sound of shots being fired, and suddenly the door opens and Root comes through it as if it were an everyday occurrence.

 

“Hi, sweetie. Did you miss me?”

 

For a second Shaw thinks she’s hallucinating again, but then she sees how haggard Root looks behind the smile she’s sending her way, and how she can see one of her guards lying unconscious on the floor through the open door.

 

“Root?”

 

It comes out croaked, but Root smiles brightly, as if Shaw had done something right just by saying her name. “We need to be out of this floor in 90 seconds,” she says, and then hands her the pair of boots she’s carrying in the hand not holding a gun. “These were the closest to your size we could find on such short notice.”

 

It’s the sense of urgency in Root’s voice that makes Shaw react more than anything else. She makes quick work of the boots and then they are out of the door and walking over the unconscious pair of guards that used to take her to the bathroom and to the interrogations.

 

“I tranked them,” Root explains without any prompting, when she sees Shaw looking at them. “Apparently, it wouldn’t have been too practical to have to avoid writhing kneecapped people all the way back.”

 

They reach the stairs, and by the second flight Shaw’s breathing heavily, her heart beating faster than it should even taking into account her current lack of shape. Root sticks close to her, knowing better than to try to help her in any way, but Shaw doesn’t miss the worried looks she sends her way.

 

They make it three floors down before they find any more security. Root dispatches them quickly, a gun in each hand and the Machine’s indications in her ear and Shaw stares unabashedly as she catches her breath, appreciating the ruthless efficiency of it all.

 

She has missed this.

 

“So, did you bring any of those for me?” she asks once all the guards are down, nodding towards the guns in Root’s hands.

 

“Not just yet,” Root says with a smile and a wink, sounding more like herself by the minute as she starts walking towards the now unsecured service elevator.

 

When they get in, Root pushes the basement floor’s button and gives Shaw one of the guns before opening the electronic panel on one of the walls and plugging a device she had in one of her pockets. Shaw busies herself with the gun, and for a second it feels unexpectedly normal.

 

It ends the moment she catches a pale-looking Root staring at the array of bruises, scars and puncture marks that dot her arms, and Shaw is not ready for the look in her eyes, hot anger mixed with guilt that seem completely out of place in her.

 

“Hey,” she says touching Root’s arm and trying to catch her eyes.

 

“I tried to—”

 

“Root. It’s okay.”

 

Root nods and when she meets her eyes there’s less guilt and more of the familiar intensity she’s used to, and something tightens unexpectedly in Shaw’s chest. The elevator pings its arrival, and the moment’s gone.

 

Shaw takes the safety off the gun and grins as she shoots the kneecap of the first of Decima’s goons she sees.

 

Now, this she’s ready for.

 

They make quick work of the guards stationed outside the elevator, and make a series of twists and turns until they find a door leading to a parking lot. A spray of bullets follows them as soon as they go through the door, and they end up crouching close together behind a pickup truck that’s seen better days.

 

“See that black sedan two rows over to the right of the guys shooting at us? That’s our ride,” Root says as she pulls several magazines out of her pockets and gives half to Shaw.

 

“What’s wrong with all the cars closer to us?”

 

“Mostly, GPS trackers that cannot be deactivated remotely,” she replies looking at her fondly. “The bulletproof glass in the sedan is also a nice touch.”

 

Root looks away then and pauses her movements, paying attention to whatever the machine is telling her. “We need to move,” she explains with a grimace, “they are sending back up this way.”

 

They sprint and stop behind each car between them and the sedan, shooting whenever they have the chance and avoiding the rain of bullets that comes their way every time Decima’s guards even catch a glimpse of them. Halfway through it, Shaw’s heart goes unexpectedly into overdrive again, and she wishes any of the guys in charge of the injections during the interrogations would magically appear through one of the doors currently pouring Decima agents so she could put a bullet or two into them.

 

Somehow in all the chaos, they still manage to make it to the car and without leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

 

She runs out of ammo just as Root dashes to get into the driver’s seat. Most of the gunfire follows her like a magnet and when it’s stopped by the driver’s window, Shaw finds herself silently thanking the machine and whoever is responsible for choosing bulletproof glass.

 

She stays crouched behind a column while Root hotwires the car, checking every once in a while in case they decide to make a move towards them instead of shooting anything that moves. She clutches the empty gun as she tries without much success to slow her heart rate and will the increasing lightheadedness away for a little while longer.

 

When she finally hears the car start she gets ready. She hears the screech of tires before Root starts emptying whatever bullets she has left at the same time she gets the car out of the parking space, and under normal circumstances Shaw would find it nothing short of impressive.

 

Instead she’s focusing on running and not getting shot, and when she reaches the car she practically dives inside through the door Root has left open. As soon as she is in, Root steps on the gas and they are off.

 

She hears Root faintly say her name repeatedly as she drives towards the exit, but the lightheadedness is getting worse and focusing becomes harder and harder. The last thing she remembers before passing out is feeling the sunlight on her face as the car exits the parking.

 

——

 

When she opens her eyes, she is not sure exactly what has woken her up. Everything is quiet in the station and the only light is coming from Finch’s computers and the odd emergency light. Bear’s snoring softly, sleeping next to the cot that’s going to be her bed at least until they figure out what her current status with Samaritan is and how safe it is for her to be out and about.

 

She finds Root sitting on a chair not far from the cot, lost in thought and with a haunted look on her face that pulls at something in Shaw’s chest.

 

“You look like shit, you know?”

 

Root visibly startles, her hand going automatically for a gun that’s not there, and that more than anything tells Shaw how on edge Root must have been these past few months — how on edge she still is.

 

“You say the sweetest things, Sameen,” she replies in a half-hearted attempt at normalcy and Shaw rolls her eyes, the gesture almost a reflex at this point.

 

She looks at Root, who’s staring right back with some of the usual playfulness missing and a tinge of desperation than Shaw’s not used to seeing. She takes in the bags under her eyes, how she seems thinner than she was before and she realizes she’s actually worried.

 

She’s not wired for this.

 

“Come here,” she says after a beat, coming out less gruffly than she intended.

 

“What?”

 

“You obviously need to get some sleep and you are creeping me out with all the staring, so. Come here.” Shaw moves to the side of the cot, leaving space for Root to lay down between her and the wall. It takes them a bit of wiggling around, the cot being the size of a cot and not exactly designed for two adults, but they finally manage to settle.

 

Shaw can feel Root tense as a board next to her, barely touching her despite the close quarters, and there’s something unsettling — something wrong — about this subdued version of Root, Root who never found an excuse to touch Shaw she didn’t like. She lets an exasperated sigh, and reaches around to take Root’s arm and brings it around her stomach. “Sleep.”

 

It takes her a moment to react but then Root’s arm tightens and she presses closer to her and Shaw can feel her breath steady against her nape as she starts to relax against her.

 

They sleep.