“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)
When Shaw comes back, everything feels unexpectedly familiar.
Part of it has to do with being stuck in the station again. Her cover ID is still busted, and they have no way of knowing if Samaritan is actively searching for her. There’s also the small matter of having spent a significant amount of time in captivity, which despite Shaw’s best efforts, has taken its toll on her body. She starts easy on the exercise, tries to build up to how much she does, and by the second day she is sure something is not quite right. Her heart beats too fast when she runs, the rhythm is unusual in a way she knows no lack of shape can justify, and so she asks Finch for a ECG unit.
He brings it the next day, a worried look on his face and an offer to assist in any way he can. Root is there too, unusually quiet and still as she helps Finch find somewhere to connect the unit. Shaw looks at her surreptitiously as she takes off her shirt to attach the sensors, waiting for a flirting comment that does not come and she briefly wonders why she isn’t happier about it.
The ECG shows the arrhythmia she suspected, and after a quick search on one of Finch’s computers, she writes down a couple of drugs that should do the trick. Root has the paper in her hand and is out of the door almost before Shaw’s had the chance to explain what they are and the possible substitutes in case they are too hard to find.
“Miss Groves… She’s just worried,” Finch tries to explain after she’s gone, and Shaw doesn’t know what to do with this version of Root that alternates between pretending everything is business as usual and watching her like she’s going to disappear at any second.
Root comes back with the exact drugs she requested and no explanation of how she got them so fast, and after a handful of days where everyone but Bear looks at her as if she were going to break, Shaw starts to — finally — feel their effect.
She starts training again, eager to get her body back to normal, and in the in-between, she starts helping with the numbers from Finch’s computers. At first it just gives her something to do, makes her feel useful again, but after a couple of weeks and a close call that could have been avoided had she been out there, she starts to get the same cooped up feeling she had before the stock exchange.
Shaw’s never been comfortable with staying on the sidelines but she stays put and tries to keep busy. She has seen the way they look at her when they think she won’t notice and knows it is too soon for any of them to go through a repeat performance.
There are some things that are different.
The casual mention of names of people she doesn’t recognize. Not finding some of her things where she expects them to, but at the bottom of a drawer, hidden from view under empty folders. Root, coming and going from the station and then appearing in the chair next to her cot every other night, looking haunted and not like Root at all.
After the first night, and for reasons she does not want to think about, Shaw always makes room for her on the cot. Root never says a word and she’s always gone by the time Shaw wakes up. It suits Shaw perfectly fine even if it leaves her feeling slightly unsettled; it’s not like Root not to talk about things, not to take the obvious openings and run away with them. For all the scenarios Shaw conjured up in Decima’s cell, none of them had Root actually avoiding talking, specially after the kiss.
Half of the time Shaw’s tempted to say something — anything — to try to get things back to normal again. The other half, she’s too wary of what opening that particular can of worms would entail. It annoys her and so she does her best to ignore it, focuses on the numbers and on getting back into shape, on anything but dealing with the ever-growing elephant in the room. And most of the time it even works.
Shaw puts together what happened while she was gone piece by piece. Finch tells her most of it, one day late at night when they are both by themselves at the station.
A number has just been saved from the nasty consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time — and overhearing a murder confession for his troubles — and it‘s late enough for John and Fusco to head directly back home instead of touching base at the station.
Root, as it seems to happen more and more often, is long gone after helping only tangentially with the number and returning almost immediately to do whatever it is she does nowadays while she’s not working numbers with them.
She figures Finch will be on his way soon too, and so she leaves him in front of his computers and starts playing fetch with Bear, making time until he wrap things up or she feels tired enough to go to bed with him still there. After a while, she feels him watching her from the door of the subway car, and a raised eyebrow is enough to get him talking.
“Miss Shaw, I…” He seems to hesitate, and it’s not often that Harold Finch is at loss of words. “I wanted to apologize —”
She sighs. She has been expecting this. “Finch, you don’t have to —”
“Please.” His tone is pleading and so she lets him talk.
He’s hesitant again, seemingly undecided on how to continue and after a beat, he starts telling her what happened after they left the stock exchange, everything they did trying to follow what they believed to be their only lead, how desperate they were. He doesn’t say so explicitly, but Shaw understands the risks they took, seeking out Control, baiting Decima. It’s reckless desperation at its worst and for a moment she feels angry at their carelessness, uselessly worries about what could have happened, how easily it all could have gone wrong.
And it’s silly because it’s over and done, but still, she sometimes wonders what it would have been like to come back to no Finch or no John— hell, even no Fusco. Coming back to no Root. Shaw remembers the anger when Cole was killed, the sense of loss that tinted everything after Carter and she suspects — she knows — it would pale in comparison. It’s a strange feeling to be this aware of the importance these bunch of idiots now seem to have in her life.
Finch tells her about Maple and about The Machine’s message to stop. He sounds apologetic and at some point Shaw realizes that this is more for his benefit than for hers, a sort of confession he needs to go through, and so she lets him talk without interrupting, unsure if she’ll be able to give him whatever it is he is looking for.
“Sameen? I’m sorry I gave up on you,” he looks pained even just saying it. “I have never been so happy to be proven wrong,” he adds and the smile he gives her is bittersweet. Shaw nods, and that seems to be enough for Finch who rubs briefly Bear’s ears and with a small smile, starts for the stairs that lead outside.
Shaw speaks again right before he reaches the door. “Harold?” She waits until he turns. “It was my choice,” she says firmly. “I would make it all over again.”
Finch smiles sadly and nods, accepting it for what it is. “Good night, Miss Shaw.”
“Good night, Finch.”
A month after getting back, Shaw starts working numbers outside the station again.
After a bit of thinking, she figures it’ll work better in the long run if she doesn’t have to worry about any of them bringing her back drugged again, so she tries to subtly talk them into it. It requires a fair amount of bugging, some compromises and way more talking than she would have liked but it’s not long before she manages to have both Finch and John convinced.
Which leaves Root, who has spent the last half an hour trying to convince them of what a terrible idea it is for Shaw to be out of the station. She’s standing with her arms crossed over her chest, posture tense and focused on Finch, who seems to be the only one whose mind she still hopes to change. “Harold, you know how dangerous it is and without the protect—”
Shaw sighs, and steps closer to Root. As much as she is trying to play nice, she cannot bear to hear the same argument all over again. “Root,” she says, as close as she ever comes to begging, “come on, I’ll be extra careful. Please?”
She thinks it’s the ‘please’ that does it or maybe she realizes how futile it is, because Root just stares at her for a long moment, and then all of a sudden she seems to deflate, all fight leaving her.
“It’s not safe, Sameen,” Root says dejectedly, and in that moment Shaw wants nothing more than to promise her she’ll be alright, no matter how empty it would be.
“No unnecessary risks, Scout’s honor,” she says still looking at Root with a small smile, trying to lighten the mood; it falls flat though, and minutes later, Root is gone from the station, and somehow Shaw doesn’t feel like it was much of a victory.
When she starts going outside, she’s true to her word. She provides backup for the guys and keeps mostly to the shadow map. It’s far from exciting, but it beats the hell out of staying at the station 24/7 and she does get to shoot people every once in a while. It helps to keep at bay the restlessness, the ever-growing feeling she gets that they are doing nothing, just hiding and waiting for Samaritan to find them and kill them off one by one.
Despite the newfound freedom, Shaw still spends more time than she’d like at the station. With her status with Samaritan still shaky, getting a solid new ID is out of the question, and so is sleeping somewhere else. She knows there could be ways around it, but Finch is adamant and makes it one of his requests when he agrees to her leaving the station.
In those days, they see Root less and less. She contacts them relaying information from the Machine about the numbers they are working, or asks them to do small jobs related to whatever it is she is working on, but she rarely stops by.
She also stops coming by at night and Shaw tries very hard to ignore the way she misses it.
When she does stop by, she looks like crap. It’s subtle — Root is very good at keeping up appearances — but it’s there: bags under her eyes than even concealer can’t completely hide, and a weariness that seems to go all the way down to her bones.
Shaw knows she’s not the only one who has noticed. Finch goes as far as to mention it to Root once, but she brushes it off and changes the topic as soon as she has the chance.
“I’m concerned for Miss Grooves,” Finch tells her after Root leaves with the promise of staying in contact and a smile that does not reach her eyes. Shaw has a dozen replies ready, all variations on how Root’s old enough to take her of herself, how she has made it this long without any of them looking over her shoulder. “I know,” she ends up saying instead, pursing her lips and feeling her frustration rise in a way that is starting to feel all too familiar.
She takes it out on the punching bag Fusco brought her and fails not to worry.
She asks John things sometimes, an odd question here and there, trying to fill in the blanks or just plain old curiosity. A name that came up in a conversation that isn’t familiar (a number from a couple of months ago, she was resourceful and didn’t buy the ‘concerned third party’ line), what happened to the Compacts she had in the armory (Root happened), how the hell did he manage to get out of desk duty (he played nice). He always answers and never uses twenty words if he can use five. It’s comforting, knowing none of her questions have major emotional landmines attached.
On a quiet day, she asks him about Root and the time she was gone. It’s not that she needs to know every single detail, but some of the stuff Finch told her seemed… lacking and she knows Reese won’t gloss over the bad stuff.
They are both at the station alone, cleaning guns and nursing beers from the six-pack John brought with him, courtesy of the number Fusco is probably booking for attempted murder right about now. Finch is grading papers at home and Root — Root is wherever the Machine has had her working for the last four days that has her calling Finch at all sorts of odd hours.
She’s on her third beer and on her way to pleasantly buzzed, so it seems as good a moment as any even if it doesn’t make it any less awkward. “Finch told me some stuff about what happened. With Root. While I was gone.” She avoids looking at him as she speaks, concentrating unnecessarily on the gun in her hands for a while until she realizes he’s not saying anything. She looks up then and adds, “he gave me the Disney version.” Whatever John sees seems to satisfy him, because after that he starts talking.
He’s efficient in his explanations, falling into the old rhythms of military debriefs in a way that Shaw appreciates. She turns out to be right about the details Finch left out. Some of them are grim, but not really surprising; at the end of the day she knows she’d probably would have reacted the same way had the situation be reversed.
“The Machine told us to stop looking for you.” John says. “Root didn’t agree. She acted accordingly.”
Shaw manages a noncommittal sound and tries to remember the last time Root had anything but blind faith in the Machine and she comes up empty. John stays silent and Shaw doesn’t need him to tell her whatever he’s thinking. She already knows, even if she has no idea of what to do with the knot in her stomach when she thinks of being the one thing that Root puts before her God.
She thinks there’s something like compassion in John’s eyes, which is an occurrence unusual enough to feel uncomfortable, so she stares right back daringly and drinks more beer, and when that doesn’t seem to put him off she goes back to the gun on her lap.
After a minute he speaks again, amusement clear as day on his face. “For what it’s worth, Root has started to grow on me.”
“Yeah, she’s like mold that way,” Shaw retorts, and this at least feels relatively normal.
“You could do worse,” John adds after a beat, and Shaw huffs before throwing the cloth she’s using to clean the guns to his face, wondering how in the world she ended up on the receiving end of what passes for John’s blessing for whatever this thing with Root is.
They fall silent again, but she can’t get the implications out of her head, the fact that it’s John of all people telling her this, and after a couple of minutes she starts to feel the frustration bubbling up her throat, unbridled. “I’m not —” She huffs, stops talking and starts again. “I don’t do relationships.”
John doesn’t reply immediately, but after a beat he shrugs and says, “There’s a first time for everything.”
The understanding look in his eyes doesn’t help the unexpected fluttering in her chest. She starts disassembling again the gun she has just cleaned, and if she does so with more force than necessary, John is smart enough not to mention it.
She answers the phone by reflex, not even stopping to check who it is. “What.”
“Hey, sweetie. Did I wake you?”
Root, who had last been by the station more than a week ago, and has only sent sporadic cryptic messages to Harold ever since. “Root?”
She doesn’t answer immediately, but Shaw can hear her labored breathing through the static, and that alone is enough wake her up a little more. Root always has excuses — however flimsy — to call. “Where are you?”
“Too many time zones away, I’m afraid.” She doesn’t add anything else, and Shaw is not sure what to do with the silence. Usually she would tell Root to speak her mind or leave her be, but something about the call feels different, and so she waits.
“Tell me about you day, Sameen.”
“Your day. Did you get to shoot anyone?”
“It was perfectly fine until you woke me up to talk nonsense, so if that’s all I’ll get back to—”
Roots interrupts before she can finish. “Just — I just need a bit of a distraction.” And something about the way her breath hitches makes Shaw put two and two together.
“Root, are you hurt?”
“Nothing to worry about.” Which is not a no, and Shaw is definitely awake now. “Root. Tell me.”
“It’s not bad,” she finally replies. “But the owners of the house in which I’m stuck for the night don’t seem to believe in painkillers. And the amount of alcohol available leaves a lot to be desired—”
She’s about to let Root have it, telling her how this is precisely why she shouldn’t be out there running around without backup, venting the frustration of these last few weeks and the weird back and forth they seem to be stuck in. But then Root’s breath hitches again, and all she can see is Root, pale and sweaty and in pain deciding to call her. “Two,” she says instead, interrupting.
“I shoot two people today,” she elaborates as she lays back down on the cot. “Knocked around a bit another three.” And then she proceeds to tell her about the number, a CI that got careless and got made by local thugs with airs of grandeur. Root makes the odd teasing remark, but she mostly lets Shaw talk. It’s boring as far as numbers go, but it makes for a half-decent story, and Shaw tries to add all the small details she knows Root will appreciate.
After a while she inevitably runs out of things to say. “Did it help?” she asks after a few seconds of silence.
“Very much,” Root says, sounding slightly drowsy. “Thank you, Sameen.”
She feels self-conscious all of a sudden, weirded out by the fact that she basically just spent the last half an hour laying down on her bed, on the phone, telling Root the most absurd minutia of her week. It feels too intimate and far from something she’s remotely comfortable with. “Yeah. Whatever. Just — don’t get killed, alright?”
“Okay,” Root replies softly before hanging up.
Shaw stares at the phone for a few seconds and thinks back to her conversation with John. It takes her a long time to fall back asleep, and when she does, she dreams of oil refineries and fires.
The first time Fusco sees her after she comes back, he hugs her and it takes her so by surprise that she doesn’t react until he’s already letting her go. He also tells her with the same tone she imagines he uses on Lee that she is not allowed to ever do that again. She catches John smirking on and off for the whole duration of Fusco’s visit to the station, and she scoffs back every single time.
They have been in the car for twenty minutes waiting for their number to leave the slightly suspicious-looking office in which she has spent half of the morning, when Fusco decides to bring up Root.
“Cocoa Puffs didn’t do too well with you gone. You know that, right?”
He looks cautious, and she counts as a victory the fact that at the very least he has the common sense to know how much of a bad idea it is to bring up anything personal with her. On a good day, talking about Root with Fusco is probably in the top 5 of things she’d give an arm to get out of, and yet, there’s something about how he says it that makes her pay attention.
“I mean, we all were sad and whatnot, but she was worse.”
Shaw thinks about the phone call two days ago, and how she only knows Root has not bled to death in a house somewhere in another timezone because Finch happened to mention receiving a message from her this morning. It bothers her how much it bothers her. “Well, she seems to be doing well enough now. Wherever the hell she is,” she replies, muttering the last part under her breath.
Fusco hears it anyway and huffs, the way he does whenever he is convinced one of them is being specially obtuse. “Are you kidding me? She’s scared shitless. She’s spent the last few months running around with one goal. And now that’s over and done, you are back and now shit gets real.”
She clenches her jaw and keeps looking straight ahead through the whole tirade, wistfully thinking that maybe Fusco will realize that she really doesn’t want to hear any of this.
“They never tell you about the ever after,” he adds after a beat softly.
“Yeah, well, you kinda have to be there to even attempt an ever after.” It’s out of her mouth before she realizes how much of a colossal bad idea it is to keep the conversation going.
Fusco looks at her for a moment, and then his expression turns unexpectedly gentle. “Someone hurts you. Badly. What do you do?”
“You hurt them back,” she replies automatically. Fusco shakes his head a bit before correcting her. “You make sure they cannot hurt you again.”
And just like that, everything Root has done in the last months starts to make sense. Root not pushing the way she usually does, downright avoiding her half of the time and going instead relentlessly after Samaritan.
Something must show in her face, because then Fusco guffaws. “Aaaand there’s the light bulb. Honestly, I don’t know how you lot manage to—”
The number exits the store just in time to stop Fusco’s gloating, and Shaw thinks that if he turns out to be the perp, maybe she’ll try not to shoot him as a thank you.
Shaw is alone at the station, taking it out — again — on the punching bag, when Root arrives moving gingerly and looking more exhausted than usual.
Shaw glares at her and goes back to finishing the series she’s currently doing. Root doesn’t say anything, just leans against one of the pillars and stares. It unnerves Shaw, makes her hyper aware of her every move and so she adds a couple of punches and a burpee to each repetition, goes harder at it, faster, and tries not to think.
When she’s done she grabs a towel and walks directly to where they keep the first aid stuff. “Let me see,” she says, and Root follows her, still silent and bunches up her shirt to reveal a stained bandage on her right side.
The graze is not deep, just a flesh wound right under the seventh rib, but by the calibre Shaw can make out from the wound, Root’s lucky it didn’t hit any bones. Shaw takes off the dirty bandage and proceeds to clean the wound in silence, feeling a little thrill at Root’s sharp intake of breath when she cleans the edges of the wound and checks for any signs of infection. It goes as quickly as it comes, though, and when she’s done putting the new bandage she’s left just feeling tired.
“What the hell are you doing, Root?”
“It’s just a graze.” Root’s tone is placating in all the wrong ways.
“You are running yourself ragged. And with no back up it is just a matter of time before it’s more than just a graze.”
Shaw has been here before, this push and pull badly disguised as banter, and she has no intention of repeating it. She sighs and doesn’t say anything as she starts to gather the first aid supplies and putting them back in their box, and that more than anything seems to strike a chord, the easy smirk falling from Root's face.
And Shaw gets it, she does. The subtle panic, the need to do something — anything — as if there were a timer attached to all of them. Root is trying to get Samaritan all by herself before it gets them, no matter the cost. Shaw shakes her head in frustration, and wonders not for the first time how the hell did they end like this. “Root.”
She waits until Root is looking at her, making sure she has her attention. “You are not good to anyone if you are dead.”
And something in what she says seems to do the trick because suddenly the haunted look Root wore the nights she appeared next to her cot in the station is back. “You don’t understand,” she says, frustration clouding her face. “It cannot happen again.”
She’s looking straight into Shaw as she says this and in that moment, Shaw understands everything she’s been told and not told about how Root was in the months she was gone; she has seen this look before, the last time in an elevator, months ago.
There’s a familiar fluttering in her chest, and for a second Shaw cannot believe that she’s going to do this again.
She grabs Root by the neck and kisses her. It takes Root a second to respond — and for a brief moment it feels just as it did then — but when she does, she grabs Shaw’s head and doesn’t waste any time, all lips and tongue and just the right amount of teeth. Shaw pours all the frustration of the last few months into the kiss, every ounce of unwanted worry and every conversation they have not had, and this time when she pushes, she goes with Root until her back finds the nearest wall.
Root lets out a muffled groan when she hits the wall, and Shaw can’t help but smile into it. Root notices and grabs Shaw a little bit harder, runs her nails down her neck a little less gently. Shaw lets her hands wander, moves them to Root’s hips as she presses closer to her, keeping her against the wall with her body and with no intention of letting go any time soon. Her hands start to move upwards, leaving Root’s waist and searching skin eagerly as they go up. She’s already thinking of all the other sounds she wants to pull from Root, how exactly she will get each one of them, and Shaw has no idea when this became more than just scratching an itch, when it began to feel so inevitable.
Suddenly Root’s breath hitches in pain and when Shaw breaks the kiss, she realizes her hand is pressing right onto Root’s wound. Hard.
“Sorry,” she says, her voice croaking slightly in a way that would be embarrassing in any other circumstances. She eases her hold on Root but stays close to her, not ready to let go just yet.
“You know I don’t mind.”
They are both breathing heavily and Root’s lips are swollen in a way that can only come from being thoroughly kissed. Shaw is tempted to keep doing just that, but she knows this is important — it feels important — and tries to use words, for once.
“You are not any good to me if you are dead,” she says quietly against Root’s mouth after a beat. It sounds more callous than what Shaw actually means, but she trusts Root to get what she’s trying to say — to get her.
The smile Root gives her in response is tremulous, but it’s the most honest one Shaw has seen on her face in weeks. “You say the sweetest things, Sameen,” she says as she moves her hand to push back into place a lock of Shaw’s hair that has come loose. The gesture is heartbreakingly sweet and something unexpectedly tightens in Shaw’s chest.
“Shut up,” she replies gruffly, and Root is still smiling when Shaw kisses her again, this time slow and sweet. It feels different in a good way and in that moment Shaw thinks that maybe there’s a small chance this won’t end up in disaster.
When Shaw first wakes up, the first thing she notices is the warmth on her back. It takes her a moment to remember who it is behind her, but she relaxes when she does and feels the arm around her waist tighten slightly in response.
When she turns around she finds Root wide awake, looking at her with a solemn look and a small smile. She looks better, Shaw thinks, even if she knows that a night of sleep is not enough to work miracles. “You haven’t left,” she says instead, her voice raspy with sleep.
“No,” replies Root softly, smiling a little wider.
“Does this means you are going to stop running around trying to get killed all by yourself?” She tries to sound serious, but she’s sore in all the right ways and Root’s smile is contagious, and it comes out less stern than she intended.
Root starts moving the hand still resting on Shaw’s waist, and the smile becomes a full-fledged grin. “Well. I guess I could use some company.”
“Good,” Shaw says firmly, grinning right back before turning around to pick up her phone to send a quick text. “You’ll have to brief us,” she says. “I’m telling the boys to bring breakfast when they come in.”
“And how soon exactly will that be?” She can feel Root leering from behind her as she draws a finger along her spine and Shaw knows better than to tell her that she’s actually missed it.
Shaw turns around again as soon as she’s done with the phone and moves closer to Root slowly, not breaking eye-contact until she is practically resting on top of her. “Not very soon.”
“Good,” says Root in the same tone as Shaw’s earlier response, and the smile that accompanies it is feral. They don’t talk for a while after that.
They are showered and dressed by the time Finch and John get to the station, but somehow John still gives her a raised eyebrow and a half-smile when he offers her the coffee and the bag of pastries that he’s brought. She glares at him, steadfastly refusing to react and it only makes him smile wider. Finch goes straight to his computers as soon as he sees Root there, and hovers over her for as long as it takes her to finish preparing whatever she is going to need to bring them up to date.
When she is done, they all sit in the subway car, expectant; Root gives her a small smile, takes a deep breath and starts talking. “For the past few months I’ve been following different approaches to some of what the Machine has identified as the weakest points in Samaritan’s architecture…”
She proceeds to explain to them much of what she’s been up to in the last few months. She tells them about the failures and successes, and goes into detail about the things that are still in play. There are pieces of the puzzle that are still missing, information the Machine has not shared yet or does not have access to, but all in all it’s solid.
Finch asks questions at every turn, and when Root ends up getting with him into a discussion on some of the more technical details, Shaw tunes them out. She’s not surprised to see John get up a couple of seconds later and go towards the armory with a decided look on his face.
In a brief moment of clarity she realizes that she feels calmer than she has in months. They are all still here, Root is no longer running around trying to get herself killed and they have something that could be considered a plan. Granted, it may very well end with all of them dead, but it still is a plan, and it beats the hell out of waiting for Samaritan to pick them off one by one.
For the first time in a long time it feels like they are finally putting up a fight, and Shaw can’t help but smile with trepidation. She catches Root staring at her and grinning right back and Shaw can feel the excitement thrumming in her veins.
About fucking time.