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your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish

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YOUR VOICE AND LITTLE ELSE BUT MY ASSIDUOUS FEAR TO CHERISH

(Bob Hicok; Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem)

(Developed by the Government, Samaritan was first. The Machine came later.)

 

 

 

 

 

Here, when I say I never want to be without you
somewhere else I am saying I never want to be without you again.
And when I touch you in each of the places we meet, 
in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying and resurrected. 
When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life, in each place and forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blood on her hands, scalpel in her fingers- she’d seen the claws a mile off.

She dreams, sometimes, of the life she would’ve lived. She stands at the operating table with gloves painted red and a body she knows how to fix but can’t. Body static and heartbeat dropping, a giant looms above and picks her from the room. Held in a fist as big as her body, the knife is somewhere below and the pulse is flat-lining.

Picked from the ashes of medicine, Greer had smiled at her, all those years ago, and explained a better life. At the time, she’d known what it was. They never said it, never wanted to say the word or insinuate the meaning but the job was clear.

And she was already good at killing (she’d stepped away from the surgery table and felt nothing).

Sometimes, before she’s dropped back down into the soft cushioning of hard metal bullets, the fingers curl hard and squeeze tight. And, by the time she’s landed, she’s already dead.

But it’s just a dream.

 

--

 

She’d politely knocked on the door and found what she was looking for. Too late at reaching for a weapon, she’d pulled the trigger before he could understand what was about to happen, before he realized it was finally the end.

Below, the man smiles and bleeds out with a bullet buried in his stomach. His lips are dropping, skin paling and body slumping. He’ll be dead soon and she’ll be able to go home. She wonders, briefly, what made him want to join the rebels. Why he decided to risk his life for a terrorist organisation that will always lose.

Red light flashing somewhere above the mantelpiece, she knows the Machine saw the execution. She knows, somewhere and soon, Harold Finch will be made aware of another soldier death. Another one of his terrorists dead and another one of his plans foiled.

Static over the air and- “are you making a cup of tea in there, and are we all invited?”

Shaw doesn’t have time to roll her eyes, turning to leave her audience behind, she crashes into the shoulder waiting in the doorway.

“Or better yet, just me?” Root’s smile is smug and it reminds her only briefly of the man lying behind her.

“They had cameras in the rooms.” Shaw says, pulling at Root’s wrist so she can close the door behind her. The maid walking up the corridor stands out of the way, body bag and disinfectant on her trolley. They used to thank them, for killing the terrorists. They used to thank them for being killers.

“Yeah, I know.” Root says, moaning as her arm is dropped. “I gave them a little wink.”

Shaw doesn’t stop walking, avoids the stares from the other staff and guests coming out of their rooms to watch as they claim another government victory. “Shame you can’t wink, then,” she murmurs and concentrates on the offended whining from behind her instead of the growing crowds.

When they’re outside and the other agents are nodding at her and getting into their respective cars, she turns to Root and says, “don’t you think it’s weird?”

“What?” Root asks, just before leaving to get into one of the cars. “That they don’t look up to me, too?”

Shaw doesn’t move towards her own vehicle just yet, looks at the crowds staring behind them and speaks quiet. “That they used to thank us for killing the terrorists, now they don’t even care.”

“It’s what Samaritan needs us to do,” Root says, always enamored by the AI. It’s what brought her here, after all. “We just do what they don’t have the guts to.”

Root looks her over before leaving, offers a small wink that turns into a blink and climbs into one of the SUVs waiting. From where she’s standing, she can see the rear passenger door open from her own transport vehicle and she knows who’s waiting.

 

--

 

He smiles (smug like the man with a hole in his stomach, smug like Root waiting in the doorway). She doesn’t return the gesture.

“I hear it was a job well done.” Greer says, leaning forward to pat his hand against her knee. It’s cold and even through the material she feels the chill. “I had no doubt, of course. You never let me down.”

Not one for praise, she lists the facts. “No deaths on our side, though Warner managed to shoot his own finger before actually killing the target. I’ll have him put in for extra training at the range. He’s being a baby about it and complaining, but I’ll threaten to have his finger taken off and he’ll shut up.”

Greer nods but he’s not really interested. He cares about the success of the mission and the Machine’s slow demise.

“And the terrorists?” He asks, like it’s an afterthought.

“Eight dead, Sir.”

It’s sickening to watch, the nod that never stops and the mouth that twists in all directions to avoid the smile that clearly wants to shine. “It’s a shame,” he says, and she knows whatever is about to be said is a lie coming from his lips, “that they have to die like this. They really ought to have chosen the right side.”

The driver in front hums his agreement, and Shaw feels claustrophobic. She doesn’t disagree. In fact, she tries not to think about it at all.

“Another thing,” she says, looking out the window at the people on the street stopping to point and stare. “They were watching again. A camera in each of the rooms.”

“Good.” He clasps his fingers together, she hears his rough skin connect and scratch. “At least it won’t be a surprise when it hits the press.”

She imagines the headlines, the pictures, the quotes all exclaiming that Samaritan always wins.

And it always will.

 

--

 

There’s a news segment on the operation and Shaw is about to turn it off when her door knocks and opens.

“I brought popcorn.” Root says, but she hasn’t. Even if she had, Shaw would tell her to trade it in for some rum and then come back. “I knew you’d be watching this, soaking in all the praise.” Her smile is cheeky and wide. “Have they mentioned your name yet?”

“I’m not watching it.”

Root raises her eyebrow and nods her head towards the screen. “I mean,” she drawls, walking closer, “it looks like it’s on.”

She always does this, comes into Shaw’s quarters like there aren’t rules or ranks. And, for some reason she can’t explain, Shaw always lets her.

“Whatever. I was about to turn it off.”

It stays on, though, because instead of concentrating on finding the remote, Shaw watches Root climb onto the bed and shuffle close. Too close for her liking (Root’s arm is warm beside her own, her skin is soft and Shaw inches closer before moving away).

“Has Greer done his big speech yet?” Root asks, still looking ahead at the screen. Then turning, smiling, “all deaths are a tragedy,” she says in a croaky English accent, “but some deaths are necessary-”

“Stop.”

She turns serious then, looks Shaw over with soft eyes and a bite to her lip. “Are you feeling better now?”

Frowning, Shaw shrugs. “What do you mean?”

“Before. You were being all serious about the mission, about people sympathizing with the terrorists.”

Again, she shrugs it off. But Root’s eyes are tracing her face, her eyebrows furrowing in and she looks worried. She’s biting her lip and Shaw can’t hear the sound from the TV, can’t see Greer’s face and the bodies being dragged out and off camera. She only really sees Root release her bottom lip in time to see her coming closer.

The kiss is brief, a firm press of lips before it’s gone. And this has happened before, countless times before where Root has, again, got carried away and moved swiftly. But the reaction is always the same: eyes back on Root’s mouth, lips itching for contact that Shaw refuses to give.

Still close, still too close. “Sameen-”

“Don’t.”

“Sameen.”

They kiss again, deeper this time. Longer. Root’s leaning into it, into her and closer still as her hand pushes into Shaw’s hair and pulls. And Shaw always thinks they fit well, always thinks about giving in and sinking into the feeling of Root’s tongue licking in and Root’s moans drifting out. She thinks about giving into the feeling, thinks about letting it last a little longer (wants it to last a lot longer), but she pulls away before the groan rising in her throat is released.

Root stays still for a few seconds, breathing in Shaw’s air and warmth and composure. But then she sits back against the headboard, silent as she watches the screen and drags her fingers across her mouth.

“I can’t do that.” Shaw says, eventually. Because she can’t. Because she’s thought about it, and she can’t. It’s too much and it makes her think too much and feel too much, and she doesn’t need that on top of trying to destroy the Machine and its rebels.

There’s no reply at first, but Root turns her head to the side, smiles in a way that is far too cheeky and far too distant for it to exist as one. “Someday,” she says, waiting as if Shaw should know the words that follow. “Someday you will.”

Shaw watches Root, watches her mouth smile and eyes remain detached. Watches her blink slow and turn back to the screen, the television lights flashing across her face. Her lips are still red and wet and Shaw doesn’t mean to stare, but she almost doesn’t hear Root say, “you’re on the TV.”

 

--

 

Warner’s finger, shockingly, doesn’t need to be chopped off. He winces when he moves it, but nods and says, “it hardly hurts at all.”

Which is the right answer.

And Shaw has no sympathy, the mistake he made back at the hotel could’ve lost them the whole mission, could’ve lost him his life and the others that would have undoubtedly come to his rescue. So, when he’s next on the mat and he’s bouncing on the balls of his feet, Shaw doesn’t wait to launch and floor him. There’s a smack as his back hits the plastic, a puff of air as his lungs empty and then he’s tapping out.

“You weren’t prepared.” She says, crouching before standing. She doesn’t offer him a hand. “Do you think the rebels are going to wait for you to get ready?”

“No.” It’s a grumble, followed by a jump to land on his heels and then a quick leap at Shaw’s legs.

It takes her by surprise, but she doesn’t fall. Instead she stumbles and dives down onto Warner’s back and takes out his left leg. It causes him to lose balance and the grip he has on her knees becomes weak.

The other mats have stopped their combat to watch, Shaw can feel their eyes and the deathly silence.

With the grip now feeble against her legs, she kicks up to deliver a direct knee-strike into his chest causing a splutter of sorts. Another strike, and the grip is released completely, and Shaw quickly reaches behind to grip one of his arms and hauls it round until she’s twisted his whole body in front with his arm pulled high up his back.

Out of breath and whimpering, Warner squeals. “Okay, okay.”

Shaw releases him, steps back and says, “that was better.”

From across the room, she looks up to see Root standing against the gymnasium doors, towel hanging from her shoulder and smile playing across her face. Her top is pulled tight and wet from sweat and before she lets her eyes wander lower, she looks back to her own mat.

“Rousseau is going to take you to the range.” She says, looking to the mat behind where Martine is already complaining.

When she looks back up to the doors, Root is already gone.

 

--

 

It’s been weeks since they raided the hotel and killed eight of the Machine’s rebels, but the uneasy feeling has remained. Every mission since, Shaw has noticed the change in the public’s attitude. They watch the bodies being pulled out and whisper, drop their heads or knees and pray for the fallen fighters.

Not so long ago, Shaw was cheered as she left the scenes of disorder. Congratulated on taking out the terrorists. Nowadays, it seems the people have forgotten who’s right and who’s wrong.

So it’s not surprising, when Martine walks into the canteen and throws a newspaper in the middle of the table before reaching for a plate.

“They’re sympathizing.” She says, nodding her head to the front page. “The world is going mad.”

Shaw reads: ‘FINCH CALLS OUT FOR A PINCH- Rebellion leader and Machine creator says he can’t believe the death toll, claiming killing is never the answer-’ and she looks away.

She should probably say something, reassure them or pick faults in the article, but instead she just grunts,

Martine has potato on her fork and bread in her mouth but she still says, swallowing moments before, “we’re losing them.”

 

--

 

Root’s lying on her bed, finger lazily drawing the patterns on the sheets. Her finger a paintbrush, the comforter her canvas. In the background, the news reports a government mission that went wrong and left four innocents dead. Soon, Greer will comment and the presenter won’t be as welcoming as usual.

“You know,” Root says, looking up from her masterpiece, “I didn’t come searching for Samaritan.”

Shaw remembers, years ago, Greer introducing Root with a spark in his eye that shined evil.

She doesn’t look up from the sheets and Root’s finger still dancing. Root’s boots are still on and she thinks about telling her not to dirty her bed, but she imagines she’d only get a smart answer back.

When she doesn’t get a reply, Root says, “Shaw-”

“You said you came looking for the almighty AI. The machine that was built perfect where humans weren’t.”

“Yeah,” Root nods, her voice is gentle but it feels like it’s full of something scary. Something too big for this room. “I spent years looking for it and then-”

“And then you found Samaritan.”

“No.” Root says, and Shaw looks up. “And then Greer found me. Before I could properly find the machine I was looking for, Greer showed me Samaritan and I think at the time,” she shrugs, eyes finally looking away from Shaw. “I think I just assumed that all this time I’d been looking for Samaritan. I think it was just easier. She’s beautiful, Samaritan, all these intricate details integrated into the coding but-”

She trails off and Shaw doesn’t know what to say to that.

There’s silence that drags on for seconds, minutes and, when Greer’s voice appears in the echoes of the room, the shadows of the screen, Shaw shuffles further away from the middle of the bed and asks, “what are you saying?”

Root knows exactly what she’s saying, Shaw thinks she knows a bit too, but Root shrugs and feigns ignorance and maybe that’s the better option. “I don’t know.” She says, it’s a lie. But then, “maybe the machine that’s going to change the world isn’t Samaritan. Maybe-”

And she’s up. Shaw is climbing off the bed, pulling at the hair that’s managed to escape her knot. “Stop talking.” She says. “Root you know what they do to traitors.”

“Sameen, I know, I’m not-” Her hand is raised, her body sitting straighter against the headboard. Root looks small, below and curled on the bed. Shaw always, always, always feels the need to protect this woman, to keep her from drifting with the ideas that are too big for this war.

Root looks small, but in reality she’s not.

“I was just thinking. It was a theory.” She says, and Shaw wants to leave it at that, so she nods. “It was-”

“I know, Root, but you know where thinking like that can lead.”

“Come back to bed.”

“It’s my bed.”

“Come back to your bed, then.”

She does, but only because standing in her position gives her a clearer view of Greer’s face on the TV than she would like.

And Root’s leaning over as soon as she’s close enough, as soon as she’s in arms reach. Finger already at Shaw’s bottom lip, roughly tracing across it and back. “Sorry,” she says, but Shaw isn’t sure if it’s for what she said or what she’s doing now, because she doesn’t stop. And Shaw doesn’t really want her to stop. The pad of her thumb is replaced by her nail, and Shaw watches Root watch her own nail as it digs into the middle of her lip.

Root is breathing heavier, moving closer and Shaw has a chance then, to stop this before it’s started yet again. To stop this before Shaw will struggle to dampen the ache in her stomach, chest and mouth- moving closer until it’s pressing against Root’s lips. It’s always the same: the same want, the same need, the same groan that starts low in her chest and only starts to rise once Root’s tongue strokes inside.

It’s relentless (sometimes, mostly, always), the feeling that breeds this need to press closer, hold tighter, kiss harder. The feeling that makes Shaw regret letting this woman into her room, letting her onto her bed and inside her chest. Because Root is sighing against her mouth, thumb dragging along Shaw’s jaw and pulling down to deepen the kiss in a way that Shaw doesn’t know how to cope with.

(She’s never met anyone that does this to her. And she thinks, often, that this is the only thing that could destroy her.)

So she stops it. Mouth wet, lips swollen and whole body aching (it’s not aching, it’s thrumming alive and ready). Root breathes against her own palm, keeps her eyes closed and Shaw thinks she can feel racing hearts vibrating the bed with every beat.

“I’m going away on a mission tomorrow.” Root says, when her breathing is normal and Shaw’s facing away. She’s staring up to the ceiling, to where the paint has scratched and flaked, and she wonders how many Captains have come and gone through this room. “It’s probably only a few days, but I thought I’d tell you. Don’t want you missing me too much.”

Shaw scoffs (her heart is still beating out of time; her ribs might break), and turns to watch Root rub something from her eye and blink back down at her. “What’s it about?”

“The mission?”

“Yeah.”

“We’re trying to track the source of their software providers.” She says, smiling at Shaw’s blank face. “Big companies usually trust one supplier in particular, like how Samaritan only ever uses Decima software, it seems the Machine will only use software designed by Thornhill. So, I’ve tracked Thornhill Technologies and possibly found a base.”

Shaw nods and tries not to look too impressed, tries not to look too worried. “That’s pretty big, right?”

The smile on Root’s face says she knows what Shaw is thinking. She doesn’t look smug though, like she usually would, just shrugs and says, “I hope so.”

Minutes of silence, minutes of Root looking across and Shaw avoiding doing so. Silences are very rarely filled with nothing when it’s between them.

“Good luck.” Shaw says, when she feels as if she might choke on the words that aren’t being said.

 

--

 

She wants to say that Root’s absence isn’t noticed, isn’t missed, isn’t palpable in the boardroom as the mission briefing is read out. She wants to say she doesn’t even notice, but that would be a lie.

“They’re taking down Samaritan’s cameras.” Shaw says, standing when the papers have been passed around the room. “Obviously, Samaritan manages to run this country so well off the back of the data it receives, and the rebels are being systematic in taking down its eyes.”

(Her eyes, Root would’ve said. And she would’ve been reprimanded for correcting the Captain.)

The little nerdy guy in the corner of the room with sheets full of statistics raises his hand and sniffs.

“Lopez has more information.” Shaw nods for him to stand and then takes her seat again.

He takes his time to nod to himself, prepare his words that are probably written down in front of him, and then he swallows and stands.

“Ah, yes,” Lopez says, like what he’s about to say are impromptu words. “Thank you, Captain.” A pause. “It seems that the rebels are eliminating the cameras across the country. In the south side, there have already been many operations to stop this from happening and,” an uncomfortable swallow, “kill the terrorists trying to eliminate Samaritan’s eyes. The rebels have now started doing the same here, and intelligence suggests that their third attempt at destroying our cameras will take place later this week.”

Lopez carries on for a few minutes, handing out a map, a diagram and information too detailed for half of her officers to understand. When he finishes, he nods for a few seconds, twirls around to face her and tries for an awkward salute.

“Yeah, thanks for that Lopez.” Shaw says, waving away the hand still raised against his forehead. “We’ll all be at a range of different posts down the target street. Some of you will be in sniper positions and others will be in civvies on foot.” More paper, she pushes a batch into the middle of the table. “Postings are on the sheet. You have three days to make sure you’re perfect for the mission.”

 

--

 

She’s on foot, walking towards the central camera beside the city hall. It feels odd, being in jeans when she’s on a mission. She hasn’t done undercover for over a year and she feels plunged back into the adrenaline of observing and running and dodging and spotting and not just knowing your target and shooting.

Dipping her head and talking low, she opens the public wave and starts to command, requesting, “positions.”

“Alpha Sierra One in position and standing by.”

“Alpha Sierra Two in position and standing by.”

And the list goes on until she’s sure all snipers and foot soldiers are in place and ready, counts five slow seconds and then gives the go ahead.

Once the patrolling starts, it takes less than five minutes for two rebels to be identified and discreetly taken out and away from the scene. With each exposed rebel, it takes out a soldier on foot as they clear the scene as to not disturb the area, and the less soldiers around the more exposed she feels.

Regardless of how subtle they’re trying to be, Shaw is aware that the rebels will probably know when one of them is eliminated; they’ll probably have their own air-wave channel that is becoming increasingly quieter.

It’s been over an hour and no one has even stepped near the city hall. It’s been reasonably quiet until-

“Alpha Foxtrot Seven requesting back-up.” It’s someone on foot, and Shaw looks around as calmly as she can, sitting across from the city hall with a newspaper balancing in front. “I’ve been made, on the north side of the library. Four rebels coming from my three-o-clock.”

It’s nowhere near, it’s down the road and left and she wouldn’t get there even if she ran. Besides, she can’t leave her post when she knows there will be an attempt for the camera in front.

It’s been at least thirty seconds and no one has replied, so she hisses into her com-link louder than she intends and doesn’t bother to identify herself. “Get some Foxtrots up there and I want at least one Sierra pointing at that location now.”

Almost immediately there’s action- “Alpha Foxtrot Three, already making.” It’s Martine. He’ll be fine. Her grip on the paper is relentless, her breathing is still unsteady, but he’ll be fine now that Martine is on her way. Shaw doesn’t lose anyone on her missions.

“Alpha Sierra Five,” she hears, he’s out of breath but his words are clear, “changing position for the library on-”

And she misses the rest because she’s sure she knows who’s in front. A tall man, shirt the color of fresh snow and suit a plunging black to match. She’s seen him before, plastered on the screen- in pictures on his own, pictures with a dog and pictures with Harold Finch.

She waits until he’s directly in front, loitering around the city hall, lamppost to its right and camera looming above.

She waits and, just as he presses a circular device against the body of the lamppost, she drops her paper and starts walking slowly across the road. She has just enough time to see the camera above flicker and spin, just enough time to shout, “Alpha Charlie One, someone recover the device on the city hall lamppost immediately,” before the man in front turns, smiles and makes off down an alley to the right of the building.

He’s fast, but she’s faster. She can see him reaching for his waistband, but she’s already got her pistol in hand, screaming, “stop, I will shoot,” before actually shooting. He dodges the first two but takes the third to his shoulder, swings left into another alley and, when she follows, he’s gone.

There’s an open door, though, so she doesn’t think the game is lost yet.

Pistol placed in front and steps slow, she kicks the door wider and steps into the warehouse just far enough to see the rebel in the doorway adjacent. Gun pushed out in a mirror image of herself, he’s been waiting, it would seem.

“Sameen Shaw,” he says, smiling, wincing; there’s blood on his lovely white shirt.

“John Reese.” She nods towards his shoulder, the red that’s webbing out. “Shame about that.”

When his smile grows, it looks genuine and the pained shrug he gives does nothing to dampen it. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.” He says, “nor you, I imagine.”

She doesn’t reply. This encounter will be over soon, and a conversation won’t change a bullet to his head. Over the public wave, they’re asking where she is.

“Who do you think they’ll root for,” Reese asks, nodding to the door behind her. As if time has stopped and the whole world awaits outside this warehouse. “When they find out?”

And there was a time, not so long ago, when the answer would’ve been obvious. When the people of the city would’ve helped corner and kill off the terrorists. Nowadays, it isn’t so clear-cut. Greer’s grasp on the world is slipping.

(The fist holding her body is loose; she’ll tumble and land hard against the operating table as if she never even left.)

“Samaritan is trying to keep them safe.” She says. It’s what Greer would’ve said, perhaps. (She isn’t sure what Root would’ve said.) “They’ll see that. They’ll see that the Machine-”

“Is trying to keep them safe from Samaritan.” Reese tilts his head, it reminds her of Root when she’s trying to be cheeky. She steps forward, gun positioning a little higher. “He hasn’t told you the truth about Samaritan, Shaw.” He says, and he talks as if he knows her. His tone is familiar in a way it shouldn’t be. “Has he told you about the Corrections, about-”

And she shoots, but her aim is off, her hands are shaking and the bullet lodges in the wood beside his head instead. Reese turns to look at it for only a second, turns back and smiles. He gets the hint though, because by the time she pulls the trigger again it hits air where it would’ve been his head.

For some reason, she feels off-kilter. Her feet won’t move and, when they ask for probably the hundredth time where the Captain is, she calls up on the public wave to stop their panicking.

(And yet, her breathing can’t keep up with the rhythm of her heart.)

 

--

 

“How did it go?” Root asks, on the phone.

And she hates speaking on the phone, but the screen had lit up with Root’s name and Shaw hadn’t been able to ignore it. “Fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.” There’s silence on Root’s end, like she’s inside and away from everything dangerous. Everything, like the clean-up job currently going on in front of her. Shaw watches one of her own soldiers get picked up off the street and put into a body bag and she winces. “Shaw.”

“Well, I’m not then.” She should’ve ignored the call.

There’s a huff on the other end, and even that. Even the small amount of air coming from Root’s mouth, air that can’t climb through the receiver and will never reach her. Even that makes her feel a little lighter.

“I ran after someone, ignored the air-wave and someone died. Parker died.” She watches her soldiers get in the truck, one by one by one. Counts them and lets it register in her head and in the pit of her stomach. “I lost one.” She says. “I stayed in position. I should’ve-”

“What? Left your position. If you had, do you think he’d still be alive?”

“Yes.” She says. But, really, “probably not. But that’s not the point.”

Root hums on other end, but it’s not a hum of agreement. It’s quiet, short, sweet; Shaw momentarily closes her eyes. “And what is?” Root asks.

There isn’t a point, and Root should know that. “I have to go.” She says, walking to the truck.

 

--

 

The circular device is taken in for examination as soon as they’re back to base. The tech team will use it to stop other attacks, she hopes, so they don’t have to do missions like this again. There’s been worse, but she hasn’t felt the sick of losing an officer in a long time.

Greer asks, “what happened?”

It’s simple. What happened was, “Parker was shot.”

He nods, sits up in his chair. And it’s obvious that that’s not what he meant, it’s always so straightforward with Greer and she wonders why she’s here at all, if all he cares about is the numbers and the rebel’s defeat.

“Yes.” He says, forcing a sad smile. “I’ll send my condolences to his family.” He waits what he thinks is an appropriate amount of time and then asks, “and the rebels?”

“Ten dead.” She says, doesn’t wait for his response. “They managed to destroy two cameras, but a device has been recovered which should stop future attempts.”

And just like that, Parker is forgotten and Greer is nodding and grinning like this has actually been a victory. “Brilliant.”

“I ran after John Reese,” she says, watches his eyes spark interest. “I shot him but he got away.”

“I see.” Greer leans back in his chair, it squeals with the weight. He raises an eyebrow when he asks, “was the shot-”

“No, it was in the shoulder.” She says. “It won’t take long to heal.”

Greer claps his hands, signalling the end of the meeting. “Well,” he smiles and sits a little higher. “Still a victory, isn’t it?”

She wants to tell him that no, it’s not. She shouldn’t have lost a soldier to such a simple mission.

But Greer wouldn’t care to hear that.

 

--

 

It’s been days since she’s seen Root. She hasn’t really noticed, but it’s been days (and she felt the loss horribly).

“Missed me?” Root asks, sitting in the middle of the gym on the central mat. Legs crossed, eyebrows high and smile splitting across her face. The room is empty, but she suddenly feels it full and bursting and Shaw steps closer so that she can breathe. (It shouldn’t come so easy when Root is near.)

Shaw shakes her head, “no.”

It’s such an obvious lie, Root doesn’t even comment.

Feet still moving, she only stops when she’s on the mat, legs touching the skin of Root’s knees. The silence is filling. Root’s stare is filling, filling, filling, and Shaw hates the way her body reacts around Root. Hates how she feels like the days away have been long and she can finally, finally breathe. It’s awful, because Shaw doesn’t need anyone, but it feels like her body needs-

Instead of sitting, Shaw crouches low and dives forward until Root is flat on her back and her smile drops for seconds. Shaw has hands against both of Root’s shoulders, pressing her down against the mat, legs straddling her waist and keeping her pinned.

“Who taught you how to fight?” Shaw asks, twisting her knee so it presses into Root’s side and Root’s eyes squint.

Even through the pressure of Shaw’s palms, Root manages to shrug, says, “she clearly wasn’t very skilled.”

Shaw scoffs, they both know Root couldn’t fight a fly before coming into this gymnasium. “Well, a trainer can only work with what they’ve got. And if you’re not very good-”

It’s sudden, Root winds her legs around Shaw’s and twists, presses fingers into her side where she can’t help but squirm and suddenly Root’s hovering above. Heaving heavy and into Shaw’s space, she leans down until Shaw can’t help but breathe Root in.

“I’m good at other things,” Root says, but it’s a whisper and it’s said so close to Shaw’s lips she wonders if she tastes it. She wonders if Root’s lips would taste the same. (Sweet from the sweat that peppers her skin, mint from the candy she likes to pop and something else that Shaw hates to crave.)

But this time, instead of dropping down to finally land a kiss, Root’s hand is the only thing that moves. Still breathing too close, still watching too intense, Root’s fingers pull at her shirt until she’s touching skin. The room is cold but Shaw is boiling hot. Her mouth is open but she can’t find enough air.

The feeling is disconcerting. Even more so, watching Root above, watching her scan every inch of Shaw’s face before moving her hand higher, dropping her face lower, dragging her thumb further. She looks so unsure, so scared that this will end any minute.

And it’s because of that, it’s because of this feeling that perhaps this should happen, it needs to happen, it will happen.

That’s why it should stop.

It’s because of this relentless inevitability that this can never truly start (it will never truly stop). She’s thinking this, but she’s feeling something else and, when Root’s thumb finally, finally rubs against the bottom of her breast, Shaw almost forgets about it.

Head dropping back against the mat, mouth falling open and maybe she leans into the touch a little, and she almost forgets. She hears the hitch in Root’s breath, sees the surprise and horribly innate want in her eyes, and she almost, almost forgets that this shouldn’t be happening.

But it shouldn’t, and perhaps this is the only thing she knows for certain (it’s ingrained and, even if it weren’t true, there’s no way of severing the thought now).

So she flips them. It’s easy, with Root so off guard and her hand still pressing beneath Shaw’s top. The hit is louder than last time, the smack of Root’s body as it slams against the mat with Shaw following after on top. It echoes against the walls, it fills the gymnasium and Shaw can barely stand to look down to watch Root’s face fall.

“You should always be prepared.” Shaw says, breathless, air coming out in labored spurts (she’s not sure if it’s the want pulsing through her body or the act of exercise). “I taught you that.”

She’s still not looking down, not completely. Not at Root, not until she huffs a breathy laugh that sounds easy and feels nice against her cheek, whispers, “you don’t fool me, Sameen.”

And Shaw looks straight into Root’s eyes at that, blinks and tries to speak but can’t find the words.

“I know you want this just as much as me.”

Still, Shaw doesn’t speak. Instead, she lets the smile in Root’s eyes burn and burn and burn (it’ll set them both aflame one day, until they’re burnt to crisp).

“You’ll stop running one day.” Root says, lifting her hand to Shaw’s face where she flinches and moves away. “And I’ll still be here.”

Shaw takes a moment to swallow, really swallow until she has her composure back and her body doesn’t feel like collapsing. “You won’t be here,” she says, standing and pulling her hair tighter into the hold. “Because you’ll be dead if you fight like that.”

Root laughs, somewhere behind her. (She hasn’t missed her at all.)

 

--

 

There’s a bomb.

It happens miles away, minutes before it’s on the news but she feels the floor shake regardless.

She feels her legs shake regardless.

There’s an alarm, somewhere in the building. It’s calling for sudden meetings, calling names that need to report, areas that are restricted.

Hundreds dead, the reporter is saying, thousands dead and counting.

There’s a knock on her door and she flinches.

“He’s looking for you.” Martine says, before running back down the corridor.

 

--

 

Standing too far into the shadows, the words sound distant and filter through other ears before they reach her own.

Heads from all departments, Captains of all the squads and the almighty leader, towering above them all.

“They’ve gone too far.” Greer is saying, slamming fists against the table, slamming words into space. “Mr Finch thinks he can say what he likes, do what he likes, kill who he likes and he can’t.” It’s roaring. There’s a lion at the end of the table and he looks deadly. “They’ve planted a bomb in one of my cities, killed thousands of my people and he thinks he can get away with it.”

Shouting from the table, cheers, claps, pounding against the wood.

“We’ll destroy him.” Someone says from the middle.

A man: “he’s dead.”

 A woman: “I’ll rip him to shreds.”

And it goes on, almost does a lap around the table until it reaches Greer again. Standing taller, standing prouder; there’s something alarming about his face. Something horribly wrong in the way he smiles and she feels immediately sick. She feels another bomb inside her chest all over again.

When the room is silent, he looks around and nods.

“He’s gone too far.” Greer says, calm and quite. The mood has shifted completely. The calm after the storm (the calm before the storm). “And now, my dear soldiers, we show him and his machine what we’re really made of. Now, we finish this war that they’ve started.”

The threat is said so vulgar, it hits her in the chest and she almost falls.

 

--

 

She’s dangling high.

The fist is tight, the fingers are squeezing

She’ll be dead in seconds.

(She’s dreaming.)

 

--

 

“I’m so lucky to have you, my dear Sameen.”

It’s been weeks since the incident. Her work has been unyielding; it feels like this is the first time she’s sat down since the bomb ripped the world apart. Her soldiers have been to the wrecked city and back for the past five days and before that it was crowd control.

A madness that seemed to hit the country all at once, a panic more deadly than the device itself.

“The world needs Samaritan.” She says, and truly believes it after the recent events. “The world needs order.”

Greer hums and nods, shakes his head as if the nod really doesn’t do his agreement justice. “You’re absolutely right.” His smile is wide and, though genuine, deathly. “And people are finally starting to realize that again. They understand now, that Samaritan is the only thing that will keep them safe, that will keep the world spinning.”

Shaw sits silently, waits for him to continue and explain the meeting. He looks like he wants a response though, so she nods and murmurs, “Sir.”

“Now, I have big news.” He says, smile sickening and sticking. “I’ve been speaking with the President, and it’s come to light that perhaps he isn’t the right person to be leading this country in such a time of war.” A pause, Greer lingers like his audience eagerly waits. “And, instead, perhaps I am.”

“Oh,” it’s out before she really has time to recognize any words in her vocabulary. Greer sits, anticipating his applause. “I mean, shouldn’t the country decide that.”

“Ordinarily, yes. But these are not ordinary times.” His tone is condescending. He speaks as if it’s all so obvious. “There is a war going on and it would just be unkind to ask the people to make such big decisions at this time. I’m doing them a favor, volunteering to save us from this situation.”

It’s all happening so fast. She’s speaking to the acting President and all she can do is nod.

He asks, “do I have your support, my dear?”

And she answers, “yes, of course.”

Because, then, in that second, Shaw feels as if she has no other purpose in this life.

 

--

 

(And yet this is a purpose she can’t deny.)

They’ve been lying in silence for at least ten minutes. It feels like the world has finally stopped spinning and is settling for a while.

Root smiles, says, “I saw you on the TV, standing behind Greer as he gave his big acceptance speech.” She isn’t looking at Shaw but Shaw is looking at her. “Not that I was paying attention to him. You looked beautiful.”

She looks like she means it, she looks like she really means it and the ache in Shaw’s chest is horrible.

“I knew he’d eventually get the power he wanted.” Shaw’s speaking about Greer but she’s not really thinking about him. Root’s close but they’re not touching, they’re speaking but they’re not really talking. “He’ll go mad with power.”

Root hums, and it’s low, deep and she turns to finally look back. “You should be careful around him.”

Shaw can’t help the frown forming, “I can look after myself.” She says, but she doesn’t really think that’s what’s being questioned. But Root's eyes are serious and Shaw laughs a little, shakes her head and gets no real answer from Root. “What-”

“This silence feels odd,” she says, looking back up to the ceiling. “Hopefully the madness is finally starting to die-down.”

And with that, the silence between them fills and fills and fills.

 

--

 

The silence never lasts long, though, and it’s only days later when the world ends again.

A second bomb.

Further away this time, but she almost falls from the shake of the earth. She almost falls when she hears the words.

“This hell has no place on earth,” Greer says, over the truck radio. They’ve been travelling for days, she thinks, and they have days yet to travel. “But this war will end. The fury we all feel in our hearts will diminish. The loss we all feel will fill and we will recover. There is an end in sight, there is a future waiting.” Rehearsed, his words are slow, calming as the truck shakes above the gravel. “And Samaritan will lead us there.”

Harold Finch and his Machine don’t stand a chance.

They arrive in daylight but the emptiness reminds her of night.

Her soldiers start unloading the trucks, taking the food supplies to the kitchen tents. Following on with the medical supplies, ammo supplies and general living supplies all to their designated areas.

It feels worse, this time. There’s nothing but rubble for miles, dust still clogs the air and ash dances like lazy snow. Dead bodies line the streets, heads hidden by small cloths but blood seeping out regardless. She’s been in this job for years, but she’s never seen disaster like this.

Unlike the last bomb site, it’s silent here. Where there was deafening crying, here there is no one to cry. Where there were shouts of rescues or survivors in the rubble, here there’s no one left to save.

The absence of noise feels louder, somehow.

Somewhere across the land marked restricted, Root stands still with metal in her hands and wires dancing around her feet. She looks up, as if she feels Shaw’s stare, but her face doesn’t change and she looks back to her findings as if nothing is more important.

“Pictures.” Root says, when Shaw asks about what she found. “Old family pictures.”

And though she knows it’s a lie, Shaw doesn’t ask again.

 

--

 

Even back in the city, it doesn’t feel like home.

Greer’s face is plastered across walls and doors, hanging in windows and staring out into the streets. Shaw often catches herself thinking about what is happening here, what the war is becoming and what the people are supporting.

(It’s necessary, he’d said, the world is in disarray and the people need a leader. It’s only momentary.)

“Thank God,” one woman says, stopping her in the street and running her thumb across the badge in her uniform. “Thank God for Samaritan. You’re all doing the Lord’s work.”

It’s such a drastic change from only months before, Shaw doesn’t know what to do other than shrug it off and carry on her day. Which is busy as it is, her life seems to exist only in the training camps and she’s floored so many people in the last few days, she often thinks about removing the mats completely. Letting the new recruits hit the hard wood flooring so they don’t come back until they’re a challenge.

With fear thrumming through the country, city, streets; new recruits are lining up. Samaritan has never had a bigger army. Shaw’s experienced soldiers are moved across the bases in the west, some sent the south and very few are scattered elsewhere in departments Shaw has only vaguely heard of.

Sometimes, she lines her squad against the wall, stares at the new faces and wonders if she would’ve preferred to have been flown across the country. Their lips tremble, their fingers fidget and they quiver when she gets too close.

It doesn’t feel like home at all. (The only time she’s ever felt a sense of belonging was with-)

Root has all but disappeared. Transferred into some department specializing in Samaritan’s servers or data or something technical. She sees her, sometimes, passing in the corridor and Root’s eyes are often on the papers in her hands or the new gadget of the week.

She’ll smile, if she catches Shaw’s eye. Not a smile that could fill the room, but a smile that fills her face and sometimes that’s enough.

 

--

 

She’s sitting in the canteen with her new recruits when, mouth full of pasta and sauce dribbling out, Turner says, “my brother joined the rebellion just after I started here.” And the table goes quiet.

It was in conversation, she imagines, just a comment to add to the discussion. However, things like this aren’t talked about out loud; associations with the group that killed so many people in such horrific attacks are swept under and away and, very rarely in the dead of night, whispered about when no one is listening. But here is not the place.

Martine says as much, now Captain of her own squad and one of the few people Shaw recognizes from before the bombings.

Turner nods, apologizes and faces his bowl.

It’s only because he’s one of her own, only because he belongs to her and shouldn’t be reprimanded by others, that she speaks. It’s not because she cares, and she makes that clear with the straight line of her mouth.

“We’ve all lost people, Turner. Talking about it won’t change that fact.” (Perhaps, briefly, a car crash flickers in front. A child watching on with dirt dragged down her cheeks and the smell of death on her clothes.)

He nods, still burying down in his pasta. But when he looks up, his eyes are shimmering and his lip is worried beneath a tooth. “Does that mean,” he asks, stopping to swallow a non-existent mouthful, “that I’ll have to kill him, should it come to it?”

Shaw can see that he knows the answer, but she says it anyway.

Because that’s the world now.

That’s the President’s orders; shoot to kill, always.

 

--

 

Shaw likes to do her own planning when it comes to her own missions, but the orders come from higher up nowadays. Samaritan collects the facts, the senior teams device the plans and, eventually, sheets of papers arrive at Shaw’s desk.

Mostly, the plans are complete rubbish.

The corridor for the senior teams is high up, and she’s almost out of breath when she’s reached the top step. Anyhow, she’s been told that the man she’s looking for is almost impossible to find past lunchtime. Coincidentally, so are all his much younger female lieutenants.

Turning right, to where she’s sure his office is meant to be, the corridor is in darkness. Disheartened already, she thinks about just giving up because he’s clearly not in. When she switches the lights on, though, there’s movement from one of the doors to her left and Shaw will take anyone at this point.

She’s about to call out, but when she sees who’s in the room she stops.

“What are you doing in there?” Shaw asks, pushing the door open but remaining in the corridor. “It’s restricted.”

Root nods, looks around to the desks and servers lining the only wall Shaw can see, and then she steps out, still silent.

“Root-”

“I’m,” she shrugs, the light showing Root to be the liar she is. The liar she’s about to be. “I’m collecting papers for Captain Short.”

Shaw doesn’t wait for the words to register, doesn’t really listen at all. “That’s not true.”

Root just stares, face blank and eyes shining with a warning Shaw hasn’t seen before. But then she laughs, dips her head to the side in a stance that reminds her of before the bombings, before the war. Now, her laugh is empty.

“Sameen, you know how curious I am.” She says, as if that’s excuse enough.

And Shaw would slam her against the wall if she didn’t think some alarm would sound. Wrap fingers around her throat and hold on so tight Root would understand, she’d realize how stupid this is, how Shaw can’t lose her like this.

Gritting her teeth and flaring her nostrils, Shaw’s fists are curled and pressing into her own thighs with the effort not to swing them. “Digging around in restricted areas is enough to be killed, Root. You know Greer wouldn’t think twice.”

She doesn’t reply at first, Root stands above and just stares. But then, face morphing into a person Shaw doesn’t know, Root raises her hands, raises her eyebrow and raises her voice as she says, “okay, okay. I won’t do it again.” Leaning closer, too close and Shaw already feels sick with anger. “I promise.”

Shaw’s not in the mood though, so she pushes Root away and walks down the corridor.

Doesn’t stop until she’s at the bottom step and heaving.

 

--

 

The anger stays with her for days.

The drills are long, intense and relentless; her recruits are crawling by the end of the sessions.

It makes them better, though. It makes them ready for their next mission to raid a factory suspected to be creating software used by the Machine. (They only use Thornhill, Root had said once, but Shaw doesn’t think about that or her or anything but the mission set out in front of her.)

Standing tall against the fencing outside the factory, reminiscent to how they used to stand small against the gymnasium wall, she turns on the public wave and asks for positions. One by one by one, she registers her soldier’s placements and gives the go ahead.

Taking alternative entrances, the doors simultaneously blow and her soldiers march in.

Leading the north side attack, Shaw’s mask steams up slightly as she passes the explosives burning out against the melting doors, but they jog through the first room and shout up an all clear. It becomes obvious that the only occupied room is the main factory floor, but Shaw keeps soldiers in each room anyway.

“Hands up,” she shouts, muffled by the mask she could’ve taken off a while back. Pointing her gun higher, “hands all the way up.”

Six men in nothing but underwear are pushed up against the wall, turned to face the brick and told to reach high and remain still.

A search recovers nothing relevant or even remotely related to computer software. They’re drug dealers, though, and dodgy ones at that. Chemicals in all colors, textures and smells line the shelves and acid burns holes in the worktop. It looks like a science laboratory, with all the equipment to make the world burn, but see stars and blinding lights first.

There are barrels of pills and, really, Shaw knows this is criminal but it isn’t terrorist activity.

Her soldiers are waiting though, looking at her gun and back to the men trembling as they press hard into the wall.

Shoot to kill, is what the President had ordered. She swallows the order bitterly, but carries it out regardless.

 

--

 

She’s in the middle of writing a passive aggressive letter to the President when she hears her door swing open and smack against her wall.

“Heard you had a dangerous one the other day,” Martine says, smile ugly and eyes sparkling with mischief. Out of all the changes the bombing revisions brought, bringing Martine up to the Captain quarters is by far the worst. “Raided a factory and had to kill the big bad druggies. Did they fight back?”

“Heard one of your soldiers shot himself in the foot last week.” Shaw drops her pen, rolls the lid between her fingers. “Did you teach him that?”

Martine’s eyes turn cold but her smile never drops. She reaches for the doorway, watches her finger drag a line down to the hinges and then turns back with a face smacked with smugness. “Your girlfriend’s making waves.” She says, and Shaw doesn’t blink but her stomach drops at the mention. “Are all those missions she’s going on authorized?”

Shaw has to force herself to smile, has to cumulate all the energy left in her body. “How many missions have you been on?” She asks, avoiding the topic altogether. She can’t discuss this, she can’t discuss Root.

Martine won’t answer her question because the answer is low and embarrassing. So, it’s no surprise when she smiles and turns to leave. “Don’t worry,” she whispers, before she’s disappeared from the doorway completely. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

And Shaw suddenly feels sick.

 

--

 

Greer’s office is bigger and more lavish than anyone needs. She has to wait an hour before she’s seen.

“My dear, Sameen,” he says, standing as she enters. “So glad you could come.”

“I was here an hour ago.” She says, taking a seat.

He looks mildly shocked at her attitude, but it’s no different to how she used to be so he nods and joins her in taking a seat. “Tell me,” he drawls, leaning back in his chair and bouncing a little before settling, “about this mission that’s been troubling you.”

“You sent me to kill drug dealers.” She says, folding her arms against her chest.

Greer raises an eyebrow, waits a whole minute before answering and Shaw hopes this isn’t something that will happen every time she talks. It’s probably a new leadership technique, he probably thinks it gives her time to digest her words but she waits and taps her foot instead.

“It’s my understanding that they were suspected to be making terrorist software.”

“Well they weren’t.”

“I see.”

“You knew they weren’t.”

It’s accusatory and she’s surprised Greer hasn’t called her out on it. His hands, always so rough and brittle at the same time, rub together and the skin scratches and flakes. “Sameen, they’re bad people regardless, aren’t they?”

The frown is sudden and she tries to hide the force of it. “That’s not the point.” She says, leaning forward and actually scoffing in the face of the President. “That’s not what Samaritan is about. We kill the terrorists, the rebels. We kill because we have to, not because we can.”

Greer waits. It’s a different type of waiting, though, like he’s assessing her. Looking her up and down and scanning the soldier in front before deciding what to do with her. Decision made, he nods and says, “you’re right,” before sitting up. He smiles, shakes his head like this was all just a misunderstanding. “I’ll tell the intelligence department to check their sources more carefully, and I’ll make sure you’re never sent on another mission like it.”

She doesn’t want to think about how easy it is to spot the lies. She likes the simplicity that Samaritan brings. Kill the terrorists and make the word one step closer to safe. She likes that, and she doesn’t like the world unveiling in front of her.

So she nods, says, “Sir,” stands and turns.

So she leaves and goes back to base.

 

--

 

The gymnasium is empty but for Root, sitting on the middle mat, just like before, before, before.

And she hasn’t forgotten what had happened here, months and months ago, when she hadn’t stopped them in time and Root’s touch had burned across her abdomen, scratched up her chest and left scars ingrained in her skin. (She’s dreamt it up a million times.)

It’s silent, but the pulse of her heart and the thrumming of her anger is starting to surface. “I’m not fighting you.” Shaw says, walking closer but stopping three mats away. So far away, she feels the cold and the suffocating air settling between them.

“It feels like we’re fighting.”

It’s so petty, so ridiculous to think they could ever fight like this. In a way that isn’t physical and jarring and slamming into the hard wood flooring. She’s never fought like this, never cared for someone enough to see out their differences.

Shaw shakes her head, shrugging, “you know that’s not what I meant.”

“Come closer.”

“Why?”

Root laughs, “why not?”

“You need to stop whatever it is you’re doing.” Shaw says, blinking across, the separation between them biting. “Do you think he cares for you too much to kill you?”

The smile across Root’s face doesn’t falter, but her eyes drop and they’re always the most telling. “What are they going to kill me for, Sameen?” She asks, feigning ignorance. “Being too curious?”

“Don’t be so naive.” Shaw steps forward. Again, it’s so instinctive, this need to protect her. This need to stay close at any sign of danger. “You’re not that stupid.”

It’s silent for a long time, too long and Shaw thinks perhaps they both won’t speak. Maybe, finally, as if it was always going to happen, they’re too far apart and Root’s too lost to find. She’s going somewhere Shaw isn’t ready to follow.

And, just as the silence has filled and filled and filled, just as Shaw feels unsteady and can’t stand any longer in the smothering air, Root sounds exasperated and says, “Don’t you see-”

The doors fly open and the chatter from the recruits drown out anything Root was about to say. It’s as if they don’t notice the stand-off in the middle of the gym, swerving around the women to claim a mat and claim an opponent. The moment is gone and Root is back to staring silently, looking only forward and paying no attention to the people filling in.

“Sorry,” Martine says, coming to stand between them, clapping her hands to signal the silence in the room. “Have we interrupted?”

And, truth is, they have. Shaw is about to say as much, but Root finally falls out of her trance and smiles around. “No, of course not,” she says, as if they’re all friendly and the mutual hatred for Martine isn’t making her teeth hurt.

Martine raises an eyebrow. “No?”

“No.” Words sickly sweet. “Don’t break your neck sparring.” Root says, and leaves.

When she’s gone and Martine has turned all her attention to Shaw, she smiles in a way that isn’t a smile at all. “She’s a tough one to watch.”

Shaw’s frown flickers on and she forces it gone, asks, “what?”

As if she was never interrupted, Martine shrugs and glances back to the doors still swinging with Root’s exit. “But I always find her.”

 

--

 

There’s a new lead and everyone is going mad with it.

She spends the next few days planning what could be the biggest mission of her life. The information comes from high up, whispered between soldiers so undercover their real identity has probably been deleted completely.

“Intelligence suggests,” Lopez stands at the top of the table, stutters through his words like they trip against his teeth and land somewhere in a heap, “that Harold Finch has been working from the above location for at least the past two years. Surveillance teams have started a 24-hour watch on the address and we will be immediately informed of any sudden or suspicious movement.”

Lopez looks around, shuffles his sheets and is about to continue before the questions start and he trembles before answering. Greer is, unsurprisingly, absent from the meeting. The chiefs from pretty much all departments are present, the officers from the senior teams line the tables and Shaw stands at the back with the dregs of paper ripped and creased with the amount of people the sheets have passed before they arrived in her hands.

Between the chatter and mumbling around the table, Shaw stands in the bee hive and listens to it buzzing before hearing, “Captain Shaw and her squad have been assigned to lead the raid-”

And just like that, heads turn from all directions and the buzzing stops. They sit, staring expectantly.

Nodding, she says, “yeah,” and that’s her speech done.

Lopez looks up, smiles a little wider like they have some weird connection now, and then continues.

She attempts a better speech when she’s standing in the gym and her squad is stood to attention in front.

“This is,” she says, stretching each word as far as they reach, “the biggest mission of your life.”

“Last year I swam to-”

“Ramirez, this is the biggest.”

The girl shrugs but nods and Shaw moves further up the line.

They’ve all seen the layout of the location, the pictures taken from officers in tourist clothes and floppy hats, with cameras that look too cheap to be tracking straight back to the Samaritan database. From the outside, it looks like an empty, abandoned library placed in the middle of the city, in the middle of the street. In plain sight.

“The library has three ways in and out. There’ll be three teams split into two, five in each.” She says. “Two to remain at the exits and three to blitz the rooms and meet in the middle. I’ll be in the group entering from the front and continuing in, making four. I expect Finch to be on the second floor in the central room but he’ll be heavily guarded. They’ll have cameras in every room and every corner. If you move as quietly as humanly possible, as quickly as humanly possible and stay in the shadows, he’s already watching you.”

There’s a collective gulp around the room, a nod that gets picked up down the line until the soldier at the end is bouncing.

“Finch is the rebel leader. He created the Machine, the terrorist army and the war that killed half of your extended families. That was him.” She purses her lips, stands in the middle of the room and looks across at them all. “You’re my team, which means you’re bigger, stronger and better than any other squad in this country. If we can’t capture a small man and his walking stick, then no one can.”

They don’t cheer; they don’t clap or whistle or do anything but get back to work. Because they know better.

This thing could end the war. Her team could come back from this mission empty or full, heroes or failures, dead or alive.

And the pressure makes her wobble before straightening.

 

--

 

It’s a ten minute wait this time, and she breathes in the doorway when she enters the office. It looks bigger, somehow.

“Sameen,” Greer claps his hands, stands and walks to meet her instead of waiting. “My dear, come in.”

She hesitates and tries not to cringe when he reaches to touch her elbow. Cold, always so cold and scratchy.

“You wanted to see me.” She says, in the hope that the conversation will start and end and she’ll be able to get out of here and plan. Because Fowler missed the target three times yesterday and Wallace has lost every sparring match for three days. Shaw’s not ready.

“I always want to see you.” He smiles, in that creepy old man way. Sometimes, she’s sure he thinks of himself as a father. “Please take a seat, get comfortable. Do you want a drink?”

She shakes her head, “Sir-”

“Now I know you probably don’t think you’re worthy of such a mission.” The minute his words are out, her frown is down. Shaw knows she’s worthy; her team are the best in the country, let alone the best in his army. “But let me assure you that I have the upmost belief that if any success is to come of this, then it will be done at the hands of you and your squad.”

Shaw nods, mouth turning up a little and she’s back to looking a little less annoyed. “I believe that too.”

“I’ve never told you this before,” he says, leaning back into his chair, blinking a little too long as if the memory is playing beneath his lids. “But I’ve met Harold Finch before, I would even say we were acquaintances at one point. The creator of Samaritan was a good friend of Harold’s, they studied together at college and I believe the basis for these opposing machines began there. The world needs structure, and Arthur understood that.”

She should’ve asked for that drink after all.

Greer continues, looking out to his audience. “Arthur created Samaritan as if it were a God. In a biblical sense, God is meant to watch over the world and keep it safe, and that’s exactly what Samaritan is designed to do. But, Sameen, Harold is a jealous man. And his jealousy can be seen in his creation, a machine that is far too emotional to contribute to this world.” Greer’s hands fly out, gestures to the space around and between them. “Just look what the bombs did to this country.”

There’s a pause, long and silent with the only sound coming from the squeak of Greer’s chair.

“Just like the Machine cannot exist as Samaritan does,” he says, pausing, leaning forward and taking a deep breath in. “Harold cannot live as I do.”

He raises his eyebrow, high and mighty and proud, and the message is clear.

They’re deployed in two days, and Harold Finch will be dead within the week.

 

--

 

Her leg is bouncing, her heart is racing and she can’t sleep.

The blanket is on the floor and she’s pushed her pillows to the very edge of the headboard. She counts to ten, twenty, thirty and turns on her lamp before twisting out of bed. Feet only just touching the floor, thighs still pressed against the mattress and hands pushing up, the knock on the door is silent at first.

The second knock is louder, and she’s been told to be prepared for early deployment should any complications arise, so she squeezes the sheets and says, “come in.” Says it again when nothing happens and stops the words the third time when the door is pushed open.

Root looks tired. Even by the light of the lamp and standing in the shadows, Root’s eyes are dark and her hair is mussed and Shaw can breathe easy. The stress of the day and the stress of the mission disappears, just like that. Root is the only person in the whole world that can do that.

“Missed me?” Root asks, croaky and possibly pulled from a dream somewhere.

Always the answer but never the truth, “no.”

The anger Shaw was clinging to weeks before is gone and all she has left is this feeling of being deflated. She sees Root so rarely recently, and sometimes the person she sees isn’t Root at all. It’s someone that, for the first time in forever, is struggling to find her place in this organisation. Is struggling to land, and she’s only floating higher.

Root doesn’t talk about the big mission that’s circulating the base, she doesn’t mention training or the secret things she gets up to by herself. She just walks forward until she’s perched on the bed beside Shaw, thighs pressing together and arms touching.

For once, the silence isn’t eating her up like it sometimes does around this woman, taking chunks away until all that’s left are the words the silence is hiding.

Side by side, Root is looking ahead to the door and Shaw is looking across to the face she knows but doesn’t. Root looks lost, her eyes are scanning in front and heel tapping against the floor as if she’s ready to bolt. Usually it’s the other way around.

And Shaw’s not scared, but her throat is hurting a little and her chest is tightening with every swallow that struggles the length of Root’s throat.

“Root,” she says, and she doesn’t know what to follow it up with.

 But Root’s head turns to the side, looks down and does the tiniest nod in expectation. She’s about to say something, something small and meaningless, like ‘yeah’ or ‘what’. Her mouth is opening and all that comes out is a heart-breaking sound that ends in a hiccup, so Shaw surges forward.

She’s never been the one to instigate it, never leaned in to press the first kiss up. But Root lets her, leaves her lips settled against her own until there’s a quiet sob and she’s pulling Shaw closer with a hand fisting in her top. Opening their mouths together and moving in again (too slow, Shaw thinks, too soft), Root’s other hand comes to pull a thumb down the length of Shaw’s jaw.

And then her tongue is stroking in and Shaw squeezes her eyes shut, presses her face closer like it will make breathing easier. Because she can’t breathe, can’t move really so, when Root leans towards the bed, she can’t help but follow until they’re side by side and clinging to the sheets and clinging to each other.

Root’s making their kisses deeper, longer, she’s taking the breath from Shaw’s mouth and replacing it with her own. Hot and heavy and heaving through her lungs, Shaw’s filling with a want she never lets herself feel but she can’t let it go now. This is the closest she’s felt to Root in a long time, and she can’t let it go now.

“Root,” she says, moans it when her mouth is free and Root’s pressing her nose into the skin below Shaw’s chin.

It’s easy, then, for Root to roll them over, whispers “lie back”, until they’re shimmying up the bed and she’s quickly back to sucking bruises along Shaw’s neck. With both hands feeling beneath the edge of her top and stroking up her abdomen, Shaw’s never wanted to be more reckless in her life. She’s never wanted to give in and let Root fill her completely, take everything and leave her empty.

Root’s pulling Shaw’s top up and off, hovering above for only seconds before dropping back down. Like this is going to end, as it always does, suddenly and far past the point of forgetting.

It’s a big rush and Root’s taking, taking, taking everything she can. Biting at the base of her breast and licking a path up, squeezing at her hips and pushing a knee between Shaw’s legs and up and Shaw can’t take it.

She gags on the lack of air in her lungs but pushes down against the skin on Root’s knee, arches up for more friction and Root’s mouth moves with it, clinging to her. And, when Root’s lips finally find a nipple and she bites, kneading Shaw’s side with the motion, the feeling is too much.

“Don’t”, she says (it’s a whimper, a horrible cry out for help) and feels the hesitation below, “don’t stop.”

But the fear has already settled and Root’s whole body has stopped, her mouth is open and breathing hot air onto Shaw’s nipple, still wet and achingly hard, and the only movement is the rhythm of their pulses merging and keeping them close.

And Shaw’s body is still reacting to Root being so close, she’s still fighting the urge to just push her own fingers down into her shorts (she’d push Root’s but Root would let her and they’d both break somewhere on the way).

Shaw places a hand on Root’s cheek, feels the warmth and softness of her skin, and pulls until she’s hovering over.

“Root,” she whispers, swallowing a lump that tastes like regret, tastes like longing.

She looks back, eventually, into Shaw’s eyes but way past there, so far into her she feels exposed and surprisingly empty. And she hadn’t planned what to do after that, she hadn’t thought past getting a response, so she shakes her head and pretends that that says enough.

Root, always full of words, says nothing in reply.

She hovers over but says nothing, just nods her head with something akin to understanding and drops down until her face is pressing so hard into Shaw’s neck she can’t breathe. But Shaw doesn’t comment, doesn’t stop Root when she opens her mouth and sucks so hard she’s sure it will bruise for days, weeks, years, possibly.

Shaw feels the movement more than understands what’s happenings, feels Root’s jaw open and hears, “I-”

The knock on the door makes them both jump.

Root stays pressed on top until the knock comes again and someone, it sounds like Turner, shouts, “Captain,” again, again, again. “Captain, it’s happening.”

Shaw sits up immediately and watches Root tumble back with the motion.

“Captain, are you awake? Are you in there? We’re being deployed.”

A shaky breath in and a shaky breath out. “I’m here, Turner.” Her voice sounds foreign. “I’ll be right out.”

Root just stares across with wide eyes and, for the briefest of moments, Shaw thinks she shakes her head. But then it’s gone and Root is standing off the bed, holding out Shaw’s top until she takes it, stepping back, back, back into the shadows. She wants to follow, she wants to pull at Root’s arms and ask her what is happening.

But she doesn’t. She can’t, she can only get dressed, pull up her boots and prepare for war.

She can’t stay (Root can’t stay either.

And, somewhere buried deep, she knows this).

 

--

 

The floodlights flicker against the rain and her squad are already waiting inside the truck, uniform on and buttoned high.

She climbs into the back, pulls her hair tighter and feels the water drip onto her back. “What happened?” She asks, signalling for Jacobs to start driving. “It wasn’t meant to be for another two days.”

Turner, the only one who isn’t still rubbing sleep from his eyes, shrugs. “The chief came to our dorm,” he says, looking around for some acknowledgement. “Said Finch had been tipped off or something and we had to be deployed immediately.”

He’s missed a button halfway down his shirt, but she doesn’t tell him.

Instead, she nods. Says, “they know then,” quietly at first, more to herself. But then, louder, “they know we’re coming. They’ll be ready and prepared, which means we have to be more ready,” she’s not worried but her voice wobbles anyway, “more prepared. We have to be better.”

From the back there’s a hum, quiet and soft and probably Hughes half asleep, “we are better.”

“I know.” Shaw says, feeling around to make sure her pistol is wedged in her waistband and her knife is pushed inside her left boot. Feeling around to make sure she’s ready for this, making sure she doesn’t reach for something that isn’t there when she needs it the most. “I know that, we just need to show them.”

The truck jolts up above the gravel and Shaw watches them jump. She watches them fall.

 

--

 

Ramirez passes their automatics down the line until everyone holds one in a grip too tight, a hold too close.

“Now, listen,” she says, looking down at them all. Fifteen of the greatest soldiers she’s ever taught, fifteen of the bravest. “If you’re one of the two at the exits and you think you’re going to be more useful further inside, then move. Use your common sense. If there’s heavy fire close by then I expect you to provide support.”

They’re shaking, Shaw can seem them shaking and she hopes it’s from the cold. The rain is light but there are drops running tracks along her cheeks.

“If it all goes wrong,” it’s the last thing she says before they head off, and she nods back at the vehicle parked further down the street. “Then just make it back to the truck.”

And with that, they start moving. As one at first, splitting off into two as her team makes it round to the front and the others to the rear of the building. Then, once there, they’ll split off and there’ll be three groups standing at the very edge of the building and ready to trespass.

“Alpha Tango One, in position and standing by,” she hears, sparking open the public wave.

Then, “Alpha Tango Three, in position and standing by.”

Shaw turns, nods to Turner beside her and looks back at the door. He coughs a little before holding down the transmitter on his radio. “Alpha Tango Five, in position and standing by.”

Three deep breaths in, three deep breaths out. She counts down from fifteen. A breath for every group, a second for every soldier.

“The mission is a go,” she says, feeling shoulders tense around her. “I repeat, the mission is a go.” And, finally, “be careful in there.”

 

--

 

And they are careful (at first).

The first room is clear, it’s echoed around the squad as if they’re all together again. Side by side by side. The walls are plastered concrete, smoothed over bricks but never decorated, left to flake and crumble against the stone flooring spanning the whole building.

They lose the two soldiers remaining at the exit and Two, Four and Six radio through to signal their positions.

They’re careful (at first), they’re careful until it comes to the third room and Alpha Tango One shout up first. “Gunfire,” she hears Fellows shout, hears shots being fired, hears screaming and hears, “heavy gunfire, room four. Taking heavy fire.”

She’s still in the third room though, gun held tight and moving through the fourth. It’s clear, she says as much over the air.

“Alpha Tango Two,” it’s Gentry, he’ll be moving from his post at the door. “Moving to assist Tango One.”

“Alpha Tango Three, fourth room clear.”

Shaw stands to the right of the doorway into the fifth room, Turner coming to the left of the door. Jacobs beside Turner, Owen beside her. Shaw signals, holding three fingers up. Two. One. Shaw turns first, hears gunfire in the background as Alpha Tango One rage on and update the progress in her ear, and she moves quietly into the fifth room. Turner follows, then Owen, Jacobs.

“Alpha Tango Five,” she says, when Tango One have stopped emitting. The room is empty, no one hiding and nothing to hide behind. “Fifth room clear.”

Just as she says it, though, a body twists out from the doorway ahead, gun raised, bullet straight in the head. Shaw’s finger doesn’t even twitch, she moves to dress forward against the furthest wall, Turner following and the other two dropping back.

“That’s a negative,” Turner says, whispers as he stands beside the body in the doorway and kicks the gun across the room. “Rebel down.”

It doesn’t sound that impressive when Hughes, from Alpha Tango One, shouts, “eight rebels down and counting,” above the gunfire. “Fellows has taken a shot to his shoulder but he’s alive.”

There are two rebels in the sixth room, Owen crouches to the floor and takes one down from the doorway, the other trips before he even gets close and Turner presses a bullet to his skull before he finds his feet. The seventh room is the stairs and Shaw takes them two at a time whilst messaging across, “Tango Three and Tango Four, for an update please.”

There’s a hallway at the top, bookshelves line the walls and lead them to the first room on the second floor.

“Alpha Tango Four, in position at the second exit.”

They’re halfway down the hallway when Owen reaches for her arm, pulls it to a stop and then does the same to Turner. Her eyes are worried and Jacobs has obviously seen what Owen has because they’re both looking down to the first room.

Owen points to her ear and then to the room ahead, she’s heard movement. Jacobs nods her head, slides across the bookcase until she’s at the doorway to the first room. Behind her, Turner follows and Shaw and Owen take the right side adjacent.

There are bookcases standing out from the walls, just visible from the hallway, though it provides plenty of hiding places for the rebels, it also provides plenty of cover for her team. She signals for Turner and Jacobs to take the left case, herself and Owens will take the right.

Three, Shaw gestures, fingers held up high, two, one.

They run in a single line, splitting off to slide behind their designated cases. She hears the bang of the bullets before seeing them fly past her shoulder, counting at least ten shots before it stops. She calculates the sound, the position, the dragging of feet barely audible past the gunfire.

Six rebels, she signals to her team, three to the left and three to the right. Poking her head out, there’s a face three bookcases away and a bullet already coming her way. It’s careless though, an impulse shot that misses by miles. Shaw’s doesn’t miss, and she twists back to the sound of a rebel hitting the floor.

“One,” the air-wave screams, Hughes screams and she’s distorted by static, “Ramirez is down. Soldier down. Fowler’s taken a hit and it’s just me and Gentry left with full capabilities. I repeat, Fellows is hit. Fowler is hit. Ramirez is down. If there’s any back-up coming, now would be lovely.”

Jacobs, from across the room, holds a hand against her mouth, squeezes her eyes shut before reaching back down to her gun. She’s going to do something stupid, so Shaw can’t help but shout Turner’s name and get him to push her back against the books.

“Now is not the time for stupidity,” Shaw shouts, staring straight across to Jacobs. Then, over air and quieter so the rebels don’t hear, “Four, find out why Three isn’t responding and then get to One immediately.”

Turner’s spun around the bookcase, fired three shots and missed one but it sounded like two bodies hit the ground. This needs to be quicker though, so she signals for Owen and Jacobs to dress forward to the next set of bookcases. Shaw and Turner will wait before they’re in position before moving one further on.

Three, two, one: as they’re running out, Owen shoots one, gets a shot to her arm but takes it with a wince and another bullet to the rebel’s friend on the left.

If Shaw’s right, there should only be one left, so she forgets her plan and surges forward until she’s at the end bookcase, turns to the right and pushes the back of her automatic into the rebel’s mouth. One swift movement, and the rebel is stumbling back and there’s a shot in his head before he sees the teeth in his palm.

“Clear,” Shaw says, only speaks it aloud and doesn’t bother transmitting it over the public wave.

The second room is very much like the first, although she can see from the doorway that there are at least double the amount of rebels. This is the last room before the central room, though, so she isn’t surprised.

She signals for the same as before, two to the left and two to the right. Turner spins around and keeps a steady flow of bullets, receives more than he fires himself but manages to avoid them all. Shaw quickly pulls at one of the emergency bandages in one of her pouches, wraps it around Owen’s arm and doesn’t knot it until she’s satisfied it’s tight enough.

They dress forward, just as they’d planned before, take out five and Owen and Jacobs come to stand at their side again.

“Four,” she hears, shaky. Shaw stands straight against the bookcase. “They’re dead. Wallace, Hayes, Ruiz. They’re all dead.”

She doesn’t take a breath, presses tight to her earpiece and says, “how?”

“Slaughtered,” that’s not explanation enough. She pushes, receives, “throats cut open. There’s one dead rebel, we’re going to find the others.”

Her heart is hammering, One and Two are falling, Three have fallen and she’s about to lose Four too.

“Alpha Tango Six,” she says, gripping at her gun and trying to pass clear words before screaming. “Mata, find Four and assist. Yu, go to One and Two and provide back-up.”

That’s their back-up down. That’s all her officers in danger. Her officers, who she trained, who trusted her to get them through this.

A hand on her arm, Owen whispers, “Captain-”

“Five, we need to finish this.” She says, loudly so Turner and Jacobs can hear on the side of the aisle. “We’re close.”

It takes a moment of silence (it’s not silent at all, really, but her head is clear for just a second), to realize the devastation caused and irreparable damage done to her team. She’s lost them.

Maybe not all, not just yet, but she can’t recall who’s down and one is already too many.

From beside Turner, Jacobs bites at her hand and sobs. One long sob, guttural and from the bottom of her chest, for the fallen and falling.

And that’s all it takes for Shaw to fill and fill and fill, she lets her gun hang loose around her neck and reaches for the knife in her boot. That movement alone sparks something in Turner. He raises his gun high, licks his lips. The movement is followed by Owen behind her, Jacobs across from her.

With one last, deep breath, Shaw turns around, spins into the bookcase immediately in front and lunges her knife into the awaiting rebel. There are gunshots behind her, beside her, in front. She pulls out the blade, pushes the rebel down and carries on to the next bookcase. Bullets flying, explosions in her ear and blood on her hands as she presses the knife in and up again.

She feels the life leave them, feels them grapple for their guns before grappling for the knife in their neck, stomach, heart. Hot blood, running over her fingers, into her nails and down her arm. Her gun taps at her back from the strap at her shoulder, moves as she marches from bookcase to bookcase, pages floating to the floor as she goes.

The end comes quick. She doesn’t realize she’s at the doorway until Turner reaches for her arm and turns her around to see the room of rebels splayed across stray books and stray bullets.

“You’ve been shot,” she says to Jacobs, limping to stand beside them.

Jacobs nods, touches a finger to her thigh and shrugs, says, “so have you.”

 

--

 

The central room on the second floor is empty.

Computers lie open with wires tangling out of the screen, twisting beneath table-tops and over books still whole.

“He’s not here.” Owen says. The obvious. “He’s not fucking here.”

Shaw looks around, orders the others to overturn everything. Pull open every cupboard, pull out every draw and pull away every book still sitting on a case. Her blood is boiling, her bones are aching and Shaw’s voice is shaky with the need to lash out. Her shoulder is bleeding from a bullet but she doesn’t feel a thing.

“One,” she all but screams, “Four, give me an update.”

There’s silence for what feels like forever and Jacobs is back to standing silent in the middle of the room, awaiting news.

“Alpha Tango One,” she hears, still Hughes. At least she’s still alive. “We’ve pushed past into room five with no exits in sight, they’re cornered.” She’s out of breath, screaming to be heard. “There can’t be many left, but Fellows is in a bad way. Fowler isn’t responsive.”

Another sob and Jacobs says, “we need to go back and help.”

“Four,” Bird’s end is quiet; his voice is gravelly against the silence. “We killed the bastards, minor injuries but alive. Making the first entry to assist.”

Shaw looks around, observes the mess they’ve made and the very obvious absence of Harold Finch and reaches behind to take hold of her gun. “Let’s finish them off.” She says, leading the run to their exit.

The path of bodies on the way only makes her wish there were more, only makes her wish she’d gutted them all and stood above to watch them die.

By the time they reach Alpha Tango One and Two, the whole squad is there. The path to the fifth room is scattered with over fifty bodies, all rebel, all dead. In the third, Ramirez lies lifeless behind a table riddled with holes. They don’t stop, can’t stop.

In the fourth, Fowler sits in a puddle of blood. Some her own, Shaw imagines, some not. Her chest isn’t moving and her eyes remain open but unseeing.

Two down, she marks in her head, she’s lost two.

Across from Fowler, on the other side of the room, Fellows is gurgling staggered breaths, clutching his side but Shaw can see there are many more holes than that. Mata is at his side, holding his head in her lap and running a thumb below his eyes, nose, mouth. She doesn’t seem to notice the maps of blood she’s drawing.

Again, Shaw doesn’t stop. She holds her gun close, keeps her finger light on the trigger and marches into the fifth room with blood on her hands and nothing left to lose if she loses the rest of them.

(There’s Root, she thinks, there’s still a slither of Root left to lose.)

Standing in a line, reminiscent of when they first came to her, when they completed their first mission. Fighting their last, they press bullets across and don’t stop until the last rebel has fallen. Don’t stop until Mata is crying out from the next room and: three down, she’s lost three.

She’d told them all to make it back to the truck, before, and only nine of them have.

 

--

 

She counts the deaths on her hands, curls the tips of her fingers and watches the dry blood flake and dance down.

She bandages her soldiers up, wraps cloth so tight she’s sure she’s forgotten how to stop the bleeding. The bodies are picked up and carried to the truck, lay in a line across the middle, and Shaw makes sure she’s the one to get the dead from Alpha Tango Three.

Four down, five down, six down. She’s lost six.

With sticky fingers and an aching shoulder, she picks them up one by one and carries them back to the truck, passes them up and watches their bodies being laid down and put to rest. They have one last journey to make, and the base awaits their return.

A search of the building uncovers nothing but a swift exit, things destroyed in a rush and smashed into smithereens.

Shaw leaves the building in a pool of gasoline and sets a fire she hopes Finch feels in the pit of his belly.

She hopes, somewhere, he’s burning to crisp.

 

--

 

The journey back is long.

A pre-recording of a speech spoken months ago, almost a year now, replays on the radio and Shaw almost asks for it to be turned off. She doesn’t though, and the squad is silent as the words are spoken. The truck wobbles with the wind, jolts with the gravel but the people inside remain still.

“This hell has no place on earth,” Greer says, like before, before, before. “But this war will end. The fury we all feel in our hearts will diminish. The loss we all feel will fill and we will recover. There is an end in sight, there is a future waiting.”

From the driver’s seat, Jacobs sobs against the wheel.

“And Samaritan will lead us there.”

 

--

 

Greer is waiting. It’s just gone morning and he looks well slept, hair finely combed and teeth sparkling white. He probably woke up an hour ago, had a cup of tea like every morning, read the paper, heard the updates and now he’s here.

He looks fresh, and Shaw looks ruined.

“Harold must’ve been tipped off.” He says, as soon as she steps out from the truck. The minute her feet touch the ground. “He wasn’t there?”

And Shaw, for the first time under Greer’s command, can’t play along with his priorities. “Six of my soldiers are dead.”

Behind her, their bodies are being unloaded, carried away with the soldiers on her squad left bleeding but breathing. She hears the grit beneath their boots, the heavy press of their heels as they carry their family home.

Ramirez, Fellows, Fowler, Wallace, Hayes and Ruiz. All gone.

“The mission was a death-trap.” She says, turning to face him. The morning sun leaves shadows across his cheeks and he looks hollow, made of nothing but bones. “I’m happy to brief you later, but right now I need to see to my soldiers.”

His nod is small but she wasn’t waiting for his approval, so she turns around and waits at the end of the truck until Ramirez is passed down. Shaw grips her arms, presses her body close as she carries her along the dirt path to the base. They’ll need to be processed before a burial can be considered, but she lays them one by one in the gymnasium.

She doesn’t stop until they’re all there. In a line, like before.

(Like before, like before, like before.) She’d walked along the front of the line when they first entered the gym, trembling at her words and trembling at her presence. She’d stood beside them in the line outside a factory, hotel, house, and completed the mission in full.

Now, she stands behind the line. Half of them on the floor and half of them crouching over.

She wants to say something, opens her mouth and hopes words will fall out but nothing comes.

Her feet move before her body does, walking back, back, back and away from the scene in front. The double doors swing as she passes through them, twists and heads to the Presidential office three buildings away. The walk is long but it feels quick.

She doesn’t knock, opens the door and says, “they were good officers.”

“I know.”

Shaw expected Greer’s anger, she tips on the balls of her feet and watches him send his guests out the door.

“Sit down, Sameen. You look tired.”

“You don’t.” She says, and she’s not sure what she wants to achieve but it’s probably an argument.

Greer nods, doesn’t sit until she does. “That’s because I haven’t been to war and back, my dear.”

Shaw sits in silence for a long time, taps her leg up and down, up and down. Scratches at the armrest to her left until the material wears and tears. “They knew.” She says, eventually. “They knew we were coming. They’d left in a hurry.”

There’s a hum across from her, a nod. “Someone must’ve told them.”

“We killed over eighty of them. We killed all of them, and then I set the building on fire.”

Greer just blinks, he’s trying not to burst with questions, Shaw can tell. “There was nothing evidential?”

She shakes her head, “nothing.” And then, a second later, “everything was destroyed in a rush.”

“I see.” He says, sitting close to his desk, hands folded above. “Sameen, I’m sorry for your loss.”

It takes a second to realize he’s said it, but then she stops her tapping, scratching, frowning.

She stops and says, “it could’ve been worse.” (She could’ve lost-)

The alarm is blaring, she jumps out of her seat and doesn’t notice it fall to the floor. The wheels are spinning and the door to Greer’s office is opening, soldiers are running in and heading for Greer. Greer, who stands still and blinks as if the war has finally reached over the walls and made contact. Finally slapped him in the face.

“There’s been a breach.” One of the officers screams, barely audible over the sounding alarm. “There’s been a-”

“I demand,” Greer shouts, prying the fingers from his arm. “I demand to know what is going on before you drag me anywhere.”

The officer who was speaking before straightens, nods as if he’s only just realized he’s in the presence of the President. “Sir,” he barks, breathing in deep. “Captain Rousseau has been found dead in one of the labs in the Software and Technologies building. She was-”

Shaw doesn’t hear the rest, feels her feet take her away before she can process what she’s doing.

 

--

 

She’s lost six already today, she can’t lose-

Root’s room is empty. Shaw only realizes she’s only been in there a handful of times when she steps through the doorway. Her bed is made, her window is slightly ajar and her curtains sway with the outside wind. Shaw almost forgets the panic bleeding through her body, almost doesn’t hear the alarm sounding around the base, screaming for people to get to the safety points marked along the walls.

But the panic is still there, still thrumming along with her heart. She sprints to the building behind, legs aching and lungs gagging.

The corridors are empty and her feet echo until she reaches her own bedroom door, already wide open and welcoming.

And there Root is, sitting on Shaw’s bed with hands folded in her lap and a duffle bag at her feet.

“Root,” she says, breathless and falling against the wall. “There’s been a breach. In your building there’s-” She has to stop to catch her breath, to suck air into her nose and then mouth when it’s not quick enough. Throughout, Root sits still. “Are you okay?” She asks, scanning Root over. “Are you…”

Root just sits there, palms pressed together and fingers tapping. She says, calm, too calm, “I’m fine.”

Fine.

Shaw doesn’t know how to respond. Somewhere, Martine is dead. Somewhere, an alarm is signalling the war raging behind these walls. She’s ran halfway across the base to find Root and here she is. Sitting and staring and waiting for something terrible.

When Shaw’s heart rate has finally leveled, when her breathing is steady and her panic has drained, she speaks. “Martine is dead.”

It feels like forever, waiting for a reaction, any reaction from Root at all.

Nothing comes so, again, she says, “Martine is-”

“I know.” Root says.

Shaw nods, laughs a little at the ridiculousness of it all. “You know.” Stepping away from the wall and into the middle of her room, she asks, “how do you know, Root?”

Root doesn’t respond, blinks too quick and kneads her hands against her thighs.

“Tell me what’s going on.”

“Sit down.” Root says, her hand is shaky when she pats the space beside her. “You should sit down and-”

“I don’t need to sit down.”

Root struggles to swallow, a lump bobs in her throat and Root stands when it finally descends. She’s always had a brilliant neck. “Okay,” she whispers, more to herself, it seems. And then, looking up, “Sameen.”

“Root.”

“I wanted to tell you.”

Another pause and Shaw thinks this is absurd, she shrugs and feels the pain of the bullet still wedged inside. “Tell me what?”

“Do you remember that mission, over a year ago now, when I visited Thornhill Technologies?” Root doesn’t wait for an answer. “It was only meant to be a simple inspection, checking the building out and confirming it to be what I expected. No one was meant to be there but,” she stops, leans her head to the left and then upright almost immediately. “But Harold Finch was there.”

Shaw grimaces, visibly flinches from the pain the name brings.

As if a connection really does exist, Root recoils away and seems to feel it too. “I know, I know what you’re thinking. But he explained it all. The Machine explained it all. She talked to me and,” Root looks away. It’s sickening, watching the smile flicker against her lips. “And I felt like I finally found Her.” She looks back, then, directly at Shaw. “You know I’ve been searching my whole life for this machine and I knew, I knew it wasn’t Samaritan, but I didn’t-”

Shaw reels. It’s so disconcerting, this bile that’s brewing in her belly (this jealousy that’s growing in her gut).

Root carries on, undeterred. “I didn’t understand until then.” She steps forward, stops before making any real difference in the distance stretching them apart. And then, as if an afterthought, “She showed me things that exposed Samaritan to be what it really is, what it pretends not to be.” A blink. “He doesn’t care about you, Shaw, not really. He just cares about himself, about the power and control he has.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Greer,” Root all but shouts. The alarm is so distant it’s forgotten. “Don’t you see what this is?” She asks, thinks better of it and shakes her head. “I know you see what this is. We’re living in a dictatorship. It’s not accidental, that Greer just happens to be in this position. That war just happens to break out, he just happens to be the best person to take over. Samaritan has one purpose, Shaw, and it’s to control the whole fucking world.”

Root never curses, not really, and it seems to add fuel to her fire and she blazes up.

“He knew about the bombs. Samaritan planned for them weeks before, estimated the increase in recruitment and public support. The bombs were created by Decima Technologies, Sameen, they were designed to win the country back. It wasn’t-- the rebels only ever killed when there was no other option. Didn’t you think it was strange, to go from one extreme to another?”

Shaw feels the sick rising, the nausea spinning. “Stop it.”

“There’s so much you don’t know, Sameen. I bet he’s never told you about the Corrections, has he?”

Shaking her head, stepping back, back, back until her shins hit the wall. She feels as if there’s a band, wrapping them together and Shaw feels it pulling her back the further she goes. “Root,” she says, it’s so much like a whimper, Shaw swallows away the feelings. “What have you done?”

Root blinks, shakes her head, “Sameen-”

“This,” she says, points around, hears the alarm again in waves. “This was you.”

Nothing. Nothing and then a nod, a repeat of her name and a step forward.

“You killed Martine.” It’s not a question, but Root answers it anyway.

“I didn’t want to.” Root says, as if that explains killing someone from their own side. (Although she’s not. Not anymore.) “She kept following me, she was going to tell Greer and-”

“And he would’ve had you killed.” Shaw says and Root nods. She bites her lip, thinks about what to do with this, how to fix this (she can’t). “You’ve let them brainwash you.”

“No.”

“It’s perfect. Find a woman so desperate for a place to belong, for a machine to live off, and tell her everything she wants to hear.” Shaw shakes her head, steps back and feels the indent of the pistol in her waistband against the wall. “And here you are, their perfect little spy. Feeding them information, giving them-”

“Shaw.” It’s a cry for help.

“You know, you killed six of my officers.” Shaw says, feels the fire in her belly, feels around to rest a hand against the pistol. “You told him about the mission. They were good officers, the best, and you killed them. You could’ve killed me. And for who?” She spits. “Finch?”

“I never meant to-”

“They played you so well, you didn’t even realize it.” She stops, sneers in disgust. “You still don’t.”

Root steps forward, tries again, again, again. “You’ve been here for so long, and I get it. I know that this is all you know. It’s ingrained. But if you come with me, I can show you. I can explain.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Shaw says, gripping the handle of her gun, feeling her heart pick up speed. “You’ve done so much damage. You’ve messed it all up.”

(They were fine, in this world. There was a structure. She had Greer and Samaritan and a squad and her missions. She had routine and Root.)

But Root’s been fooled. She’s been played and she stands in front, duffle bag in hand and heart in her mouth (like that will make anything better). “Come with me, Shaw, please.” She’s getting closer, too close, way too close. “These people aren’t your family.”

Shaw laughs, it’s gross and gravely and rips the skin in her throat. “And you are?” It’s not a question, because Shaw knows the answer. Knows it even as Root steps into her space and Shaw pulls at the pistol and faces it forward.

And this is a moment she never thought would come. Root, too, because she trips backwards and opens her mouth and forgets to speak.

“I’d kill you if I didn’t think Finch would do it for me.” She says, the words trembling from her tongue.

(It’s a lie. It’s an awful lie.)

Root’s face is pleading, her eyes are searching. “You don’t belong here.”

She ignores it all, tries to focus on the gun and the bullet ready to blow. “You should really leave, Root. Before I decide to avenge my squad.”

“I need you.”

“I said go, Root.”

“Shaw-”

She screams it, feels the trigger beneath her finger but knows she won’t have the guts to pull it. “Go!”

And she does, slowly. Walks to the door, past Shaw’s shoulder and stays in the doorway for long seconds. It’s with a deep breath, a squeeze of the handles on her bag and another failed attempt to speak. It’s with nothing left for her here, Root leaves.

And then, with a pain she’s never felt before, Shaw drops the gun to the floor and feels her legs follow suit.

 

--

 

The clutch, the clutch, the clutch.

The giant is Greer and he holds her in a grasp above the world.

Before this, before being held captive in Greer’s folding fingers, she thinks she was a doctor.

She thinks she saved people.

Below, there’s a body. She can’t make out who it is.

(She thinks it could be her.)

 

--

 

Days later, they find her.

It’s probably been hours at most, really, but Shaw opens her eyes as if it’s a new world completely.

“She’s gone.” Is all she manages to rasp between falling back to black.

By the second time she opens her eyes, she understands that she’s still in her bedroom.

Again, and she’s being hoisted onto a hospital bed. She sees white sheets that turn red as she’s pulled across them. Greer stands nearby, glancing over and away, she wonders if he’s disappointed with her.

Then again, that doesn’t matter, because Root is standing in front of her, arm outstretched and mouth saying, “come with me.” But she can’t, her body is too heavy to move and the lights are too blinding to see anything past Root’s head. It looks like she has a halo and Shaw wonders, absently, if they’re both dead.

“I’ll come with you.” Shaw says, looking up and trying to find the spot where Root had just been. She’s about to say it again, but a shadow appears in the space that Root left and her silhouette is smaller, her hair is shorter, she looks like the President.

“Hush, my dear,” Greer whispers, hand on her cheek. It scratches and she’s sure her skin has flaked along with his. “You’re not going anywhere just yet, you need to get that shoulder seen to.”

It’s only then that she feels the sharp pain in her shoulder, feels the bandage against her skin.

“Being a doctor, I thought you would’ve treated the wound.”

Shaw croaks something, feels her throat dry and itchy. “I was treating my squad.”

Greer hums, nodding and finally removing his hand and Shaw doesn’t feel as if she’ll be sanded to death anymore. “Always so selfless.”

“I let her go.” Shaw says, because she did and they’ll know by now.

He shakes his head, “no, darling.” It’s patronizing, but she doesn’t have the energy to be offended. “Anyone would’ve done the same. She killed Martine, she would’ve done the same to you.”

(She wouldn’t. Shaw almost says it, almost gets defensive over the traitor.)

She gulps at nothing before speaking. Tries to prepare herself for the words. “They’ll kill her anyway.”

“Perhaps,” he says. “But perhaps they’ll use her. She’s a stupid woman in most ways, but her brain is to be admired.”

Shaw can’t nod, but she would if she could move. She’d crawl away if she could move.

“Anyhow,” Greer moves to leave, pats her hand buried in sheets beside her thigh. “She’ll die without us.”

(She’ll die without Root.)

 

--

 

Her shoulder heals within a day, the pain stops after two.

It’s dressed up as a promotion but enacted like the opposite. Her bags are already packed, waiting by her doorway with a new key for a new room on a new base. A new city far from here, where she can start afresh without the ghost of a traitor at her back.

Greer stops her by the car, squeezes her bicep and sighs. “This is the best thing for you.”

“You’re punishing me.”

“No, my dear, I’m not.” He sounds genuine, but it doesn’t change what’s happening. “You’ll have more responsibilities than ever. It’s a great opportunity for you, Sameen.” Greer presses his thumb into her elbow. “I really do need you there.”

And with that, she’s swept under the rug and away.

Her life, after that, is in the middle of nowhere.

Surrounded by sand on all sides, she feels deserted. The base, named after one of the first Captains to die at the hands of a rebel, is referred to as Rivas Farm. Holding more secrets than Shaw thinks she’s ever kept in her whole life, terrorists brought to Rivas don’t ever make it out alive.

She hopes the same can’t be said for the officers.

Lieutenant Lambert laughs when she asks about it, closes the car door behind her and says, “after a week here you might wish that was the case.”

His English accent is the first things she notices, and she prays he’s not another Greer.

Her room is bigger here, an open window that looks out onto the base and just past the fencing to reveal more sand, more emptiness. She drops her bag at the foot of her bed and kicks it to slide under.

Lambert waits in the doorway, leaning against a raised arm which he flexes every few minutes. “So, what brings you here, Captain?”

She’s not in the mood for conversation, so she shrugs and turns to the window in the hope that he’ll lose interest. “Punishment.”

There’s humming behind her, it rises at the end in question. “I heard it was a promotion.”

Shaw nods, says, “so did I.”

 

--

 

She spends the first week in her office, reading up on what Rivas Farm actually does, what her role actually is.

The turnover in captives is incredible, ten in every day and yet they never run out of cell space (she knows what happens to them). There’s a structure to Rivas, a routine that never really stops until there’s an outbreak or a breach. And, even with minimal staffing, it doesn’t seem as if they’ve ever been truly tested.

Executions happen at the back of the cell block. If Shaw cranes her neck, she can just about see the spot from her office window. A clean shot to the head and a body slumped forward; officers then collect the bodies for the day, drive them out to a remote spot in this empty desert and bury them.

But that happens after.

Before, the rebels are kept in the cells for torture. Though they don’t see sunlight until their death day, they get a healthy sized meal each day and get water on request. If they offer information, they get luxuries and perhaps a promise at life (they’ll die regardless).

Hidden out in the desert where no one can find them, Rivas Farm is a secret base, churning on without the world’s knowledge.

Whilst part of her is sickened, Shaw knows this is a war. She knows, more than ever before, that people are so easily lost to the other side (by death or turning). She knows this is necessary.

Whether on a surgical table or the other side of a barrel, death comes to everyone she touches.

After seven long days at her desk, Lambert appears in her doorway. “You staying in here forever, Captain?”

She looks up from the papers in front, blinks at the sight of another face and tells him to get back to work.

 

--

 

It’s windy and she twists the band tighter and pulls at her hair to stop it from whipping across her face.

“First execution?” Lieutenant Lane asks, smiling. He’s picking up sand and letting it fall between the gaps in his fingers, picking up sand and doing the same again, again, again, until a door opens further down the block. The soldier looks young, his hold on the rebel is tight and his eyes don’t leave his grip.

Shaw watches them walk up to the execution square, marked out on the wall in front with a prayer haphazardly written against the stone, and only then looks at the rebel at the soldier’s side. She’s small, teeth protruding out and lip split in three places.

Lane brushes his hands together, particles of sand fleeing to the floor. “Veronica.” He says, sighing.

The girl doesn’t look worried, stands in the square and blinks away from the prayer she’s offered ahead. “You’ll remember this, in a few years.” She’s calm, already breathing slow as if preparing herself to stop altogether. “The Farm. Bringing your cattle out for slaughter.”

“In a few years,” Lane muses, stands tall against the wind with his hands clasped behind his back. His pistol is wedged there, already poking out. “Perhaps I’ll still be here, killing off the animals that killed my wife.”

“And here I am,” she says. “Having killed no one.”

Shaw watches the exchange, wonders if a rebel can ever make that statement when she’s seen the destruction this war has caused. The girl hasn’t noticed Shaw, hasn’t given her a second glance, and she crouches in her own time. Kneeling in front with legs that only then decide to turn wobbly.

It’s silent for a few seconds, the wind takes the girl’s hair with it and the sand settles at her knees. “Are we going to do this then?” She asks, looking down to the floor. It’s only then, when Lane walks closer and pulls his pistol from behind his back, that she looks up and straight at Shaw.

(She feels the stare through to her core, feels it worse than any other kill. This one could so easily be stopped.)

“Any last words?” Lane presses the barrel to her forehead, watches the girl wince with the touch.

She shrugs, eyes still staring across at Shaw. “No.” She says.

(Come with me, Shaw hears, from another voice entirely. Come with me.)

And the trigger is pulled and the back of her head explodes, brain and skull and skin fragments scatter across the sand. Shaw feels blood on her hands, but there’s none. Sees blood puddle on the ground below, where the girl was alive just moments before.

The boy soldier gags and looks away, gets reprimanded by Lane over his reaction. It feels like a recurrence.

When Lane looks back, scans her face not riddled with disgust or horror, he smiles, wider than before. “You’ll fit in here, Captain.”

 

--

 

Lambert comes to her office, knocks on the door and waits for a reply.

“What?” She asks, from the window.

The blood is gone from the execution square, she can see. No one would know anything had happened at all.

She feels his hesitation, so she turns and shrugs, again asks, “what?”

His eyes flutter up to her face and he smiles as if he’s been caught looking where he shouldn’t. His cheeks turn rosy. “Heard you went to watch your first execution?”

“I’ve seen many before.”

He nods, says, “not like this though, right? It’s hard here.”

Shaw raises an eyebrow. “Is it?”

She’s been to worse places, seen worse things. Her team being lined up in all places before being lined up in death.

He stares at her a while longer, a look that seems to require something from her, ask something of her. It reminds her of a look she’d get from a woman who claimed to need her, in her last moments, and took without asking on her exit.

“You’re a strange one, Captain.” He says, crossing his arms and nodding. “I can see why you were one of his favorites.”

He doesn’t leave immediately, hovers again in the door until Shaw says, “Goodnight, Lieutenant.”

And then she watches him pull away as if he has his own tether tugging him closer.

 

--

 

The mouth in front splutters, the body jerking up and gagging for air.

“I don’t,” words almost unrecognizable against the water still dribbling out, “I don’t know where they are.”

Halls laughs, prods a finger at the rebel’s cheek and then swings his hand back before making contact. The slap rings out around the room, the rebel makes no sound.

“Now, I know that’s not true.” Hills says, but the rebel doesn’t seem to be listening. His eyes are rolling back and body starting to rattle against the board. The next hit brings him back momentarily. “Peter, it’s a simple question.” Each word is spat out. “Where is Finch hiding?”

The rebel sobs. So close to the bath of water behind, so near to the fist hanging above, he must know there’s no way out.

“I know,” he whispers, a swallow scratching down his throat and he winces. “Other things, I know other things.”

Hills sniggers, looks back to the soldiers standing beside Shaw who join in with the laughter.

Shaw doesn’t think any of this is remotely funny, her fists clench harder and she almost steps in until Hills turns back.

“I didn’t ask for other things,” he says, a smile still evident in his voice. He dips his finger in the water, flicks droplets at the rebel’s face and watches him flinch away. “Did you hear me ask for other things?”

“The bombs-”

“Oh, the bombs,” Hills shouts, arms up in the air. “The bombs, the bombs again.”

The soldier beside, smirk dropping the closer he gets, leans into her and whispers, “he always talks about this.”

“It wasn’t us-”

Head bent back in an ugly laugh, Hills looks like he’s having a great time. “Of course it wasn’t.”

Still struggling to be heard, the rebel doesn’t. “If you look at the photographs, you can see-”

Shaw stops listening, her ears ringing instead, her chest aching instead. The temperature is rising; she pulls at her shirt and twists her neck for room to breathe. She remembers a conversation like this one, lies being rushed out of a mouth she’d thought she knew so well. That rebel, just like this one, had sang a song of false truths and prayed for an implausible outcome.

(She knows, she knows, she knows. And yet, she’s not ready to know.)

She’s in a room with a pistol facing forward, a barrel breathing cold with her inability to pull the trigger. The rebel in front holds her heart in her hands and perhaps she allows Shaw a snippet of it back before leaving. Perhaps Shaw is breathing only what the rebel allowed.

“Dunk him.” She says, before she can register anything else. The sounds come back, bit by bit, the dying of Hills’ laughter, the mumbling of the rebel’s lies. She regrets it almost immediately, watching Hills smile and nod in a way that suggests a connection.

She might regret it, but she still stands and watches the man being hoisted back and under, waves enveloping his face before hiding it.

 

--

 

It’s the land of death, she thinks. The Farm of torture.

She spends her time in Rivas watching people die, or almost die and then actually die, and by the sixth week she feels completely desensitized. The faces merge as one and the bodies tangle together, and eventually it becomes the easiest thing in the world.

Even as she was trying to save lives on an operating table, losing people to the thin red line was never too hard to watch.

Back when Lane had told her she would fit in, she hadn’t realized it would be so accurate

Greer calls her monthly and asks for updates, to which the answer is always the same. Rebels speak but they don’t really talk, they tell stories of how the world will stop one day and realize the mess they’ve all made. They web lies about the bombs and secret departments specializing in correcting the human race.

“Nothing.” She says, always. “They’ve said nothing.”

It will be the truth. Perhaps a selective truth, designed to appease both the President and herself. (She’s not ready to question this life yet.)

And sometimes, when she’s in bed and finally sinking into slumber, she’ll see his face in magnitude. She’ll feel his palm at her front and fingers at her back, closing tighter, tighter, tighter.

Picked from the life she’s left behind, it carries on below as she’s held high off the ground.

There’s a body beneath her, always, and it looks like someone familiar.

It looks like her.

 

--

 

She bumps into Lambert on her way to one of the hangars and he stops in front of her before she can move.

“Late for something?” He asks, eyebrow already on the rise.

“Transporting,” she says, nodding to the building in front. “We’re sending six rebels to the north for trial.”

Lambert hums and rubs his hands together. “They give some good stuff, then?”

The wind isn’t strong but she feels sand in her mouth regardless. “Locations.”

Before her transfer, she would’ve been one of the teams sent to the addresses, raiding the rooms and killing or capturing everyone in sight. Now, she just hands the information on and tries to forget the street name muttered through split lips and chipped teeth.

A small part of her is jealous (a small part of her is relieved she won’t bump into-).

“Well then, good luck to them.” Lambert says, staring at the hangar doors as if he can see the rebels locked and loaded for transport. He turns, then, shrugs down at her and whispers, “they’ll die anyway.”

Regardless, her word will remain honest: intelligence for a chance to live. He’s right, though, the trial will be biased and the bullet will be ready to be blown. Death doesn’t ever seem to leave her side, clinging to every word, every touch, every person she ever meets.

“What do you do?” She asks, feeling blood dripping from her hands and none of it hers.

Lambert laughs, says, “you’re my boss, you tell me.”

“No, I mean,” and Shaw hesitates before continuing, because weakness isn’t something to advertise. “I mean, after. What do you do to relax?”

He leans closer and then leans back, squinting at her face. “Are you propositioning me, Captain?”

Immediately, her feet begin to move, mumbling “forget it”, before being stopped with a hand at her wrist. She almost spins around and out of his grip, nearly punches him in the nose. But his smile is naive and his eyes are open, and she’s always thought Lambert was too trusting.

“No, don’t,” it’s pleading and it makes her want to leave even more. “Sorry, it was a bad joke.” He speaks in a rush, like if he’s fast enough she won’t have enough time to refuse. “Come to the bar with me? It’s only small, by the execution block, but the beer isn’t half bad.”

She hasn’t spoken to anyone about anything but death since she arrived at Rivas, and it’s tempting but she doesn’t want to watch his face light up. So she shrugs, pulls her arm back and steps away. “I’ll think about it.”

But the thought of rum scalding down her throat has already won the case, and it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a week later that she decides to show up, pushes at the door and feels the warmth of chatter and laughter. It’s small but the atmosphere is big. She inhales and, for the first time in over three months, she feels as if breathing is easy.

“Well if it isn’t the Captain.” Lambert shouts, waving her over. “I thought you weren’t allowed out after dark.”

“Hilarious.” She says, but it’s not, and she only offers a smile when there’s a drink in her hand.

He watches her take a sip and says, “I knew you’d be a beer girl.”

It doesn’t burn like she’d wanted but it settles nicely in her gut and the bottle is empty before she looks back to the man still watching. “Shut up, Lambert.”

His pout is gross and he slaps a hand to his heart as if he’s offended. “Jeremy, please.”

She’s about to tell him that he has an ugly name, but then his pout would deepen and she wouldn’t have a choice but to slap him. “Fine,” she shrugs, turning to gesture at the bar for another bottle. “Jeremy.”

“And what about you?” He asks, leaning closer with his own bottle in hand. “Do you have a name, Captain?”

The drink must be affecting her already because she thinks his cockiness is mildly attractive, his accent gentle. “Shaw.”

He sneers, rolls his eyes. “I don’t mean-”

“What?”

Lambert shrugs, his drink splashes and she wonders how much he’s had. “Well, I know that.”

“Then why did you ask?” She can’t give him what he wants; only a handful of people have ever called her by her first name. Her parents are dead, Greer is away and the other is-

Despite the wall she’s still clinging to, peering from behind, Lambert laughs and doesn’t lean back. Still close, his eyes spark and mouth curls when he whispers, “you’re something else, Shaw. You’re something special.”

And it’s probably an infatuation born from the fact that the only other female on base is an older woman who makes the food for the soldiers, who cringes when death is mentioned and faints when someone marches blood into her kitchen. But his stare is comfortable and his touch is soft and she misses being looked at like this.

She doesn’t have to do much talking, either, which suits her fine. Lambert spends an hour talking about how he joined the job, handpicked from the military and sent straight to Greer’s army. He shows her scars, pulls at her fingers so she can feel the length of them.

He pauses when he thinks the story gets good, eyes wide and arms gesturing out. “And then the bombs.” He says, miming an explosion, mouth filling with air and spitting the dregs of his tenth bottle at the pop. “They changed everything.”

And they did. She distinctly remembers the change, the shift in the base and the redeployment of her team. But now, with the warmth from the rum on the counter and the haziness in her head, she barely remembers the world she left behind.

“They killed my goddamned wife.” Lane shouts from across the bar, a hand raised high.

Lambert rolls his eyes, presses his cheek to hers to reach her ear. She’s too drunk to push him off, likes the contact and scratch of his stubble. “Here we go again.” He mumbles, leaning back and turning to nod at Lane. “Every night at sixth whiskey-o-clock.”

“Blew her to pieces, they did. Those bombs, those bom-” he’s slurring, smacking an empty class against the wood below. “Those bastards killed her and now,” a laugh, an evil laugh that bubbles and burps from his mouth, “now they have the cheek to say it wasn’t them. To say-”

The room is silent, looking over with varying interest as Lane gurgles and slips from his stool before righting himself.

For a few minutes, he’s silent. Hand still raised high, ice on the counter and empty glass rolling across the bar until it’s stopped. Then, just as he looks about to pass out, he straightens and turns to the man behind the bar and asks for another drink. Just like that, sound filters through and Lambert is in her face again.

But Shaw feels uneasy, her chest is heavy and head spinning. (She knows, she knows, she knows.)

“They’ll say anything to live.” Lambert says, wobbly and somewhat pleased with himself for reading her expression.

“Yeah, I know.” She says, it’s a whisper. Again, “I know, it’s not-”

Lambert nods, waves it all away like he knows what she’s thinking. Like he knows the dread in her gut, the woman in her head and the voice pleading her to leave Greer’s grasp and just, “come with me.”

“What?” He says, in the middle of his sentence. “Did you just ask me to-”

“No.” She says, shaking her head and reaching for a drink from the bar. It’s not hers, but it’ll do. “No, I was- I was listening. Carry on.”

And, after hesitating and swaying forward for a few seconds, he does.

 

--

 

It’s days later, almost a week, that she finally gives in.

Her feet are tapping, legs jolting and she’s shaking against her desk. Her eyes are on the screen in front but her head is somewhere else. Shaw doesn’t know what she’s doing until it’s done.

“Soldier,” she calls at the boy walking past.

She hears the shuffle of his boots stop, the seconds of uncertainty and then he’s walking backwards until he’s in the middle of her doorway. “Captain.” The boy says, a question in his voice and the slightest trace of a frown.

“Yeah, I need you to do something for me.” Even as she’s saying the words, she doesn’t know what will come out.

The boy nods, waiting.

“I need you to get me pictures from the blast.”

Head still bobbing up and down, the boy asks, “the blast?”

“The bombs.” She says, tapping a finger against her desk. “I need all of the pictures from both of the bomb sites.” Then, when he hasn’t moved from his place in the doorway, “the President believes there’s something evidential that’s been missed.”

“Of course, Captain.”

Just as he moves away, she calls him back and smiles. “What’s your name?”

“Williams, Captain.”

She nods, finger stilling and flattening across the desk. “I need you to keep this top secret, Williams. No one can know.”

There’s a little twitch in his lips at that, a feeling of being picked for something special, and Williams gulps before saying, “of course, Captain.”

And, just as Williams bounces off, she realizes what she’s done.

(She knows, she knows, she knows.)

She doesn’t want to know at all.

 

--

 

Lambert stops mid-conversation and frowns, takes a swig of his beer and stares at her.

“You took one of my soldiers.” He says, finger pointing out from the bottle.

Shaw shrugs, she’s the boss and she’ll do what she wants. Anyhow, she’s too drunk to discuss this without giving away too much. “I needed him.”

“What for?”

“None of your business,” she says, rolling her wrist to hear the clink of the ice in her glass. Then, looking up, “Lieutenant.”

Lambert actually looks offended, but it’s gone in seconds. “Okay, Captain.”

And, with that, he doesn’t mention it again.

 

--

 

The wind has been bad all morning and it bites at her face as it whistles past.

Though it’s been months since her first execution, she’s still not used to the feeling of waiting and waiting and waiting for the rebel to be dragged out. Lane always tells her about them, spits their names as if the word alone brings bile to his throat. To Shaw though, they’ll always just be rebels. She tries to forget their names, can’t have the weight of the people inside her.

Sand whipping up as the door is pushed open, the female rebel is struggling against the hold, four soldiers clinging to each limb. She looks proud, causing as much trouble as she can, and Shaw doesn’t blame her at all. She’d probably do the same.

As soon as she’s at the square, though, she changes.

On her knees, the prayer in front is read aloud and the woman’s voice breaks at the end. “God isn’t in these walls.” She says, looking around. “He’s nowhere near.”

Lane calls her name and asks her about last words, but she isn’t listening.

Instead, the woman is staring straight at Shaw. Her eyes are watering as she blinks against the wind and Shaw watches a tear roll down her cheek, looks up to stare back and doesn’t say anything at all. Doesn’t change her expression. The shot is coming, Shaw knows, but she owes this woman this much.

“She told me about you.” The woman says, just as the gun is pressed to her temple.

Lane looks behind, confused, raising an eyebrow as if asking permission to continue.

The woman sighs. “She said you were great.” Her head twists against the gun, her eyes lighting up and smile feeling familiar. She stares like she knows Shaw, like she’s known her forever but they’re only just meeting.

And Shaw doesn’t know if she’s talking about the Machine or someone else entirely, but she feels sick and all her energy is focusing on keeping her legs upright. She blinks but still sees the woman in front, still sees someone she ought to know but doesn’t.

The anger and bitterness is gone from the woman’s eyes, and all that’s left is the remains of an empty smile.

Still looking back and frowning, Lane waits for his instructions.

Filling and filling and filling with something horrible, something huge and something like longing, Shaw nods the go ahead and the woman is dead in seconds.

She turns in time to be sick, the back of her hand rubbing viciously at her mouth.

The taste of bile disappears but the feeling remains.

It makes her down three glasses of whiskey before the bar is full. Doesn’t stop until she has company.

“You should slow down.” Lambert says, flinching at her scowl. “Or wait for me to catch up.”

It’s a good recovery because she doesn’t punch him in the face, instead she watches him order more than he can stomach and waits for the shots to empty. He spits on the floor, slams his hands against the counter and coughs for at least ten seconds after he’s finished.

“You’re weak, Lambert.” She says. And, because she’s still tender from earlier, “Root could drink more than-”

She stops as soon as the words are out, physically recoiling back and swallowing fast. It’s the first time she’s thought, said, heard her name aloud since she’d stood on the other end of Shaw’s pistol and left.

Shaw gets another drink.

Lambert looks at her, realization flashing across his features. “Root,” he says, washes it around his mouth before repeating it. “That’s Lieutenant Groves, right?”

Shaw wants to crumble, she’s drank too much but drinking more might fix that.

“The traitor,” he’s still talking. “Right?”

“Lambert,” she says, slurs, leans forward and presses a hand to his chest. “You’re out of your depth.” Then, when the frown is still evident on his face, still burning into her, “and you’re boring me.”

It sparks something in him, he’s angry before he’s suddenly not. “Right,” he says, nostrils flaring and filtering out the remaining fire from his eyes. “I know for a fact that you won’t tell me about your rubbish day, so I’ll tell you about mine.”

It’s easy, he’s so easy, and she slips back into drinking and pretending to listen.

 

--

 

The President wants her to attend a meeting back at the home base and she falls asleep on the journey there.

She wakes just in time to see the outskirts of the city. It’s a shock, to say the least.

Buildings half crumpled to the ground and houses without windows or doors. Soldiers line the streets in full uniform, with guns strapped to their backs and pressed in their palms. The car slows down for a checkpoint and the driver gives Shaw’s details before being allowed through.

The few civilians she sees look cold and tired, dragging tattered shoes along the sidewalk.

It’s a disaster, and she doesn’t realize how out of touch with reality Rivas Farm really is. For a strange and sobering moment, she actually misses it.

The inner city is different. Past six more checkpoints and through a large gate, the city seems to thrive and the contrast of being with Greer or against him is telling.  Shaw doesn’t understand the requirements for being inside the gates rather than outside, and nor does she want to. Before, there was the army and there were the terrorists. Now, there seems to be a completely new middle ground.

Despite not wanting to know, not wanting to understand the workings of the city at all, it’s the first thing she asks about. “Why are some people being left to die outside the city gates?”

Greer looks up from his desk, stands and knocks a pen to the floor. The room is bigger, painted white and gold with furniture too luxurious to actually use. “My dear, Sameen.” He sings it, skipping around the table to stand in front. He doesn’t hug her, he knows better than that. “I’m so glad you could come.”

“Rivas won’t stop running without me.” She says, walking to the seat he’s pointing at.

Greer laughs, it’s not genuine but it’s a good enough attempt. “Yes, yes,” he takes the seat opposite. It’s in the middle of the room, away from the desk by the window, and he sits as if he’s trying for informal. “Tell me about the Farm.”

She shakes her head, shrugs. “There’s nothing much to tell, I’ve already sent this month’s update.”

“Of course you have,” he says, smile growing too big for his cheeks. She’d forgotten how patronizing he could be. “You never did let me down.”

It’s so reminiscent of when she used to work here, when she used to complete missions and come trudging back for some praise. It was of a time when they only killed the terrorists working against them, when the President was someone elected to lead and the governing body wasn’t ruled by a computer. It was a safer time, an easier time.

Almost forgetting what she’d asked before, Shaw repeats her question. “Why are there people outside the city gates starving to death?”

Greer is silent for a long time, looking to the ceiling and opening his mouth a few times. Trying to find an explanation that won’t make the President look bad, no doubt.

“To put it simply,” he says, “people are either with me or against me, nowadays. For some reason, the people outside the gates refuse to sign allegiance to Samaritan, the true leader here. Therefore, I simply cannot trust them enough to provide them with the protection they need.”

Shaw lets it sink in, thinks about dictatorships and isn’t even surprised at this development. She wishes she hadn’t asked.

“Soon, the metal walls around the city will be built with brick. It’s being implemented around the country and, eventually, all cities will belong to the people.” He stops talking, face turning solemn. It’s only then that she notices how old he looks, skin sagging from his cheeks and eyes furrowed in darkness.

It’s fitting, she thinks, that he’s starting to look more like the monster he is.

“Don’t look at me like that, Sameen.” He says, turning his head away. His swallow is heavy and, for the first time under his service, he looks like he regrets what he’s done. He looks like he’s ashamed. “I’m doing it for the people. Despite what you might think, Samaritan knows what it’s doing.”

She doesn’t want to say anything, doesn’t think there is anything to say. So she nods, stands and walks to the door.

He calls her name, as if an afterthought. As if this isn’t what she’s been dragged here for in the first place. “Seeing as you’re here,” he says, back to being the proud President he portrays. “I need to ask you something.”

She turns to face him, stomach dropping with dread. Whatever it is, it won’t be good. “What is it?”

“Someone from the Farm was looking for pictures from the bombings.”

Shaw tries not to let the shock show on her face. “Right.” She says, voice calm. She raises her eyebrow, asks, “is that a problem?”

He wasn’t prepared for the question, leans forward and starts to shake his head before actually moving it. “No, no.” It’s a lie, it’s an obvious lie and Greer can’t come back from this. And, as soon as his reaction registers, Shaw knows what she’s going to find in the photographs. “No, of course not. I was just wondering if you could ask around, find out who it is and what they want with them.”

She nods, hand reaching out to hold herself up against the door-frame. “Of course.”

“And, if you could, report back with what you find.” He says, folding his hands in his lap, twitchy.

They stare at each other for minutes, and Shaw wonders if she’s being as obvious as he is. If they’ve both been figured out.

“We’re just curious.” Greer carries on, excuse after excuse. Perhaps he doesn’t know it was her after all.

“Of course.”

“That’s great, then.”

“Yeah.”

He smiles, leans forward and squeezes his hands together. “I knew I could count on you.”

 

--

 

Turner is waiting for her outside. Stone steps scrubbed white and shiny, the buildings are high around her and she hardly recognises the city at all. Turner looks at home, his uniform crisp and clean where hers creases and leaves a trail of sand in her wake.

“They said you were here,” he says, bouncing on the balls of his feet, “but I had to see it for myself.”

She needs a drink and she says as much, watches Turner smile and lead the way.

He flirts with the woman in the kitchen and comes away with a bottle of red wine. She hates the taste but it’ll do the job, so she slaps him on the back and feels a budding sense of pride. She feels a loss, then, of the squad she had to leave behind.

“You kind of just left,” he says, lying beside her on one of the mats in the gym. This room is filled with memories, bursting at the walls and leaving her claustrophobic. She takes another sip to forget. “You went to speak to the President and then just vanished.”

She hums around the burning in her throat. “How is everyone?” She asks, instead of answering the question he hasn’t quite asked.

“Alive.” He says, and that’s all she really needs to know. “Around the country, now, and-” he stops, turns his head and accepts the bottle she offers. His frown is still playing across his face from earlier. “Where did you go?”

“They sent me away.” She smiles at the thought, the way they tried to sell it for her own good. Perhaps it was.

He nods, but there’s something else on his mind. “I wasn’t sure if you knew, but-”

She watches his face contort and, though she was never close to her soldiers like this, she regrets not recognizing how caring he is.

“I’m sorry to tell you,” he swallows, looks her in the eyes, “Martine was killed.”

It feels so long ago, she sighs when she says, “I know.”

“Oh,” Turner doesn’t stop, keeps his face towards her. “It was-”

“I know.” She says, quick. She turns her head to the ceiling, swallows hard and closes her eyes for just a second. When she opens them, the bottle is being offered up and Turner is still watching her.

He stays that way for a few minutes, watches her take a sip and then another and another. Then, a mumble barely audible, “you were close, right? People said you were-”

“Why does everyone want to talk about her?” It comes out in a laugh, her free hand flying up and smacking back down against the mat.

“I don’t.” He says, almost immediately. “I don’t.”

They’re silent for a while, until she turns her head and offers the bottle back. He smiles sad when he takes it.

“Tell me about your squad.” She says.

Hours later, she stumbles out of the gymnasium doors and into a car.

She vows never to come back here again.

 

--

 

Her dreams are so very often the same.

Greer, fist, hold. In front, above, below.

She was a doctor, once, and now she just breaks things.

The mouth attached to the giant Greer is saying something silent.

Below, though, there are sounds from the patient on the table. Shaw knows who she is.

The fingers tighten and the that are pushing out are pushed back against her sides.

She won’t escape. She’ll die before she escapes.

 

--

 

It happens again, again, again.

The man being executed looks up, says, “I know you.”

And off it starts again. She feels sick, tells Lane to shoot before he can say any more.

She drinks too much and Lambert downs a small bottle of whiskey to keep up.

“That was small.” She says, because it was and he’s about to boast about downing a whole bottle. “Like silly small.”

He hums, looks around for something and then looks back. “Where’s the bottle you downed?” He asks, raising finger in the air and nodding to himself. “Oh, yeah. You didn’t-”

He earns himself a smack in the shoulder. “I could do worse.” She says.

His eyebrows rise up, he leans closer and he smells like warm whiskey and sand. “I bet you could.” It sounds inviting and she rolls her eyes but doesn’t make him move away. When he whispers, his voice is silky soft and she almost sinks into him. “Tell me what you could do to me.”

The last time she felt this urge was her last night in the old base. She’d wanted so badly to be reckless, to give in to what was going to happen anyway. Now, Lambert’s breath sticks to her skin, runs a path down her body and she inches closer on instinct.

“I could,” Shaw says, her swallow audible for them both to hear. She pulls her hand up his arm, across his shoulder blade and feels him gulp. “Kill you.” She finishes, hand wrapping tight around his throat and pushing him back and further away. Face and voice back to neutral, she shrugs, “if I wanted to.”

The disappointment on Lambert’s face is visible for only seconds, before he warps back to being the cocky soldier she needs him to be.

“You,” his finger points close to her face, she goes to push it away but misses by miles and blames it on the drink. “Are a tease.”

There are more drinks, after.

And, later, when she’s forgotten how she ended up talking too much, she says, “they look at me like they know me.”

And, later, Lambert shrugs and tells her they know how to look into souls. Places his hand on his heart until he loses balance and slips off his chair.

She believes it for a second, thinks about it so much that she doesn’t realize they’re walking on the tracks away from the bar.

“You drank a lot.” She tells him, but thinks she might’ve raced him to drink a shot of everything behind the counter.

Lambert laughs, arm around her shoulder. “Yeah, you did. That was pretty silly.”

She’s about to ask how silly it was, but then they’re at her door and Lambert is frowning and pointing.

“You took me to the wrong room.”  He says, leaning over her against the wall. Face dropping down and lips pressing against her own.

It feels good, and that’s all she really has the capability to think. His mouth slants over hers, tongue darting in before stroking in completely. It’s messy, they’re both drunk and just moving with it and it’s messy. Lambert’s hands are at her side, his body moving close to press against hers and Shaw can’t stop herself from grinding down against the leg that pushes between her own.

But then Lambert moans and Shaw remembers where she is, who she is and who he is. Suddenly, she feels somewhat sober.

She pushes him away with a hand wiping away the wetness around her mouth. “We shouldn’t do that.”

“Why not?” He’s still in a daze, still reaching forward before Shaw shakes her head again.

There are many reasons why not, but the most important one is, “I don’t want to.”

Lambert sniggers, steps away and the cockiness he likes to display turns ugly. “It sure felt like you wanted to.”

“I did.” She says. “But now I don’t.”

“Right,” he purses his lips, throws his arms out. “Right then.” And then he looks at her, his eye twitches and Shaw knows he’s drunk but she also knows this is going to be nasty. “It’s because of her, right?”

Shaw blinks, tries not to visibly react. “No, Lambert. It’s not.”

He nods, mind already made up. “She’s not coming back, Shaw. She’s not going to miraculously realize that you’re more important than that terrorist Machine she left you for.” He knows he’s onto something, but he just looks sad when she flinches and steps back against the wall. “You’re waiting for someone who’s probably already dead.”

She could collapse here and probably fall asleep. The alcohol and longing in her chest would lull her unconscious and she could wake up and not have to think about this ever again.

“Go to bed, Lieutenant.” Her voice is shakier than she’d wanted. “You need to sleep this off.”

Lambert sways in the corridor, trips back and reaches for something solid. “Yeah.” He says, staring at her for a while longer before stumbling away.

She stays in the hallway until the automatic light turns off and then she digs her keys out and lets herself into her room.

Perhaps the drink is still swaying in her gut, still spinning in her head, because she goes for a shower and doesn’t stop her mind wondering, her hand wandering lower. She pushes fingers between her legs and thinks about the hands that had once been so close.

She squeezes her eyes shut and feels Root’s face close, breath closer. Hears the sigh she would make when Shaw wouldn’t stop them immediately, when she’d let Root take a little more than the last time. Shaw’s back is arching against the shower wall, fingers moving faster in and out and it could be Root. It could all be Root if she let herself believe it.

The wetness from the shower could be Root’s mouth, sucking bruises against her neck and licking a line up to her jaw. Pressing kisses all over her body where Shaw won’t be able to remove the feel of it, the scar left from it. The fingers curling inside could be Root’s and Shaw feels the orgasm ripple up her body, against both of their hands and fingers.

And when she opens her eyes, the shower feels empty and her body feels spent.

She’s never hated this war more in her life.

 

--

 

Her head is pounding, pulsing pain throughout her body.

Shaw almost jumps off her chair when the door knocks, and she grips at her desk for support. “What?” She shouts, before looking up or attempting to see her visitor.

She feels regret immediately though, because Williams stands in the doorway with his fist still raised, mouth agape.

“Sorry,” she says, but it doesn’t sound it at all. “Come in.”

He doesn’t move, waves his hand in the air with paper slipping to the floor. “I have-” Williams bends down, quickly picks up the lost sheets and stands again. “I have the photos you wanted.”

“Yeah,” she waves him in, arm already reaching out. “Thanks, Williams, I really appreciate it.”

There’s a lot of paper, a lot of photos, and Shaw tries to smile without her face splitting into two and bleeding rum.

“You’ve put a lot of effort into this,” she says, glancing down at the wad in her hand.

His face flushes pink and he shrugs. “It was easy.”

It probably was, but Shaw has to think carefully about every key she presses. Technology has never been her choice of weapon.

He bounces on his feet and hesitates to leave, looks back to the hallway and back to Shaw before coughing and waiting for her attention. “I, um,” Williams looks around at the emptiness in the room, does the same to the doorway. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks, Williams.” She smiles, raising her eyebrows in question when he doesn’t immediately leave. “Anything else?”

He shakes his head and shuffles towards the exit. “No, Captain. Just that.”

“Great, well. Like I said, it’s appreciated.”

He looks pretty proud of himself when he leaves.

As soon as the room is clear and the steps have silenced down the corridor, Shaw turns her attention to the pictures.

The first few are from the first bombing. There’s nothing evidential, rubble from the buildings lost, metals from the cars destroyed and smoke fogging up the atmosphere. The world looks as if it fell apart in a cloud, the destruction doesn’t seem so busy with the bodies hidden in a haze.

But then, the photos seem to get closer to the fire where the blast started until it spans the hole left in the ground. It’s almost non-existent, filled in with stone and brick and limbs. Shaw squints and looks closer, pushing photos to the back of the pile and bringing the paper nearer as she swaps.

It’s so small, the device, it’s tiny.

Though most of it was destroyed, the shell of the bomb seems to have survived. The hard metal is scratched and broken but the word is clear. It’s burnt into the silver, etched into the base. Shaw feels her stomach drop, races through the pictures until she comes to the second bomb and finds the same, same, same.

(Root had stood in the restricted section with a face of horror and something in her hands.)

And Shaw loves being right, but she hates this. Because she knew what she was going to find in these pictures, she knew the word that would belong to this destruction and war. She knew that what she would find in these pictures would be the technology designed by Decima.

 

--

 

“You look pale.”

Shaw doesn’t looks away from the paper on her desk, the sheets crumbled in her fist.

Lambert coughs, speaks again, “are you ill?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m sorry.”

She blinks up and shrugs. “I know you are.”

“No,” Lambert walks forward; he looks pathetic as his feet drag against the carpet. “No, I’m really sorry.”

She can’t be bothered with this. “I know you are, Lambert. You were drunk.”

His head is still shaking. “I was stupid.”

“You were both.”

He laughs, whispers, “yes.” And then, dimples dipping into place, “quite the combination.”

Shaw isn’t in the mood for a conversation, isn’t in the mood to play best friends, so she stares at him until he looks awkward. “You can have Williams back.”

Lambert sways forward, still out of place. “Good.”

“You should get to work.” She says, stilted. “I have a lot to do.”

It’s almost sad, watching him breathe in all the things he wants to say. “Of course.”

He’s taken steps back, he knows it too. She can see it in his eyes. They’re so far apart and Shaw doesn’t miss the warmth at all.

Lambert is silent before he’s gone.

 

--

 

She’s been feeling off-kilter for days, ever since she saw the pictures and confirmed what she knew already.

The square is, as usual, quiet.

The ground is clean and fresh sand sweeps over the places waiting for blood. It always feels like this, the quiet before the storm, as she waits to authorize yet another execution. Lane is kicking at the ground and yawning, moaning about the wait.

The man that’s dragged out comes willingly, his toes are pulled against the ground when he can’t keep up and his form seems weak.

Unlike the others, his eyes are fixed on Shaw from the start.

She knows what’s coming, knows he’ll smile as if he knows her and give her a message she won’t hear past the bullet. The pictures of the deaths Samaritan caused remain in her head, the bombings and bodies and blood smearing the Decima name.

Lane kicks him to the ground before he gets the chance to do so freely.

And, almost like before, the man smiles up and whispers, “Sameen,” and it suddenly feels different.

She suddenly can’t watch this one. She puts her hand in the air when Lane looks back and his face contorts with disgust.

“Let me hear it.” She tells him, turning back to the man on the other end of the gun.

He doesn’t seem shocked, doesn’t seem to recognize where he is or what’s pressing into his forehead. The wind whipping past her face stops, the sand at her feet stills and the silence that seems to take over is captivating.

“She knew you’d understand eventually,” he says, calm and quiet.

It happens suddenly, then, the man’s weakness must’ve been faked because he grips the barrel and twists it until the impulse shot Lane administers goes straight into the boy soldier’s chest. In seconds, Lane is pulled to his knees and the grip he has on the gun is gone and lost to the man’s instead.

Lane is breathing fast, panic flashing across his pupils. He became complacent, unprepared and thought too little of his enemies.

She hesitates, but leaves her hand resting against the pistol in her waistband, doesn’t pull at it just yet.

“Sameen,” the man says, drawing her attention up from Lane and the gun pressing into his temple. “Don’t panic.”

She’s not panicking, not really, but she doesn’t say it. She doesn’t move her lips.

“She’s waiting for you.” He says, a smile distant.

Shaw feels her body deflate, doesn’t want to know who he’s talking about.

Machine or Root, she feels as if she doesn’t know either.

Below, Lane is wincing against the barrel, struggling against the hand wrapped around his neck.

The man smiles sadly, whispers soft and slow before moving. “She’ll explain everything.” And then, a bullet is pressed into Lane’s head and he collapses against the sand sprayed red.

The door to the block opens, a soldier looks out at a second shot and runs in immediately. The siren rings and the boy appears again.

Shaw pulls out her gun, but the man shakes his head, presses the pistol to his own face and the blood smacks against her cheeks before she can move. Her mouth hangs open, her arms still reaching out. The soldier comes running up, wailing her name and tripping.

“You tried,” he says, out of breath and falling at the sight of the bodies. A gun hangs loaded at her side, cold barrel and clammy handle. “It’s not your fault, Captain, they’re monsters, they’re-”

He’s crying and she thinks, as he strokes a hand across the boy soldier’s face, perhaps he’s weak.

Shaw doesn’t say anything, lets him believe what he wants as the alarms sounds in the distance and his tears join the puddles below.

 

--

 

The city is cold.

The journey back to the home base is quicker, this time. The streets are old and tattered and the wall around the inner city is built high and mighty and made up of stone. Beyond, the buildings shine and flourish. The people walk tall and undeserving.

Shaw feels in a trance as she steps out of the car.

She thinks there’s still blood on her face, still drying against her cheeks and chin. It’s been two days since the soldiers were dragged out from the execution block, since Lambert pulled her close until he was pushed away. It was a disaster, they all said, she’s lucky she shot the rebel before he shot her.

The lies leave marks against her skin. She feels them burning in place.

Of course, her uniform is newly pressed and clean, her face is washed clear and her hair is pulled high and tight. Still, she feels as if the dirt and blood from Rivas has followed her here.

“Oh, my dear,” Greer’s voice is soft, comforting, wraps around her body and squeezes. (High off the ground and plucked away, he squeezes before squeezing too tight). “Sameen, my darling. Disaster loves to follow you.”

The first alarm at Rivas Farm, the first staff killing and the first rebel defeat between her base walls. If it was going to happen, it would happen on her watch.

“A new executioner is being sent up to Rivas as we speak, this shouldn’t affect the running of the Farm at all.” His hands are patting her arm, ushering her further into the room. He wants an explanation, she knows, but first he’ll play his fatherly role. “Sit down, Sameen, take your time-”

“Why did you lie about the bombs?”

The question is out there before she registers it, before she recognizes her words or her voice.

Greer steps back, looks her up and down. “What?”

“You created the bombs and you killed thousands.” She says, still looking forward to the window and the world carrying on beyond it. Somewhere, there are people dying at the hands of her soldiers. She turns to him, blinks at the shock across his face. “Tell me about the corrections.”

“The-” Greer is spitting, shaking his head. “Where have you heard these things?”

Shaw doesn’t answer, watches his face move through a range of emotions before stilling.

“Sameen, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She laughs, it’s ugly and fake and she can’t stop it from vibrating up her throat. “I’ve served you for so many years of my life. You took me from everything I knew and pushed me into this, put a gun in my hand and made me kill the people against Samaritan. You owe me these answers.”

“Sameen-”

“You owe me.”

Greer’s hands reach out, steady against his desk and he breathes shaky before speaking. “Samaritan wants order. Peace. The people that can’t abide by the rules in society cannot remain to influence the others. There are plans for this world, a structure that will benefit the whole of the human race.” He stares at her face, flinches at the lack of reaction. “Corrections are simply the people that don’t belong.”

(She’d been sent to kill drug dealers, once, and she’d done it despite her doubts.)

“You’re killing them.” She says.

He frowns, head mid-shake. “We’re freeing the world of them.”

She breathes out again, laughs again. “You and your excuses.”

Greer doesn’t say anything in reply, his fist is clenching tight against the wood below and she wants him to fall.

“And the bombs?”

He licks his lips, they crack regardless. “The rebels would have done it eventually.”

There’s sick in her stomach.

“Sameen, we only ever wanted the best for this country. We only ever did what we thought was right.” He walks forward and Shaw forces herself to remain in place. “We made some hard decisions, but I know that in the end it will all work out.” A whisper, Greer’s breath creeps along her skin. “It’s for the greater good.”

Shaw nods, stands still and nods. He’s wrong, but she nods.

Root was right all along. Her feet move back, back, back and out of Greer’s reach.

“I need a drink.” She says, swallowing when her heels hit the door.

Greer nods, smiles sad and hopeful. “Come back when you’re ready to talk, Sameen. I understand it’s a lot to take in.”

She doesn’t plan on coming back at all, she nods and agrees, but pulls at the handle and runs.

She knew all along, but she wasn’t ready.

She knew all along, and she runs down the steps and through the street, doesn’t stop at the places she distantly remembers and recognises as home. Her feet carry her away and she wonders where she’s going, because she can’t go back to Rivas and she can’t go back to Greer.

Legs tiring and chest heaving, she only stops when the phone rings.

 

--

 

She’s lost.

The street is empty, still too far away from the gates but she can’t see the Presidential tower anymore so it’s better than where she was.

There’s no one around to answer the call, she bends down to catch her breath and waits for the phone to ring out. It’s placed on the edge of the sidewalk, on the other side of the road and stood beside a lamppost.

When it rings again, she walks slowly towards it, stops in front and picks it up before the call ends.

There’s silence. The sound of Shaw still breathing too heavy, too fast and silence.

Then, quiet. “Missed me?”

Breathing comes easy, the heaviness is lifted and she’s floating.

She’s falling into the phone booth, slumping against the metal and pressing harder against the receiver. It’s her.

No, she wants to say, always the answer. Never, never, never.

Instead, though, she sighs into the phone, whispers, “where are you?”

“Does it matter?” Root asks, voice cheerier than Shaw feels. “I’m not there.” She says, as if that’s the most important thing in the world.

(Perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s always been the most important thing in the universe.)

Shaw doesn’t say anything, listens to the breathing on the other end and closes her eyes.

“You know now.” It’s not a question.

Shaw hums, “I know.”

“You can come and find me now.” Root says.

“I killed so many of your people.” Shaw says. “I’ve done terrible things.”

“You didn’t know.” It sounds pleading.

“I did.”

“Not really.” Root’s voice is soft, calming. “Come and find me.”

Shaw doesn’t speak for minutes, sways in the empty street and listens to the sound of longing.

Eventually, she stands taller and grips the phone tighter. “Where?”

 

--

 

It’s hidden in plain sight. A street with an ordinary name, a building with an ordinary structure and an ordinary door.

She pushes at the handle, walks until she finds a candy machine with food that isn’t stocked anymore.

The buttons are pressed lightly, the code running a rhythm in her head. It takes a moment and then it opens, swings out in front of her and offers her a path. The subway is dark, the lights hang low but the bulbs are out.

There are steps, down a corridor and to the right.

And, when she starts to descend them, she sees the people waiting below.

Harold Finch in the center, John Reese to his left and Root to his right. There’s a dog, sitting somewhere in the middle.

“Ms Shaw,” Finch says, leaning against a cane. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

 

 

 

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