All Out of Bubble Gum

Notes:

Hearing Amy Acker actually become Root in the Shoot panel at Clexacon had something to do with this fic taking on a life of it's own. If you've never heard Amy say "Did you miss me?" in person, you haven't lived…

I'm not completely happy with this because it seems disjointed and confused to me, probably over-written and under-edited. I hope you find some enjoyment in it. But please consider feeding the insecure writer...

Title is from the movie "They Live" starring Rowdy Roddy Piper, who walks into a bank with a shotgun and starts killing very bad aliens after telling everyone "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass… and I'm all out of bubble gum."

(See the end of the work for more notes.)

Park Place & Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights

Shaw adjusted the sight on her Stealth Recon Scout sniper rifle to account for the slight breeze coming across the roof of the building as she locked in on the man in the apartment across the street. The night was clear and cool and she could visibly make out her target as he lounged on the sofa of his non-descript Brooklyn apartment while shoveling Chinese food into his mouth.

Her stomach growled. Loudly.

"Are you hungry, Sweetie?" Root murmured in her ear, having heard the grumbling over their shared earwigs.

"Starving," the Persian muttered in response. "I want Chinese."

Root chuckled softly. "Take care of business and I'll buy you dinner at the nearest dim sum place we can find."

Shaw took a deep breath. "Stop yapping in my ear and I'll be there in…," she breathed out and pulled the trigger, "ten minutes."

The man in the apartment was slumped over dead from a bullet through the skull before the deep, heavy pew of the suppressor could even be heard. Although, from the opposite roof in a hastily built sniper's nest, chances were that no one even heard the high powered rifle's muffled report at all. Those questioned the next day when police began to canvas the area would attribute the sound as kind of, but not quite equal to, the backfiring of a car.

Shaw quickly broke the weapon down, shoved it into her duffle bag, policed her brass and exited the building.

As she stepped onto the street, Root pushed off the side of the apartment building and dropped into step beside her. "So?" the taller woman asked as they headed toward the black SUV parked around the corner.

"One more Samaritan operative down, 14 left to go."

"My little sniper," Root sighed as they climbed into the truck.

Shaw rolled her eyes. "Shut up and find me a restaurant."

With a chuckle, Root tilted her head to the right. "Did you hear that?" she asked.

"Yes," Baby Machine responded immediately. "I am looking for quality Chinese restaurants near your location. I'm assuming you want to stay near the area in order to not look like you just shot a guy and are racing out of the borough to avoid detection?"

"Avoiding detection," Shaw snorted. "Yeah, that would be good."

"Then I recommend Hua Long, 706 Fulton Street."

"Thanks, Siri."

"My pleasure, Sameen." There was a pause and a pop of static. "By the way, nice shot, right through the 'apricot'. He never saw it coming. Never felt a thing."

"What a shame."

A quick drive from Underhill Avenue to Fulton Street and Shaw parked the black Suburban in front of a store front Chinese restaurant. The two women climbed out of the truck and entered the restaurant and while Root ordered a variety of items from the menu, Shaw found them a small table away from the front window.

Sliding into the seat, the former sniper rubbed her eyes tiredly. It had been three months since the visit to Root's "grave" at Mount Olivet and Shaw's request for Baby Machine to track down the remaining high ranking officials in Samaritan's employ. In between working the regular irrelevant numbers she and Root had been on the hunt, targeting and eliminating those operatives one at a time, traveling across time zones and borders in their pursuit.

While it gave her a measure of satisfaction to exorcise the demons of Samaritan, it was tiring work. They'd almost been caught twice, escaping only after She contacted Zoe to get them out of those jams. Those occasions had ended with the three of them drinking themselves into oblivion while toasting John and mildly cursing Finch.

Although, the second time it happened had ended when Zoe kicked the pair out of her apartment after catching them making out on the sofa after she had finally retired for the night. While she shoved them toward the door and out into the hallway, she muttered something about needing to firebomb the leather couch and start over elsewhere.

Tonight had been one more Samaritan mid-level superior who had escaped after the Fall to eventually pay the price for their loyalty to the malevolent ASI.

Shaw looked up as Root carried a tray heaping with fragrant Chinese delights to the table and sat. Snatching up a pair of chopsticks, the Persian quickly dug in.

"So," she managed through a mouthful of fried rice. "Who was this guy, anyway?"

Root dug into her sesame chicken and paused to chew. "Aaron Lancaster," she said after swallowing. "Logistics and systems management. He reported directly to Greer on the acquisition and management of Samaritan's server farms and all bases of operations. He was directly responsible for the administration of the facility in South Africa."

Shaw stopped chewing for a moment before finishing and reaching for the noodles. "How did he escape the Fall?"

"He was on a scouting mission," She replied in their earwigs, "searching for a new base in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They were preparing to begin operations in the Baltic theater, even without the support of Putin."

"Well, yeah," Shaw replied around her lo mein. "Vlad wouldn't hand over any military or covert ops to anyone, especially Greer and Samaritan. That wrinkled old fucker probably wanted to own Russia, too."

"Whatever the case may be, Lancaster was well away during the Fall. When it ended, he returned to find the operation destroyed, Greer dead, all locations barely running and no orders to continue. He left without a look back."

"So, yet another coward."

"Well, he did take the money with him."

That had Shaw sitting up questioningly. "Money?"

"Don't worry, Sweetie," Root purred gently. "We've already found what he managed to steal and stole it away from him. It wasn't much, but it's not like he'll be needing it anymore."

"How much?"

Root paused and looked away while she figured amounts in her head. "Oh, just over 17.5 million, is all."

"Oh," Shaw replied, a little smile taking over her lips. "Is that all?"

"Yep." Root nibbled at an egg roll. "What shall we do with it?"

Shaw's smile grew, a rare yet wonderful sight. "I'm sure we can think of something." She wiped her hands on a paper napkin and sat back for a moment. "So, what's next?"

"It's time to rest, Sameen," She said in their earwigs. "There are no numbers coming at the moment and you both need to take time to breathe. You've been on this hunt for a while and I have noticed that it is wearing you out."

"Oh, yeah, Siri?" the Persian growled. "How can you tell?"

There was momentary silence broken by mild static, then a pop and whir in their earwigs. "Your current heart rate is 78 beats per minute. That is up from your normal 51. Your respiration is more labored than in recent weeks and after having observed your sleeping habits of late, it is quite obvious you have worked yourself almost to the point of exhaustion. Please, for the sake of your health, take a step back and relax for a few days. If a number comes up, we can re-evaluate working it, but for now, rest."

Shaw rolled her eyes and stared out the front window for a moment. "I'll make you a deal," she said finally. "Both of you," she amended, catching Root's eye before continuing. "You keep searching out the rest of Samaritan's worker bees and I'll take a breather."

"What are your conditions?"

"The minute you locate one of them, you tell me. None of them will get away with working for Ultron, got it?"

"Got it."

Satisfied with Baby Machine's agreement, Shaw picked up her chopsticks and finished off the Szechuan Chicken and shrimp fried rice before the other woman had eaten half of her own meal. With a lopsided little smile, Root pushed her plate over to the Persian and watched her attack like she hadn't seen food in a month.

There was something so… animalistic about Shaw tucking into a meal that Root couldn't explain her fascination with it, just that it practically took her breath away.

"Stop staring, you freak," Shaw said suddenly, never raising her eyes from her plate. "Your obsession with me eating is kinda creepy."

Root laughed. "Just 'kinda'?" she joked. "I must not be doing it right, then."

Shaw looked up just in time to catch Root give her a hopelessly bad two-eyed wink and then rake her gaze down Shaw's body. It was all the Persian could do to not roll her eyes once more, but she still sported a little smile. "You really do flirt at the most awkward times."

Root smirked, but even Shaw noticed the slight flinch at the corners of her eyes. For a moment, a pall was cast as they both thought back to the last time Shaw had spoken those words and what had happened minutes later. Swallowing what now tasted like sawdust in her mouth, Shaw pushed the plate away and stood.

"Come on," she murmured. "Let's go home."

Shaw's Loft, Alphabet City

The rasp of the key in the lock had Bear hopping up from his bed and trotting to the front door, well aware that sound meant his humans were home from wherever they'd been. When the metal door swung open, he yipped happily as Shaw stepped in and immediately fell to her knees to give him a good ear scratch. The Belgian Malinois danced happily at the affection before turning to Root for more.

"Hey, there, big fella," the taller woman murmured as she knelt to give him hearty strokes down his sides. "Such a good boy."

They both watched as Shaw headed into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of 16-year old Single Malt Scotch from the cabinet and poured a healthy shot into a rocks glass. She leaned against the counter and drank, finishing the rich, amber-colored liquor in two gulps before refilling the glass. Root rose to her feet and stepped into the kitchen, tossing her hair out of her eyes and slipping her hands into the back pockets of her jeans as she watched Shaw's restless motions.

"You okay, Sweetie?" she asked softly.

Shaw rolled her eyes. "Peachy keen, jelly bean," she muttered.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Not surprisingly, the only response from the former Marine sniper was a baleful look and a gulping of the rest of the Scotch in her glass. Grabbing the bottle, she stomped past Root and dropped onto the sofa, reaching for the TV remote and pressing the power button.

Root followed and sat beside her, hands clasped between her knees as she scrutinized the shorter woman. "Come on, Sameen. I know there's something bugging you, just tell me."

Shaw let her head drop onto the back of the sofa and sighed. "Just… over-thinking things."

"What things?"

Shaw was silent for so long that Root thought she might never answer. She could deal with that, she didn't want to push Shaw too far. She just wanted Shaw to not be in such an introspective mood. "I want them all to pay," the Persian muttered after a moment. "I want them all dead."

"Sameen…"

"For what they did to me. For what they would have done to you if you actually had been…," she stopped abruptly. "I want to wipe them out so there's never a chance of one of those assholes starting this thing up ever again."

Root scooted closer and leaned back onto the sofa, mirroring Shaw's position next to her, their shoulders touching as they watched the baseball game on the TV with unfocused eyes. "You've been doing that since you escaped from South Africa, haven't you?"

"I want the ones that matter."

"You hunted dozens of them before I found you in the park. Don't they matter?"

"They were just operatives. Hired guns with cyanide pills in their teeth in case they got caught and no idea, really, what Samaritan was." Shaw paused. "They did the grunt work, they didn't try to dig up your body or run me through 7000 simulations. I want the ones who had input, had a say. I want them all."

Root's lips quirked up in a small smile as she reached over and took hold of one of Shaw's hands, their fingers lacing together instinctually. "That's a cause I can get behind, Sweetie," she murmured after a moment. "But I don't want you to let it consume you. I get revenge, Sameen, I do. I lived that way for a lot of my life, first when I was a kid, then for nine months while I searched for you. But if you let it drive you, then that's all you have. Trust me, I know what kind of a life that is. And once you've completed your thirst for all that revenge, what becomes of you then?"

"I have a steak and a bottle of scotch."

With a rueful chuckle, Root angled herself onto her side and rested her head on Shaw's shoulder. "As long as you have a plan, then."

"They have to pay," Shaw murmured so softly Root almost missed it.

"They will," Baby Machine replied firmly. "I will find them for you, Sameen. You have my word."

Satisfied for the moment, Shaw fell silent and turned her attention to the game while not focusing completely on the action. Root shook her hair back again and settled her head on Shaw's shoulder, hoping some calm would settle over them. After a moment, Bear jumped up onto the sofa beside the Persian and settled his chin on her thigh, sighing when her hand rested on top of his head and her fingers scratch behind his ears.

For a moment, it seemed a normal evening…

The sound of John's phone buzzing in his pocket had them both falling silent.

John looked at the screen. "Fusco," he said, pressing the green button and putting the phone to his ear before walking a few steps away in order to hear better. Shaw stood looking up at the detention center then turned to Reese. He had come to a shocked halt before turning back to Shaw. She stood watching Reese's normally expressionless face for anything, catching a slight tightening at the corners of his eyes. Her heart, beating with something akin to hope earlier in the day, thumped hard once in her chest, then began tripping rapidly, a sensation she had rarely experienced in her life.

John lowered the phone and met her eyes. He didn't say a word and in that moment she knew. An imperceptible shake of his head and the world came crashing down. The edge of her vision darkened and she glanced away, any thought she may have had fleeing her mind.

No, God dammit. It's only been seven fucking days…

Shaw jerked upright as she ripped herself viciously from the nightmare, her heart pounding angrily against her rib cage, gasping for breath. Hands to her head, she quickly glanced to her right, a feeling she could only believe was relief filling her chest as she found Root sleeping beside her.

Shoving her fingers through her hair to push it off her face and sucking air into her lungs to regulate her breathing, she rested her elbows onto her knees and dropped her head into her hands. This wasn't the first nightmare she'd endured and it surely wouldn't be the last, but this one, or a version of it, was always the worst.

Heart slowly calming, Shaw gently reached out and let her hand fall onto Root's shoulder. It was warm and soft and beneath it, Shaw could feel the other woman's deep, regular breathing. Just the proof she needed to know that Root was alive.

After a moment, the hand resting on Root's shoulder gently slipped down a warm arm until fingers could weave together instinctually. Even in sleep, Root pulled Shaw close.

"You okay, Sweetie?" the other woman murmured sleepily a few minutes later as Shaw slid back down into bed and spooned Root from behind.

"Mm," Shaw hummed in response, feeling herself calming as she pulled Root back against her chest.

"Nightmare?"

"Yeah."

"Want to talk about it?"

The former Marine was silent so long that Root thought she might not respond. Then quietly: "Same one I usually have these days, Fusco calling from the morgue," she mumbled. "He was standing over your body on a slab to tell John you were dead." She took a deep breath and ran a hand over her face. "John didn't have to say anything, he just looked at me and shook his head. And I knew. Seven fucking days after I got back, you were gone."

Root clenched her eyes shut tightly at the raw emotion in Shaw's voice. Emotion the Persian would deny she felt or could express, but it was there. Turning her face into the pillow for a moment, Root sighed then leaned back into the smaller woman behind her. She tipped her head back and pulled the arm around her shoulders tighter against her.

"Well, yes, they were seven fucking days, weren't they, Sweetie?" she teased lamely. There was no response from behind her, the joke falling flat. "I'm sorry," she murmured in reply.

"I'm dealing with it."

"You sure about that?" That elicited no response so Root pressed a kiss to the inside of the wrist still wrapped around her shoulders, right on the 4AF tattoo inked there. "You don't have to deal with it alone, you know."

A sigh, lips pressed to the side of her head, then a soft grumble. "I know." Withdrawing her arm, Shaw rubbed her eyes and brushed her hair off her face before pulling Root into her embrace once more. "I just keep thinking about what the Machine told us about Samaritan digging up your body- or what they thought was your body. And that they took what they wanted and threw that woman away without a single thought. It could very easily have been you. It was supposed to be you." She huffed out a breath and rolled onto her back, the hand that had been holding Root now resting over her eyes, as though she was witnessing the vile actions Samaritan would have carried out behind her closed eyelids. "It's bad enough you died alone, but knowing they would have desecrated your body like that…"

Root rolled over and dropped her hand onto Shaw's stomach, her fingers moving in soothing circles on the soft tank top the Persian wore. "Sweetie…-"

"I know," Shaw cut in. "I know you didn't die, you're here and they didn't just throw you away like yesterday's trash, but knowing… Knowing what might have happened…" Shaw's arm dropped and hit the mattress with a soft thump as she forced herself to relax. "That was just the final straw," she growled softly. "What they would have done if given even half a chance. On top of all the shit they put me through trying to manipulate me into giving away the Machine, or killing Harold, Reese and…," she swallowed, "And you."

"What did they do to you?" Root asked in a rough whisper, knowing Shaw was struggling with emotions she generally didn't have to deal with. To Shaw, bottling things up was second nature and it didn't seem to bother her. Now, however, it was obvious to the taller woman that something was eating away at Shaw's stoic demeanor. Her imprisonment was something they rarely if ever talked about and Shaw had never spoken in the specifics of Samaritan's simulations. "If you want to tell me, I won't judge."

Shaw snorted humorlessly. "Got a decade or so? We can start at the beginning and work our way through each of the 7000 plus simulations I went through. I was gone, what, nine months? That's about 275 days, right?" Root hummed in agreement. "Do the math, 7000 simulations over 275 days. How many is that a day? Sometimes, they'd wake me up in the middle of the night and put me through more. Each simulation seemed like days, some were weeks long, but they were actually only an hour or so in real time. Some were longer. Some, when they couldn't get the narrative they wanted, ended abruptly and started over."

Root, for a change, was at a loss for words. How did she go about asking Sameen for details? How did her little Persian firecracker manage to fight the programming and never break? How did she survive the beatings early in her captivity? What did she do to keep her grip on reality when enduring so many mind-bending simulations filled with her friends?

"Is that why-?" Root finally was able to whisper, choking suddenly on her own anger.

"Why I want them all dead? Yes." The Persian inhaled deeply and let it out slowly, getting herself back under some semblance of control. "They almost got me," she gritted out in a low voice. "Lambert actually convinced me to kill some scientist. Only because he wouldn't shut the fuck up and I thought we were in another simulation. When I found out… I realized I had to either give up or fight harder."

"So you fought harder," Root murmured proudly.

Shaw snorted indelicately. "Not before I almost gave up." She turned her head to peer directly into amber eyes sparkling in the dim moonlight, revealing a secret she had kept all this time. "You saved me, Root. That stupid Morse code message kept me from shoving a needle into my brain. Knowing that you were still out there looking for me saved me."

Shocked speechless at Shaw's words, Root swallowed the lump in her throat at the thought of her compact Persian ending her life to stop the torment and buried her face in Shaw's throat, curling closer and holding her tighter. "I am so sorry," she whispered.

"I'm sorry, too," Baby Machine said, Her voice emitting from the speaker of the phone on the nightstand. "It was never my predecessor's intention to put you through that, Sameen."

Shaw huffed out a breath. "You sure about that, Sis?" she remarked humorlessly. "I'm pretty sure you're a much better version of Finch's creation when I think about it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Robot Overlord never took Root's safety into consideration most of the time. For some… thing so concerned about its Analog Interface, it sure sent her on some seriously shit missions."

Now Root understood Shaw's proclamations at the cemetery about them not being walking ghosts and when the time came, they would not go into the ground as unknowns. Just the thought that Root had supposedly died alone, and, as far as the rest of the world knew, unmourned, spoke to something inside Sameen so deeply that she made it her mission to ensure that it never came to pass. For Shaw, the thought that Root could have at any time been killed without anyone knowing was unacceptable.

Sameen Shaw, always the protector.

"I killed him, too, you know," Shaw mumbled sleepily.

"Who, Sweetie?"

"Lambert. The obnoxious asshole caught me during my real escape. He was trying to mess with my head like I was caught between reality and the simulations and he just kept yapping and wouldn't shut up. So, I shot him. He looked really shocked." She sighed and rubbed her eyes again. "And that snotty British accent was really fucking annoying."

Root snorted out a laugh against Shaw's neck. The Persian decided it wasn't an unpleasant feeling. "He was a little weasel-y, wasn't he?" the former hacker murmured.

"No, he was a lot weasel-y."

"As far as helper monkeys went, he was no Reese."

Shaw grunted. "No."

They fell silent for a moment then Root pressed her lips to Shaw's throat. "Think you can sleep now, Sweetie?"

Realizing Root had let her talk to work through the nightmare and thoughts of Samaritan, Shaw sighed gently. "Yeah, thanks."

"Anything for you, Sameen."

Before the taller woman could roll away and create room between them, Shaw tightened her hold on Root and pulled her closer. Hiding her face beneath a fall of chestnut hair, Root smiled, silently grateful that Shaw wanted the feel of her in her arms. Pressing her lips to the former ISA operative's jaw, Root closed her eyes and drifted off.

Moments later, Shaw joined her in a thankfully dreamless sleep, crashing until morning.

E 37th St and Madison Avenue, Manhattan

Shaw rolled her eyes for what seemed like the fifth time. "Root, what are we doing here?" she asked grumpily.

Root turned herself in a circle, arms out at her sides in the fenced-in room. "Oh, come on, Sameen," she replied as she hopped up onto the table where she had spent hours of time when Finch had locked her up in the make-shift Faraday Cage so many years ago. "Can't two gals enjoy a trip down memory lane occasionally?"

"No," the Persian replied shortly.

Before she could storm out, Bear came racing into the alcove, his claws clicking on the old tile and a horribly chewed up tennis ball in his mouth. He skidded to a stop at her feet and dropped the ball, his tail wagging excitedly.

"Someone else is excited to visit, too," Root pouted playfully. "Aren't you, big guy?"

Bear yipped in agreement then nudged the ball against Shaw's boot with his muzzle. Rolling her eyes with a sigh, she bent down and picked up the ball, tossing it down the hallway for the dog to chase. She couldn't contain the snort of amusement when Bear raced after the toy, skidding comically on the tile floor to make the turn at the corner of the hall to find where the bouncing sphere had disappeared to.

"Okay, Root," she said, turning back to where the taller woman was still sitting on the reading table leafing through a book. "What are we doing here? The truth this time."

With a smirk, Root dropped the book onto the table and hopped down. "It seems, according to Her, the other Her, that Harry liked to keep some things to himself."

"Something I discovered while running a diagnostic and uncovered another prohibited data block containing information," Baby Machine said in their earwigs. "Even though Harold was a genius with computers, he didn't trust them completely. Not even my predecessor. He kept some things hidden here in the library."

While Baby Machine spoke, Root moved down the hallway to another reading alcove and stepped in. Shaw followed and watched as the tall woman pulled books off the shelves until she uncovered a hidden wall safe.

"Like what?" Shaw asked.

"Three left, 14 right, 15 left-," Baby Machine was relaying to Root as she worked the combination. "Ninety-two right."

The women both stopped what they were doing, Root turning the dial and Shaw complaining, as the Machine finished speaking, and shared a look.

"Pi?" Shaw snorted. "Really? Was that Finch's security code to everything? I wonder if his password is Pi3.141592 exclamation point."

"It's surprising that such a creature of habit was able to stay reclusive for as long as he did." Root opened the safe door and pulled out five thick files then flipped through the names on the labels. "Here." She handed one to Shaw. "You can keep it or shred it, it's up to you."

Shaw opened the folder and found her own information staring back up at her. "These are our files?"

"The only known copies in the world."

"How did he do this?"

Root shrugged. "I don't know and I didn't ask. Harold was a man of many talents, several of which we had no idea about. The police missed this safe when they trashed the place, but She discovered the information the other day. I wanted to get these out of here before anyone else stumbled on them." Root noticed Shaw's eyes on the former hacker's file as she held it with folders for Reese and Harold himself. It was shockingly thin. Root smiled a little sadly. "You forget, Sweetie, I've been on my own practically since I was 12. Samantha Groves graduated high school without the benefit of actually ever attending high school then she simply ceased to exist."

"So that ends at the age of 12?" Shaw replied with a nod to the folder.

Root shrugged a shoulder. "A little after."

"So we really are ghosts."

"Only if we want to be, Sameen. It only takes a couple of key strokes to create an identity. When the time comes, I promise we won't be going into Potter's Field."

Shaw nodded. "Come on, then. I'm tired of haunting this place." Shoving the papers into her backpack, Shaw then grabbed Root's wrist and pulled her towards the exit. "Bear! Hier!"

Dropping the tennis ball immediately, the Belgian Malinois scampered after them as they exited the huge library building. Out on the bustling sidewalk, Root looked back up at the hulking building as they walked away. The place did harbor some interesting memories of a time before the rise of Samaritan.

But she was also locked in a cage, so…

Slattery's Pub, Midtown Manhattan

They were halfway through lunch, Root enjoying her Cobb salad with chicken while Shaw devoured her second corned beef on rye with fries and washed it all down with several glasses of Midleton Irish whiskey. Talk had been almost non-existent since Root knew better than to engage Shaw in conversation while she was busy eating. Plus there was always the fear the Persian would aspirate something while growling at Root to shut up and let her eat.

Resting her chin in her hand, Root smirked as she drank in the visage of Shaw consuming the last of her sandwich. She shoved the bread and meat into her mouth before offering some of the corned beef that had fallen off the sandwich to Bear, who lay quietly at their feet in the red "Service Animal" vest that allowed him entrance to the pub. With a contented yip, he gently nipped the meat from her fingers then settled his head back onto his paws.

"Am I to believe this was an appropriate choice for lunch?" She asked as Shaw wiped her face with a napkin before another swallow of whiskey.

"Pretty good, Siri," the Persian replied. "I could come back here again."

"I'll make a note of it."

With a smirk of her own, Shaw sat back and raised her glass, eyes on Root, who was watching her intently, her thoughts clearly visible on her face. With a shake of her head, the Persian glanced out the window just to break their connection.

Her blood ran cold at the man standing outside on the sidewalk looking back at her with a lecherous leer on his face.

The highball glass fell from her fingers and she bolted out of her chair and towards the door. Her barstool clattered to the floor, startling a yip out of Bear and jolting Root out of her reverie. And outside, the man who had been staring at Shaw so evilly had seemingly disappeared.

Surprised by Shaw's sudden movement, Root sat motionless for a split second before leaping to her feet to follow. She threw a handful of bills on the table, grabbed Bear's lead and raced out the door in the Persian's wake.

"What's going on," Root ground out as she caught a glimpse of Shaw rounding the corner. "Who the hell was that man?"

"I managed to run him through facial recognition when he passed a traffic cam. His name is Stewart, last name unknown. From what I've found in recovered files from before She destroyed Samaritan, he was referred to as Asset 573. He was a technician in the neuroscience and biotechnology division." There was a pause before Root's earwig whirred with what seemed like barely controlled rage. "He was the technician who administered Sameen's simulations. He was quite vicious and threatening."

"Oh, God." Leaning down, the former hacker unhooked Bear's lead. "Follow them on the cameras," she instructed Baby Machine. "Bear, zoek*! Find Shaw!"

With a bark, Bear took off down the street after Shaw, Root following behind at a slower pace, knowing she would never be able to catch them on her own.

"Left at the corner then down a block," Baby Machine instructed Root as she pursued Shaw and Bear. "Another left at East 38th. He's heading toward 6th Avenue. There's a 98.9% chance he'll try to avoid the Bryant Park subway station to get lost in the Times Square station."

"Shit." Root slowed to a walk as she neared 6th Avenue. "Keep an eye on Bear. He'll be able to track Sameen. I'm afraid of what will happen to her when she loses Stewart in the subway."

"I've lost sight of Stewart, I think he found a shadow zone. I will keep attempting to locate him."

"Let me know when you find him." She rushed down the stairs to the subway platform at Times Square and 42nd Street. "Do you have Bear and Shaw?"

"They're headed uptown. Like, uptown uptown. She changed trains at Columbus Circle, she's headed north. From the train camera, I can see Bear is with her."

Quickly entering the car, Root grabbed a strap and stood anxiously waiting for the train to move.

"Talk to me," she murmured as the train sped up the tracks to its next stop.

"She got off the train at 116th Street. Morningside Park. She disappeared into the park."

Root knew what that meant and sighed. "I know where she is."

Manhattan Police Department, 8th Precinct

Lionel Fusco was sifting through a file folder of the most recent homicide to hit his desk when his phone rang. Without taking his eyes off the incident report, he reached for the handset and put it to his ear.

"Fusco," he answered.

"Lionel, we need you," Root's voice said in his ear.

"Nutella? What now?"

"You should be hearing a call over the scanner in a moment of a person wielding a gun in Morningside Park. It's Shaw."

Throwing his reading glasses onto his desk, he cocked his head to listen just as the call came over the office scanner, a 417 in Morningside Park, person with a gun. "I'm on my way," he said, slamming the phone down and rushing out of the precinct, momentarily wondering if that was actually Root or the Machine he had just spoken to.

Morningside Park, Morningside Heights

The roundabout kept spinning while Shaw stood on it, leaning against the railing, watching the world swirl around and around. She fought against dizzying nausea as her eyes followed the horizon whirling past. The fingers of her left hand snuck up the back of her neck and search out any evidence of a chip or surgical scar.

Just because there isn't one does not yet convince her that this isn't a simulation. Her hand fell to her side as the other one, the one holding her Sig Sauer P226R, slowly lifted to press the barrel to her temple.

She didn't even notice the squad cars from the local precinct skid to a stop on the curb just beyond the playground, half a dozen cops leaping from their seats with guns drawn, shouting at her to put the gun in her hand down and get off the ride.

She kept spinning, never once acknowledging their presence. The feel of cold steel against her skin, the knowledge that Stewart would never get his hands on her again, was comforting in an odd way.

Bear sat in the dirt near the roundabout, whining as he watched his human lost in the throes of something only she could see. When one police officer attempted to approach, he barked and growled, backing the cop off before turning back and whining again, hoping to get the small human to see him.

Root ran up the sidewalk from the subway station and right into the park, ignoring shouts from the officers to stay back, at the same moment Fusco's car skidded to a stop a few yards away. Jumping out of his car, the detective immediately took control of the scene, letting Root continue toward the playground and the troubled woman who was riding the roundabout to a slow stop. The sight of her compact Persian firecracker with a pistol to her head made her blood run cold and she skidded to a halt on the playground dirt.

"Sameen?" Root whispered softly as she approached with her hands up in surrender. "Sweetie? Can you talk to me? Please?"

Shaw's head came up and she turned to Root, but the taller woman could tell there was no connection, the Persian's eyes were distant, not connecting with anything tangible around her. She was lost in some kind of haze, trapped in another simulation she couldn't seem to fight her way out of. Root paused momentarily then slowly proceeded forward, her hands still raised to show her supplication.

At the edge of the park, Fusco stood silently, the fear evident on his face. He knew Shaw had been through hell since returning from Samaritan's imprisonment and torture. She had held it together relatively well, but he'd witnessed her rage upon Root's "death" and the final battle with Samaritan. He saw her with tears in her eyes when the Machine spoke to her of Root's love for her, he knew she had killed Jeff Blackwell in revenge and without remorse and he lived through months keeping in contact with her as she went back to working numbers, solitary and withdrawn, her only real companion an ASI with the voice of the one person she had cared for more than anyone else in her world.

As he stood watching her with a Sig Sauer barrel pressed to her temple, he felt tears burning his own eyes, his throat closed over a burning lump of dread.

Shaw felt her head still spinning as she watched Root approach. This was the most realistic sim they'd run on her yet. She felt the weight of it bearing down on her and she just wanted to start over again.

"Is this another simulation?" she asked as she stumbled off the ride. "Do I need to wait or should I reset?"

"No, Sameen," Root replied, hands still up in entreaty as she moved slowly closer. "This is very real. I need you to put the gun down and talk to me. Can you do that?"

"I saw him," the Persian murmured instead, her eyes never meeting Root's. "Stewart. I saw him. He's one of Greer's pets. Likes to throw situations into the sim so he can watch us having sex. I think he gets off on it. Him and Greer."

"I know, Sweetie," Root whispered, moving ever so slowly closer. "I saw him, too. She's looking for him and she'll find him. Then you can put another checkmark on the list."

Finally, Shaw's head came up and dark eyes met amber. "You saw him?" she demanded to know. "He was there?"

"Yes, Sweetie, I saw him. So did She and so did Bear. We'll find him, I promise."

"I'm looking for him, Sameen," Baby Machine crooned softly in their earwigs. She'd been silent until now but determined speaking to Shaw might help break whatever spell she was under. "I'll find him, you have my word."

Shaw pressed the barrel of her pistol to her head and grimaced, trying to pull herself out of the nightmare she found herself in. The slight tightening of her hand on the grip of her Sig had the police officers tensing in anticipation.

"Stand down, goddammit!" Fusco yelled, shoving down the arm of a young cop pointing his service weapon at the two women. "You ain't never seen PTSD before? Get a good look then and stand down!"

"Root," Shaw ground out, needing some sort of reassurance that this whole thing was real and not another Samaritan simulation.

Root stopped a few feet from Shaw, her hands still up, her eyes still locked on the other woman's. They were slowly beginning to focus, slowly beginning to return to the present. "Can you put your gun down, Sweetie?" she urged gently. "I'm not afraid of you, but these rookies back there scare the bejeezus out of me." She took another step. "Talk to me, Sameen. Please."

The next moments happened in the blink of an eye or in agonizing slow motion, depending on who spoke of it. Root saw the fog in Shaw's eyes beginning to lift and took another tentative step. Shaw felt the vise around her heart ease as her brain took control of her emotions and she began to lower her weapon.

One cop thought she was bringing the gun to bear on the woman standing before her and reacted.

The gunshot snapped time and space back into motion.

The bullet ripped through Root's shoulder, the force of it knocking her forward and stumbling into the Persian. Shaw caught her as she fell, in one motion pulling her into her body with one arm and raising her gun with the other. Bear immediately jumped to their defense and took a guarding position in front of them, barking and growling angrily at the cops suddenly shocked by the gunfire.

Seeing the wild look in Shaw's eyes and the barrel of her gun trained on the officers with their weapons drawn, Fusco raised his arms and ran into the playground. "Don't shoot!" he shouted, gun in one upraised hand, his gold shield in the other. "Stand down! Don't shoot!"

At the command of the senior detective, the officers that had responded to the call of a person wielding a gun backed off. Fusco watched them all closely for a moment then turned back to the roundabout and the women on the ground beside it.

Dropping her Sig, Sameen cradled Root in her arms and gently lowered them both to their knees, still holding the other woman against her. When Root looked up at her, those deep brown eyes were clear and bright, no longer unfocused and lost in a living nightmare. Her girl was back in the here and now.

"Hey, Sweetie," Root bit out painfully but with her trademark smirk firmly in place. Then she dropped her forehead onto Shaw's shoulder. "You okay?" she asked, as if she wasn't the one bleeding into the playground dirt.

"Root, goddammit," Shaw spat out angrily. "Why do you always lead with your shoulder?"

The former hacker tried to shrug but winced in pain with the movement. "Force of habit, I think."

"You know, this is not how any of my simulations ever ended. It was always you holding me."

"Ah, then we've broken the pattern. This is real, Sameen" Root gasped in discomfort. "We're real. I need you to remember that."

The former ISA operative nodded at Root's words. "I know. I will." Quickly pulling off her hoodie, she tied it tightly around the bleeding wound at Root's shoulder. "Stay with me."

"Always." For a moment, amber eyes lost focus and dulled. "Okay, Sweetie, I need you to take me home now because I'm close to losing consciousness. And not in the delightfully fun way we're used to."

"Okay. Come on, let's go." Lifting the other woman to her feet and supporting her weight, Shaw shoved her pistol into the waistband of her jeans, and led them out the park entrance, Bear keeping an alert pace beside them. Shaw glared at the cops on the other side of their squad cars before snarling at Fusco, "They better hope I don't find out which one of them pulled the trigger."

"Don't worry," he replied, eying the officers with the same anger. "I'll be taking care of it. Trust me."

"Lionel," Root whispered.

"Yeah, yeah. Just go."

They stumbled out of the park and down the sidewalk, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

"At the corner there's a blue Volvo SUV," Baby Machine said in their earwigs. "It's unlocked and I can start it remotely."

Without a word, Shaw led Root to the car and helped her into the passenger seat. After making sure the taller woman was seated and as comfortable as possible, she rounded the car, held the rear door open for Bear then slid behind the wheel and waited for Her to start the ignition. In silence, she drove them back to the loft in Alphabet City.

Shaw's Loft, Alphabet City

After Shaw had cleaned and stitched up her shoulder, Root changed clothes and threw her bloody, torn shirt down the incinerator chute. She dressed quickly then moved out of the bedroom in search of her counterpart. She knew where to find her.

Shaw stood in the kitchen with a bottle of scotch in one hand and a glass in the other. "You okay, Sweetie?" she asked as she slid onto a stool at the bar.

Shaw didn't respond at first, just gulped down another glass of the amber liquid. "I will be in about… four more of these," she finally replied.

"Had that happened before?" the taller woman asked softly. "Before I came back…?"

"A couple of times," Shaw replied honestly. She pointed to the ceiling. "She worked me through them, for the most part."

"We managed to deal with it through hypnotherapy," Baby Machine responded through the stereo speakers. "It's actually a very effective way to treat PTSD symptoms in Military Vets. It has been working for Sameen since we began and her issues had lessened to a very manageable level."

"But today?" Root urged.

Shaw huffed out a breath. "Today was different because Stewart was an exceptionally creepy fucker who got off on watching you and me having sex. And he really enjoyed getting into my head about it." There was a pause. "No pun intended."

Root sat quietly for a moment. "And it triggered you."

"Ya think? I never expected to have him just appear out of thin air and I certainly never thought I'd look up and see him practically salivating while he was watching me. I really thought we'd have to hunt for him, if he had even survived the Fall. To see that ugly sonofabitch leering at me like that… It was like I'd never escaped that place."

"Then he's our priority," the reformed killer-for-hire stated firmly. "No other operatives come before we locate this man." She tipped her head to the side. "Understand?"

Baby Machine hummed. "Absolutely."

Two weeks later, their earwigs popped then sounded a chime.

"What the hell are you doing, Siri?" Shaw snapped, the musical tone halting her in the midst of her daily abdomen sculpting routine. Root had joined her for the workout; however, her routine was watching Shaw's abdomen sculpting routine.

"I've located Stewart," She replied smugly. "You want the address?"

Without replying, Shaw got up and went into the bedroom. While She relayed the information on Stewart's whereabouts to her Analog Interface, Shaw dressed in black, grabbed a black ball cap and hauled her Stealth Recon rifle case out from under the bed.

Root was holding the door open for her by the time she had returned.

Hoboken, New Jersey

"Of course he's in Jersey," Shaw murmured to Root as she adjusted the site on the rifle. "The best thing about Hoboken is Carlo's Bakery."

"Now, Sameen…"

"Yeah, yeah." She eyed Stewart in his apartment through the scope, his back to her while he seemed to be searching the Internet on his laptop. Calculating range, wind speed and descent, she made the necessary adjustments, turned her ball cap backwards on her head, settled down in her sniper's nest and waited for the perfect moment. Peering through the scope, she focused momentarily on the website he was perusing. "Jesus Christ, bondage and torture porn," Shaw muttered as she watched him through the rifle's scope. "That figures."

"That shouldn't be a surprise, should it, Sameen?" Baby Machine asked. "Everything I've managed to uncover about him from my predecessor's files indicates the man had some seriously twisted proclivities."

"Well, maybe he'll go out with a chubby," Shaw muttered. "Serve him right to die before getting his rocks off."

Root chuckled in her ear. "Revenge is kinda fun, huh, Sweetie?"

Rolling her eyes, Shaw took a deep breath. "You are so weird," she replied, exhaling slowly as she pulled the trigger. "Fuck you, Stewart."

Shaw began breaking the weapon down before the .338 Magnum round blew Stewart's head off cleanly at the base of the skull and shattered the laptop he had been watching his choice of twisted porn on. Policing her brass before snugly fitting the rifle into its case, she took one last look through the scope at the headless body and bloody, shattered computer screen before smirking smugly.

"Through the trees, with a 25 mile an hour headwind, into a 10 inch square open window. Head shot. You're welcome."

Root chuckled in her ear. "There's my compact Persian sociopath."

"Shut up," Shaw growled back. "And find me a steak place near here, I'm starving."

Root tipped her head to the side. "You heard her. Find me a steakhouse with a good scotch list."

"I'm already on it," She replied, a smile in her tone.

~fin

Notes:

*Zoek = Track

A/N1 – I'm really getting into these late night moments of pillow talk. Kinda reminds me of "6,741" and a time when Shaw is mostly unguarded.

A/N2 - I thought Shaw should have been able to kill Stewart, considering what an icky creep he was to her. But I also thought she should have been given the privilege of putting Greer down, too. But, no, he had to off himself in a vacuum… so dumb…

A/N3 – No disrespect intended to the State of New Jersey, one of my closest friends is from Jersey and I wouldn't trade her for the world.