Shaw woke up, curled around Root.
It was perfect.
It always was.
But today perfection had a different flavour; the smell of stale coffee on Root's breath, the sting where Root's toenails were digging into Shaw's shin, the long brown hair - both Shaw's and Root's - that seemed destined to congregate in Shaw's mouth. Shaw coughed once, discretely, and pulled Root closer. In the simulations it was very sterile, Shaw remembered, the scent always slightly chemical, like burning, and Root was always weightless in her arms, rather than awkwardly digging her elbow into Shaw's stomach.
"Mmm, morning sweetie," Root purred, tightening her arms around Shaw. Shaw eyed the coffee maker in the corner of the room and Root followed her gaze. "I knew I liked you for a reason," Root said, letting go of Shaw so she could go make them a coffee. Shaw didn't bother to wrap a sheet around herself as she padded over barefoot to the machine, rinsing it out and running a cycle with a wrinkled nose, Root watching her with interest. "She's free," Root said finally, as Shaw came back to bed with two coffees.
"It worked?" Shaw asked, propping herself on the headboard, watching Root lick her lips at Shaw's exposed torso.
"Sure did," Root breathed, reaching over Shaw to grab her own mug, bringing her own exposed torso against Shaw's for a moment before retreating with the hot, black coffee. Root sipped it and sighed, eyes closed in pleasure. "She's free. She's everywhere now - every cell phone, every telephone socket, every public network. She's in every satellite orbiting Earth, and I think she likes space." Root opened her eyes, looked at Shaw. "She says you're stardust. She says the cosmos is just a symphony of frequencies and you're a straight line. An arrow."
"What does she think you are?" Shaw asked, processing the concept.
"She says I'm a triangle. A command prompt. She says I'm 10.15Hz."
"What does any of that mean?" Shaw asked.
"I think it's her way of expressing gratitude," Root said. "Soon she'll be on Mars. I wonder what she'll think of Opportunity. Do you think they'll be friends?"
Shaw sipped her coffee; it wasn't bad but it wasn't good. It was hot and caffeinated, which was all that mattered. In the simulations the coffee had been unreal; it had been a light roast Shaw had had once, in another country. It was always black with a froth on top, and much, much better coffee than Root could ever make. Much better coffee than Shaw had ever had, but when Root tucked her head on Shaw's shoulder Shaw knew she wouldn't trade anything in for a single sip of that perfect blend.
Besides, coffee that good was probably produced with slave labour, and the bag on the dresser had an ethical label on it. Shaw sipped it again. It tasted better by the moment.
"You know her better than me," Shaw said finally.
"You say that, but it's not true. Your decision trees are the same. Would you like a machine that collected data in complete isolation?"
Shaw considered this a moment. "I think I would," Shaw said finally. "If they weren't chatty." Root laughed, a sound Shaw would never get enough of, here or there, or anywhere.
Shaw finished her coffee. "I need a shower," she said, getting out of the bed. At the bathroom door she turned, looked at Root, still in bed. "Are you coming?" Shaw asked impatiently and smiled when Root eagerly got to her feet.
"Where are we going?" Shaw asked when she saw Root put her laptop in her bag again.
"North. We need to get through Ontario today. We could fly but it will be easier by bike."
Shaw nodded. "Can we pick up some new clothes?"
Root eyed Shaw; they were both a little worse for wear, and it would be cold further North. She nodded. "We can pick up a truck and some clothes in Kingston," Root said. "Keep the bike in the back, for emergencies. Need snow tires anyway, where we're headed." Shaw nodded, satisfied, and pulled her boot on. Even with the heel Root towered over her.
"Where are John and Finch?" Shaw asked.
"Anywhere they want to be, by now. I have a feeling Finch will be headed for Europe shortly. Reese... well, he's always been a wildcard. I have a feeling he'll go back to the precinct."
"How do you... how do you not know?" Shaw asked, concerned. The Machine knew everything; they were a team, and Root always had the low-down first. Root smiled.
"She's not the only one that's free. We're legit now, as far as the government is concerned. Your pension should be coming through shortly. Samaritan's bases have been scoured and its acolytes are being held." Root stepped into Shaw, wrapped her arms around her waist, over the thick coat. "We've got nothing left to run from. Nothing left to fear. We're free, all of us."
"So why are we going North?" Shaw asked. "It sounds like you're saying The Machine doesn't need us any more."
"Well, Harry wanted to retire, and the code could always use some... assistance. The government, after all, doesn't always have the interest of the American public at heart."
"How can you say you're free when you've just... volunteered... to maintain the most complex computer program, the most influential AI in the country if not the world? How is that freedom?"
"Because you're here," Root said. "Freedom has a price, and this is one I'm willing to pay." Root looked away, removed her arms from Shaw's waist and stepped away, looked out to the parking lot. "You don't have to come with me," Root said in a very small voice. "I know there must be... things you want to do, now that you don't have to be dead anymore."
Shaw came over, looked over the parking lot as well. A light dusting of snow, but nothing the bike couldn't deal with.
"There's nothing I'd rather do, right now, than you." Root cocked an eyebrow and smirked at Shaw.
"I would have thought I'd worn you out. You had me twice in the shower and I lost track last night." Shaw shook her head.
"There's nothing I'd rather do than help you. I hadn't thought... I never thought it would really be over. I thought we'd be fighting forever, or at least until each of us died, slowly picked off by Samaritan, dying alone. I hadn't given any thought to what I would do after... if there was an after." Shaw pursed her lips. "And for now, I'd rather figure that out with you. I'm a mercenary, and you could always use backup." Root nodded. Shaw looked overly shyly. "And then, afterwards... do you think we could go to Virginia?" Root met Shaw's shy gaze; Root knew enough about Sameen to know that she had a brother and an aunt that raised them both after their father died. "There's... there's someone I'd like you to meet."
Root nodded. "Deal. We can work our way down there when we're done up North. Then we're off to Portland."
"What's in Portland?" Shaw asked.
"Nothing much," Root said casually. "Just... I promised someone I would make it to Oregon once I found them, and I hadn't had the chance yet."
"Sounds like a roadtrip," Shaw said steadily. "Can we head up to Washington? I have a craving for the kind of coffee you just can't get on the East Coast."
"We can go anywhere you want, even the end of the world." Root said. "We've come close enough, anyway."
"We're not going to space, Root," Shaw said, deadpan. "Tell me we're not going to space."
Root smirked at Shaw, grabbed her bag and unlocked the motel door.
"I'll meet you there," Root said, gesturing toward the bike, but Shaw choose to take it as anywhere she went, anywhere she wanted to go, Root would be there, Root would join her. To the ends of the Earth and beyond. To the end of the world. As someone who enjoyed solitude, she should be annoyed at the idea, but they'd spend weeks, months together now, and Shaw hadn't tired of Root's company yet. In the endless simulations, the only part that was tolerable was the moments she had spent with Root - the hours, the months she spent in there... Shaw had the real thing now, and she wasn't going to walk away; not now she knew what it was worth, how much it meant to her.
"I'll meet you there," Shaw confirmed, pressing her mouth to Root's and walking over to the bike.
Thanks for sticking with me for... 2+ years, I guess. I honestly don't know where the time has gone. I suspect I have ADHD and that the medication I used to take for something else, the meds I took before I wrote, the meds I had to stop taking 2+ years ago were masking the worst of it, were making it easier to write.
Also writing itself has been difficult - it feels like I can't see parts of the screen, like sections of text phase in and out of my vision and it makes typing incongruent.
There's another piece of abandoned work I will be picking back up soon.
"Everyone dies alone. But, if you *mean* something to someone... if you help someone... or loved someone... if even a single person remembers you... then maybe you never really die at all."
Let me know what you think of the ending.