A friend once told me, in our line of work, we walk in the dark. Doesn't mean we have to walk in it alone. - John Reese
The late afternoon sun was casting a golden glow on the city skyline, on the other side of the river. Softer than in South Africa and Mexico, its warmth was brushing her skin delicately. It was one of those things she hadn't realized she had been missing, all those months in captivity. Shaw reached out to the spot behind her ear, where Samaritan had tricked her into thinking she had an implant. The AI's simulations were good enough to trick the mind, but they were not the real world.
A few feet ahead of her, Root turned back and smiled at her encouragingly, reassuringly. Beyond her were standing three familiar figures. As the two women approached, they slowly turned around. Her friends. She was home.
Another kind of warmth bloomed into her heart. Her gaze went from one to the other. Finch smiled at her and a flickering smile brushed her own lips. But when her eyes met Reese's, her heart tightened, a feeling of guilt rose as she was assaulted by numerous images of Reese's body, bleeding out on the sidewalk. Shaking her head, Shaw chased the images and focused instead of the person standing next to Reese : Lionel Fusco.
The one person of the team Samaritan didn't know about. Months of tortures, thousands of simulations, and not a single one featuring Lionel.
On the detective's face, the initial shock let place to a bright joyful smile. "Little Ninja!"
Shaw barely had time to reflect on the fact she had missed Fusco's way with names that, out of nowhere, a ball of fur jumped on her, taking her off balance. Falling to the ground, Shaw laughed as Bear playfully fought with her, welcoming her in his own way. She was wrong, Fusco wasn't the only member of the team Samaritan didn't know about. It didn't know about the dog either. It didn't know anything
Sitting up, she pulled the dog into a strong hug and buried her face in his neck, the fur tickling her nose. Root approached and sat down next to them, putting a protective hand on Shaw's back. Shaw looked up and pulled Root into the hug with Bear, giggling.
"It's good to hear you laugh, Sweetie," Root whispered.
It had been so long since Shaw had disappeared, that seeing her again, right here, safe and sound, felt almost surreal. John didn't dare thinking of what Samaritan might have done to her, all those months in captivity, but she looked reassuringly good as she came out of the shadow and walked toward them. Maybe a little pale, a little closed-off but overall healthy. At least on the outside.
Only time would tell about the inside.
Bear, who had been wandering around the park, suddenly dashed toward Shaw and tackled her to the ground, giving an all new meaning to bear hugs. Her guard dropping, Shaw laughed and rolled in the grass with the dog.
Feeling unexpectedly emotional all of a sudden, John turned away. "Come on, let's give them some space," he said, a lump in his throat.
Walking with him, Fusco gave him a side look.
"Are you crying?"
John quickly brushed the tears that were dangerously rising to his eyes and shrugged it off. "No, I'm not."
But he could feel the weight of Lionel's stare on him. John pointed toward Shaw, now tenderly cuddling with Root, Bear resting his head on her knee.
"I've lost a lot of people in my life," he admitted. "But it's the first time one of them comes back."
Finch walked to them. "We should get going. There is very little surveillance in this area, but it's not safe for us to be all together in the open like this."
"I gotta get home," Lionel said. "My munchkin is probably wondering where I am."
John nodded. "I'll drop Lionel off and I'll meet you back at the subway."
Shaw hoped on with Root on the back of Finch's car, letting Bear riding shotgun. Root tentatively reached out for her hand. Shaw was exhausted, but she felt safe at Root's contact. She leaned in and entangled her fingers with her girlfriend. Certain images of the simulation came back to her and she blushed slightly.
Her head resting on Root's shoulder, Shaw let her gaze drift off toward the passing buildings. Her unplanned trip around the globe had been fun - The little she got to see of South Africa's landscapes was strikingly beautiful - but there was nothing like home. And New York was her home.
As they approached Chinatown, however, her anxiety started to rise. They couldn't go to the subway. What if it was one of Samaritan's elaborated trick? The evil AI had played her so many times before. How could she be sure it wasn't another game?
"It's okay, Sameen," Root said gently. "You're safe."
Shaw clenched her teeth and took a deep breath. She was safe. She looked at Bear, who was proudly sitting on the front passenger seat, watching traffic. Bear. They didn't know about the dog. It wasn't a simulation. It was real. She was safe.
"That's it, Sweetie, you're safe," Root repeated.
Heart poundering in her chest nonetheless, Shaw wondered if she would ever really feel safe again.
They got out of the car five blocks from the subway's secret entrance. Shaw's anxiety was through the roof. She was expecting to see Samaritan agents bursting in at any moment. She hadn't seen Greer's blonde sidekick anywhere during her captivity. Now that she knew she had been held so far from New York, it made sense. Martine Rousseau had probably stayed in New York City, using any possible clues from the simulation to hunt down the team. For month, Shaw had repressed all possible thoughts of this area.
And now, here she was, half a mile from the team's very secret base of operation.
They made some safe detours to make sure no one was on their tail. Finally Root announced the path was clear and taking Shaw's hand, she led them to the little passage between a Korean restaurant and a Chinese grocery store. The entrance to their lair was still hiding behind the exact same vending machine. If she hadn't be so terrified to see Samaritan agents, she might even have grabbed a candy bar.
Her hand clawed in Root's, Shaw followed her girlfriend down the stairs leading to the subway station and to the little alcove Root had made her personal space. In the time Shaw had been missing, Root had brought some interesting additions to her quarters, including a lava lamp and bunny slippers. Shaw rolled her eyes as she watched Root put them on with obvious delight.
Root pulled her close, inviting her to sit with her. Worn out by all the recent events and the stress, Shaw was ready to crash on the bed but the sharp sound of footsteps coming from the stairs made her tense immediatly.
Before she realized it, Shaw had turned 180 degrees and was holding a gun to the face of the intruder, ready to pull the trigger. Root and Finch screamed as Shaw barely managed to stop herself in time, recognizing Reese.
Hundreds of images of John, shot, bleeding, lying on the ground flashed in front of her eyes as she stayed paralyzed, holding her friend at gun point, once again.
Keeping his cool, though rather surprised by this unexpected greeting, Reese slowly raised his hands, demonstrating his absence of dangerousness.
"Glad to see you too, Shaw," he quipped.
Heart racing and full of shame, Shaw lowered her weapon. She couldn't even explain how the gun landed in her hand.
"I'm sorry," she finally managed to articulate, before dropping the gun. She wanted to flee. Get as far as possible to the people she loved but was too afraid to hurt. But she knew she couldn't. She was stuck in the subway. Going back out would probably only worsen the situation. So instead, Shaw rushed to hide in the darkest corner of the Subway station, beyond the metro car.
The distress in Root's voice was heart wrenching. Shaw pulled her knees under her chin and closed her eyes. She shut down all the sounds - the AC, her friends' worried whispers, the computers' purring - and recentered in her own bubble.
It's not a simulation. It's not a simulation. You're safe.
She startled as something fresh and humid touched her hand. She opened her eyes and found herself nose to nose with Bear. The good dog's eyes were filled with concern and he gently forced his way onto Shaw's lap.
They don't know about the dog. You're safe. You're safe.
Shaw looked up. It was John, of all people. He approached calmly, shot her a short smile and sat down next to her.
"What happened back there?" He asked softly.
Shaw shrugged and kept on patting Bear's head.
"It's okay not to be okay," John said gently. "I imagine your stay with Samaritan wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I don't know what -"
"No you don't know," Shaw snapped. She regretted it, though Reese didn't seem to mind.
"Kara once used wasabi to interrogate a guy. I wasn't even the guy tortured. Still, to this day I can't eat wasabi with my sushis."
Confused, Shaw shot him a side look.
"Some things take time to recover from," John explained. "It's probably too soon, but if you ever want to talk about it, we're here for you, Shaw. We might not understand what you're going through, but we'll always be here for you."
Guilt strangled her once more and a sob died in her throat. And the nicer John was with her, the worse she felt. When she finally talked, her voice was barely a murmur.
"They put me in that fancy simulation where I thought I'd escape and find you guys. But they had me believe they had me programmed to turn on you. And I... I resisted. I tried. But they made me start over and over. And among the thousands of simulations, you were the easiest one to kill. I couldn't kill Root. I'd turn the gun on myself instead. But I couldn't resist everything, you know. It was so exhausting... I shot you. Hundreds, thousands of times. You didn't deserve it, but you were the easiest... I'm sorry."
"Wow, thousands of times," John whispered.
"I'm sorry," Shaw repeated.
"No, I mean, you killed yourself a thousand times. For Root."
Shaw shrugged. She had told more than she intended to. Last thing she wanted was to discuss her feelings for Root.
"That's beautiful," John said. "Tragic, and terribly messed-up, too." He put a protective hand on her shoulder. She flinched under the touch but didn't move away. "And despite all they put you through, you managed to escape and come back all the way to New York. On your own."
"You would have done the same."
John chuckled. "Honestly? I'm not sure. I think you're the strongest of us all."
"And it doesn't bother you that I might kill you at any moment?"
"But you didn't."
That got Shaw to pause.
"You didn't pull the trigger," Reese pressed on.
Shaw titled her head. He was right. She didn't shoot him this time. Maybe she wasn't that messed-up after all.
She looked up at Reese and a small smile brushed her lips.
"Told you talking helps," he said with a wink.
"Who are you and what did you do of John Reese?"
Reese chuckled. "Remember that shrink I was sent to?"
Shaw frowned. "She's the one who softened you up like that?"
John blushed and looked down. Was that a smile brushing his lips?
"Nooo," Shaw said, poking him on the shoulder. "You... Tell me you didn't!"
John blushed even more, which made Shaw laugh.
"Anyway," he said rolling his eyes. "She taught me that talking helps, and it does. You don't have to walk through the dark alone, remember?"
Shaw nodded shortly. "Thanks," she breathed.
"Come on," John said after a while. "Let's go back where there's more light - and less dust," he added, dusting his pants.
He stood up and held a hand out to help Shaw up. As Reese led the way around the train, Shaw found herself in a position way too familiar to her - facing his back.
Taking a deep breath, she chased away the simulations. Focusing on the present, she hurried back to the lighted area of the subway, where her friends were waiting for her.