You were always sharp, in every sense of the word. Sharp in your senses, which saved your ass on more occasions than you can count. Sharp around the edges, better for inflicting pain than relieving it. Sharp-tongued, not in possession of whatever programming allowed everyone but you to implicitly know how to appropriately socialize.
You used to think you were broken, defective, not built like the rest of them. Whatever frequency the rest of the world was on, it was too high for you to register.
Then along came Samaritan, and it broke you so much further.
They tossed you into the woodchipper, haphazardly slapped the scraps back together and tossed you in again. And again. And again and again and again.
Again, again, again, again, again, again,
You don’t get to think. That privilege has long since been yanked from your grasp. You remember that you used to know how, but it’s just out of your reach now. Over and over you murder them in cold blood, these people who care for you. You blink, black out for just a moment, and come to only to find their blood pooling at your feet. Just in time to see the look in their eyes; not fear, not even betrayal; the last thing they do, all of them, is pity you.
Every time, you turn the gun on yourself. Ten times, eighty, two hundred, three thousand. You lose count eventually. It’s too late to save them, but you’ll take yourself out of the equation as penance. What’s left for you to do? The very people who offered you redemption and you repay them with an early grave. The least you can do is join them.
You can’t remember how to think. It’s a thick, suffocating fog, oily tendrils wrapping themselves around every atom of whoever you used to be, however many lifetimes ago. After a while it stops mattering what’s real and what isn’t. Two sides of the same coin; all you’ve ever been, all you can ever be is a weapon.
Over and over you watch them die, over and over you’re helpless to stop it, over and over you try to join them.
Samaritan won’t even let you have that.
Each time you’re jolted awake, strapped to the same fucking cot, conscious only long enough to feel the IV drip pump a new batch of venom into your veins before the nightmare begins anew.
Maybe you’re dead already. Maybe this is hell, where you were always heading.
It tickles something at the back of your mind, a memory that used to be yours, buried so deeply you almost can’t reach it.
Which lifetime was that? What was it, why did it matter?
For the first time in centuries, a lighthouse beam cuts through the fog.
4AF. Four Alarm Fire.
The sound of her voice, shrill and piercing, shrieking your name as you crumple to the floor. The sound of the elevator doors slamming shut, ringing in your ears as a funeral dirge. Your funeral. The lingering whiff of lemongrass she always leaves behind her.
It’s been millennia since you were sure of anything, but this, you know with absolute certainty, is real.
Maybe it’s not too late to save her.
You cling to those 3 characters like driftwood, repeating them to yourself again. And again. And again and again and again.
Again, again, again, again, again, again.
You don’t seek her out when you finally make it back to the city. You have to be sure. Certain that this isn’t a trap, that she’s safe.
Safe from you.
You focus your attentions on Decima, ripping off the leeches one by one. The city is crawling with them, plagued by a silent swarm of rot. Decay. Bile.
You don’t allow yourself to sleep. They could be anywhere, around any corner, any seemingly innocent face. You can’t risk waking up strapped to that cot again. You’ll end it all before you let them drag you back out into the surf, let them force you back under the murky waters.
Somehow, she finds you. You’d forgotten how good she was at that.
You’ve never seen her this way. Not in any of your reincarnations has she looked so small, so fragile. She touches your arm so gingerly, as if you might dissolve into ash right in front of her. For all you know she could be right.
She grabs you so tightly you can feel her heart beating against your empty chest. Your own pulse has never thrummed so vividly. You close your eyes, briefly, letting the familiar embrace of lemongrass envelop you for just a moment.
When she releases you, you know what you have to do.
You turn the gun on yourself; it’s an old friend by now. You know how this goes - she watches you in horror, frozen to the spot, as you pull the trigger.
Except, she doesn’t. Her face splits into a feral grin as she brings her own gun to her temple. You falter. This isn’t right.
She launches into a monologue about meeting Her, about what might happen when you embark on this next journey together. It puzzles you; why is she going off script? Why is she making such a scene? You know you’ll awake in that same cot anyway, and if not then so be it; she’s better off with your corpse set adrift anyway.
There’s a brightness in her eyes, an excitement at the prospect of this next big adventure.
You can’t live with me? I can’t live without you.
Damn it, Root.
You know she won’t hesitate. She’s always been reckless with her life, prepared to throw it away whenever the cause demands it.
This isn’t right. Thousands on thousands of simulations and she’s never done this before.
She meets your gaze, manic grin plastered across her face, and starts to hum. You furrow your brow, struggling to place the tune. You used to know it, you know you did, some version of you from eons ago knows--
Your father. The song playing on the radio before the metal of the car crumpled like tin foil around you both.
You’d told her just once. On a stakeout, it had come on the radio and you’d snapped at her to turn it off. She’d recognized the note in your voice and obliged, no snarky quip, no questions asked. You sat in silence for twenty minutes before something compelled you to share, quietly, brusquely, that it was the song playing on the radio during the crash.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Simon & Garfunkel.
The gun slips from your trembling fingers and lands in the damp grass with a soft thud.
None of them treat you the way they’re supposed to. There’s no suspicion, no whispered conversations about how you can’t be trusted, no concern about where your loyalties lie. John hugs you. Finch’s voice breaks. Fusco shows up with a sirloin from what he says used to be your favorite restaurant. None of them doubt you, or question you, or keep you at arm’s length.
You can’t stand it. They don’t know what you’ve done to them, how many times you betrayed them, how powerless you were to protect them. To stop yourself.
They missed you. They welcome you with open arms back into the fold and it feels like your ribs will collapse inward on your lungs at any moment. You feel everything, constantly and all at once, every waking moment - and you’re still not sleeping, so there are many of them. The fear and paranoia have their claws embedded deep in your flesh and no matter how hard you try you can’t turn the volume back down.
Root refuses to leave your side. Bear, too. Some echo of whoever you were before whispers that you used to kick her out of bed, but she anchors you now. Samaritan never managed to capture her scent - as you lie awake in bed, restless and wired, the sensations of Bear snoring at your feet and Root curled up beside you, smelling of citrus, help you control your breathing.
You get back to the numbers, and that helps a little. You’re one of the good guys again, allegedly. Helping people, saving lives rather than tearing them down. You still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a trap, that Greer is lurking around the corner waiting for the opportune moment to trigger the sleeper agent dormant inside of you. It never comes.
A few weeks after your reunion, you almost lose Root.
She’s shot at the hands of a Decima goon, taken to the hospital while Finch is hauled off by the cops. John tries to enlist your help going after him but something in you snaps.
No. I won’t let her be alone.
John blinks at you, surprised by the intensity of your tone. He nods slowly, tells you you’re right.
She needs you.
You don’t know how much time passes, how long you spend perched on that hideous green upholstery beside her hospital bed, eyes fixated on the door. Hours, probably. How many is hard to say. Nurses come by periodically to check her dressings and you watch them with narrowed eyes, tracking their every movements to guarantee no sleight of hand.
You’re fixated on the doorway again when she slurs groggily beside you.
Cute outfit, huh?
She’s gesturing weakly at her hospital gown and you feel the tiniest bit of tension drain from your shoulders. You snort and roll your eyes.
You look like shit.
Feel like it too.
She extends her hand and you interlace your fingers with hers. Your jaw is tight, practically locked, and it’s hard to get the words out.
Thought I might lose you again.
She laughs a hoarse, weak laugh, but it’s so unmistakably Root.
Please, Sam. You of all people should know, you can’t get rid of me that easily.
She never seems to run out of jokes about you Playing Doctor, and despite your best efforts she miraculously manages to elicit a laugh from you every now and then. Her brush with death doesn’t seem to faze her in the slightest, and she teases you for worrying over her so meticulously.
It’s a few weeks before she’s able to return to the field, and you spend your days watching Golden Girls reruns together (you learn that Root considers Sophia the absolute peak of comedy) and cooking and playing tug of war with Bear. It's the closest thing you've ever had to domesticity, and while you know the you from before - the one with a three night, no sleepovers, no affection rule - would have hated this once upon a time, you settle into the uneventful lull of cohabitation.
The day that Root, high out of her mind on pain meds, mumbles into your shoulder as sleep overcomes her, you finally start to think maybe, just maybe, you could allow yourself to get used to this.
I'm glad you're home, Sameen.
It's more than you deserve, more than you dared to let yourself hope for. But for the first time in however many reboots, god, do you want to stay alive. Here, with Root drooling onto your shoulder, Bear lying across your stomach, John droning in your ear that he and Finch are en route with takeout, you let that survival instinct spread through your chest.
You know Samaritan is still out there. Decima, Greer. This brief asylum could be ripped away from you at any moment, any one of these people you’ve grown to care so fiercely for.
Home. You’re at home here.
Whatever Samaritan might be planning, you’ve bested it before. Thousands of times. For all its brainwashing and simulations and poisoning you against yourself, you made it out. All-seeing, sure, but it never figured out Root. Never captured just how batshit she is, how dedicated she was to bringing you home.
You’ve sacrificed far too much to lose this all again. Samaritan can get fucked.
An errant strand of hair falls into Root’s face and you carefully brush it back into place. You don’t know that you’ll ever be able to express to her what she’s done for you, how many times she’s played lifeguard and pulled you back up from the depths.
You scritch Bear behind the ears and his tail happily thwumps against the mattress. You’re tethered here. It’s the first time the feeling has ever brought comfort rather than disdain.
We’re perfect for each other. You’re gonna realize that one day.
You took the long way around, that much is certain, but she was right. You got here eventually.
You’re glad to be home too.