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what these storms are for

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quickly moving towards a storm
moving forward
torn into pieces over reasons of what these storms are for
i don’t understand why everything i adore
takes a different form when i squint my eyes


She’s always agreed, more or less, that you can get used to anything. To adults refusing to take a child seriously, to people doing bad things for what they misguidedly see as the bigger picture, and to life in general not being all that… fair. Even with more short-term stimuli like a spontaneous stapedectomy or Finch locking her in the library, she adapts; it’s one of the things she’s best at.

But this particular cycle—the night terrors, the hyperventilating, the subsequent ringing in her ears that has nothing to do with the Machine—is all getting a little tiresome, if she’s being honest.

The immobility is always what she notices first. It’s less that Harold and Lionel are holding her back and more that she can’t move, and then she’s going down, down, down, and the darkness makes it feel a little (a lot) like they’re both dying this time.

Every time.

Then she wakes up with phantom pressure on her wrists and impossible holes in her body and never enough air in her lungs, and in general making a lot more noise than she’d like to as someone who’s gone nearly their whole life being absolutely undetectable. Sometimes she finds Bear curled up next to her, or even a hot cup of Harold’s preferred brand of tea waiting within arm’s reach, but tonight she’s in an unfamiliar motel waiting for the latest mission to unfold, and her only company is a small neighborhood of bedbugs that she’ll shoot one by one if she has to.

(Well, once her hands stop shaking.)

She tries to think of her favorite coding tricks she’s come up with, of payphones ringing and firewalls crumbling and the look on people’s faces when they finally realize they’re in over their head, because oh, how she loves a good challenge, revels in the art of persuasion.

But those memories of victory don’t last long, never do; not when there’s an unforgiving metal cage separating her from Shaw and nothing separating Shaw from the gun. She knows she can count on one hand the number of times she’s ever felt powerless, but she can’t for the life of her remember what the other times were. The entire list has been swallowed up by one microscopic segment of her life: on her pinky, two sets of determined grips holding her back while she tried to thrash away; on her ring finger, the impenetrable gate that still allowed her to watch the chaos happening on the other side; on her middle finger, the first gunshots that ever made her blood run cold; on her index finger, the crimson that burst from Shaw’s coat like macabre fireworks; on her thumb, that blonde bitch pointing her weapon down at Sameen like Root wouldn’t have been breaking every bone in her body if it were a fair fight.

Her chest is pounding so hard it almost puts Control’s syringes to shame, and she wonders if after all of this, after so many direct threats on her life and escaping inescapable situations, something as ordinary as a heart attack might be what finally kills her.

Then there’s a subtle dip in the mattress, a tight yet non-threatening grip on her hand.

“I thought I locked that door,” she manages between breaths that are too shallow, too fast.

“You did,” is all Shaw says about it. “Now breathe.”

Root tries to laugh but the sound doesn’t leave her throat. “Certainly on tonight’s agenda,” she wheezes instead, waits for Shaw to let go. She doesn’t.

“Same as last time?”

She nods, feeling her hair stick to the back of her neck, to her forehead.

Shaw wets her lips. “Remember what I said?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she grits out as her bottom lip begins to wobble.

“It does matter,” Shaw says without missing a beat, her tone hard but calm. “What did I say.”

Root is shaking her head; it’s full of gunshots and blood and a body that’s too important to her collapsing to the floor. No space for further retention.

“Look at me.”

Someone might as well have hacked into her nervous system, set off a self-destruct switch. Everything is equally numb and electric.

There’s a metallic click. “Look at me,” Shaw repeats. Slowly, clearly.

“You can’t be serious,” Root finally mutters, forcing her eyes up to meet Shaw’s. “Threatening to shoot someone with PTSD,” she pants, “is hardly psychological etiquette.”

Shaw dismisses her with the slightest tilt of her head. “Not a threat. A distraction.” She uncocks the pistol and sets it on the bedside table.

“Impressive.” Root deadpans, her throat already raw from the effort of each word. “Ever consider taking a break from killing people to get your PhD?”

Her face remains expressionless. “What did I say.”

Root sucks in the deepest breath she can and lets it out in a shaky huff. “I watched you die, Sameen.”

“No, you didn’t.”

Now she smiles sweetly. “You’re absolutely right. I just watched you get shot and then couldn’t locate you for months, but I see now that I grossly misinterpreted the situation.” By the end of the sentence she’s starting to hyperventilate again, and her vision is getting fuzzy when there’s a sudden weight just below her hips—Shaw’s knees planted on either side of her.

“I’m not dead,” Shaw states, slipping her coat off and lifting up her shirt. “They didn’t kill me.”

“Distraction?” Root forces her lungs, her throat, her lips, to ask as she eyes the bare skin that's been revealed.

Shaw rolls her eyes. “Demonstration.” She takes Root’s hand, uncurls a finger, and presses the tip to the quarter-sized scar just above her kidney, then to the identical one between her third and fourth ribs on the opposite side. “Feel that?” Off Root’s tiny nod she pulls her shirt back down, then shifts her hand again and uses both of their index fingers to trace along the scar behind Root’s ear.

Root’s eyelids droop closed and one tear escapes before she opens them again. Shaw gently pulls their hands apart and wipes away the moisture with a nonchalant swipe of her thumb, then rests the heels of her palms beside each of Root’s shoulders.

“You understand?”

Her eyes are piercing even from behind the locks of hair dancing in front of them with each steady puff of breath; the warm, confident weight of Shaw’s hips not-quite-against her own is undemanding, refuses to dominate; Root studies each of the veins in her arms, her neck, her forehead, thinks of the blood and oxygen running through them with unimaginable efficiency, listens to the movement of Shaw’s lungs through each inhale and exhale until her own finally slow down to meet their pace.

Root shrugs, smiles a little. “I am kind of a super-genius.”

Shaw rolls her eyes, then sits up and shifts off of Root.

“Leaving already?” Root asks with a pout. “But we haven’t talked about boys or played Truth or Dare.”

Shaw is at the door, but rather than open it she re-locks it and then jams a towel against the crack at the bottom. “There’s definitely bedbugs next door and I don’t have enough bullets to shoot them all.”