"Excuse me?" Shaw grunted, low and tired. It was nearing four AM and even Root was struggling to keep her eyes open.
"Full decontamination," said Root and it was a miracle she was keeping a straight face. "Can't be too careful."
Shaw stared at her long and hard for a moment. "You're serious?"
Root smirked because Shaw looked like she would rather set herself on fire.
"You've been around that stuff all day. Who knows how many times you could have been exposed."
Shaw stared at her flatly and Root wondered if she was pushing too far. It had been a long day, after all.
"Come on," said Root enticingly. "It's not like there's anything there that I haven't seen before." Shaw glared. "Well," Root added with a smirk, "most of it anyway."
"Fine," Shaw muttered, kicking off her boots. Root blinked in surprise when she took her jacket off and tossed it aside. Quickly followed by the rest of her clothes and her underwear until she was standing naked in front of Root, left with only the scowl still on her face.
Root swallowed, aware that she was staring (aware that said staring was obvious) but currently unable to do anything about it.
"Well?" said Shaw, annoyed.
"H-huh?" Root stuttered.
"Oh," said Root and frowned at the smirk blooming on Shaw’s face.
"You're speechless," said Shaw, amusement heavy in her voice.
"No, I'm not," said Root. Just unable to form coherent sentences right now, she thought ruefully, watching as goose bumps formed across Shaw’s scar marred skin.
Shaw snorted. "Snuck up on and speechless all in the one day?" she mocked. "Someone's losing their touch."
Root scowled and forced her eyes upwards to meet Shaw’s. She was only successful for about five seconds before her eyes started wandering again, hyper aware that Shaw knew it and was probably feeling incredibly smug right about now.
But she was proud of those five seconds.
She would cherish those five seconds of self-control. Because she doubted she would ever have any again. If she even ever had any at all.
“What’s the matter, Root?” said Shaw, moving closer until they were only inches away from each other. Root stepped back instinctively, her hip knocking against the desk. The wood dug into her side and Root managed to hold back the hiss of pain as Shaw smirked at her, clearly enjoying how flustered Root had suddenly become. “Cat got your tongue?” Shaw added.
"Is that a tattoo?" Root said, trying to recover and suspecting she was failing. Shaw ignored her and Root tilted her head slightly to get a better look, feeling her heart beating wildly when Shaw turned around and bent over to pick up her clothes.
"These need burned, right?" said Shaw.
Root was ninety-nine percent sure she was doing it on purpose and decided she didn’t like this new teasing side of Shaw that she was seeing (or perhaps suffering) recently.
“Right,” Root choked, deciding that she’d had enough of this role reversal for one night. She waited a beat, made sure Shaw really was occupied with her teasing and with her clothes, and edged to the left slightly, moving silently and hoping Shaw wouldn’t see.
“Everything you were wearing needs to be destroyed,” Root said, gripping what she was looking for tightly in her hand.
“Shame,” Shaw muttered darkly. “I really liked this jacket.”
Me too, Root thought. Shaw looked good in leather.
“And once we’ve done that,” said Root slowly, throwing on the most sultry voice she could muster. “We’ll need to take care of you.”
Shaw stiffened, clearly hearing the innuendo in Root’s voice.
“Full decontamination, remember?” said Root, the smirk turning her voice high.
“Don’t you dare,” Shaw grumbled, turning swiftly on her heel. But Root was quicker, fingers squeezing the hose handle and sending a spray of icy cold water all over Shaw.
Shaw’s jaw clenched as her hair and skin quickly became drenched and she shivered under the assault.
“Don’t want you getting sick now, do we?” Root called over the spray. She smirked delightedly and it only got brighter once she had shut the water off, Shaw trying to glare at her through chattering teeth.
“You’re so going to pay for that,” Shaw snapped, moving towards Root with a thunderous look.
“Am I?” said Root, her mind already thinking of numerous ways in which Shaw could punish her. They all required less clothes on Root’s part, and perhaps a set of handcuffs. And a taser. Also, probably that knife sticking out of Shaw’s boot when she had kicked it off.
Lost in thought, Root didn’t notice Shaw closing the distance between them until Shaw’s cold hands wrapped tightly around hers still holding the hose.
“Don’t-” Root began as Shaw shoved the nozzle in Root’s direction.
“Make me,” Shaw snapped, pressing down and spraying water everywhere. Most of it hit Root and she squealed (although later, she would deny that and claim Shaw was hearing things), trying to move out of Shaw’s reach. But Shaw just followed her until Root was just as soaking as she was.
At least she was still dressed. At least she still had that advantage. Not that Shaw looked all that bothered about being stark naked, and Root was suddenly glad that Harold and Reese weren’t here, that she had Shaw all to herself.
(She was overwhelming relieved that Shaw hadn’t bailed on them and decided to go live the high life stealing jewels and sipping wine with some glorified thief who looked more flashy than he probably really was. But Root tried not to think about that or the implications of what Shaw staying might mean.)
“What?” said Shaw, shutting off the hose and letting it drop to the ground as she searched for a towel. “You’ve gone all weird.”
Shaw wrapped the towel around herself, still shivering slightly and Root felt a flash of disappointment when her exposed flesh disappeared. She didn’t know what she had been expecting tonight, if she had been expecting anything at all, but she knew, that whatever could happen, the opportunity was slipping away.
“No, I haven’t,” said Root, wrapping her arms around herself to try and keep warm. Shaw rolled her eyes and quickly dried herself off before tossing the towel in Root’s face.
“There’s some spare clothes through the back,” she muttered, disappearing quickly. Root frowned and she wondered if Shaw was starting to regret her decision to stay. Hiding out in some musty old subway station, working a dead-end job at a makeup counter and having to be constantly careful every second of every day wasn’t exactly the high life. But there was something keeping her here, Shaw had said. Something she cared about. Or someone.
But Root didn’t allow herself to think about that and focused on drying herself off as best she could whilst still fully dressed.
It wasn’t all that successful.
“You know you're going to have to take those off eventually, right?”
Root jumped and turned to find Shaw dressed in simple black jeans and a tank top. Her bare feet padded against the tiled floor as she moved to pick up her possibly contaminated clothes, dumping them in an old metal trashcan.
“I’m fine,” Root said hurriedly. Shaw looked at her like she was stupid.
“You’ve been touching those vials all night too,” said Shaw. “So strip.”
Root’s eyes widened slightly. “Can’t wait to get me naked, huh?” she said, but her voice didn’t sound nearly as confident as she would have hoped.
“Just take them off,” Shaw said flatly. “You need to change anyway.”
“I’d rather not,” Root blurted, stepping back slightly when Shaw inched towards her.
“Why?” said Shaw. “It’s not like it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
But Shaw was already moving towards her, fingers roughly unbuttoning Root’s blouse as she backed her against the wall. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” Shaw grumbled. “Can’t stand the tables being turned?”
Root said nothing and closed her eyes when Shaw slipped the blouse from her shoulders. She could feel the chill in the air, so deep underground it was always cold here, but she didn’t allow herself to shiver.
“Root,” said Shaw, quiet and furious and Root knew she was studying the bruises, the cuts and the scrapes, the still healing bullet holes, all graffiting Root’s skin. “Look at me.”
Root opened her eyes, meeting Shaw’s dark ones and not liking what she saw there.
“Where did you get those?”
One of Shaw’s fingertips brushed gently against the yellowing bruise across Root’s abdomen and she hissed, flinching away.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Root, pushing past her.
“Those are recent,” Shaw said, following Root and watching as Root quickly tossed her clothes into the metal trashcan.
“I told you,” said Root, a hardness to her voice now. “It’s fine.”
She threw the last of her clothes away and disappeared through the back, looking for something clean to wear and thinking (hoping) that the conversation was over. She found something in her size, clean and not hideous, and felt oddly touched that Harold had bought some spare clothes for her.
Root pulled them on quickly and managed not to flinch when she turned around to find Shaw watching her carefully.
“Those because of the Machine?” Shaw asked steadily.
Root looked away and licked her lips.
“I thought you were taking a break,” Shaw said.
“We’re at war,” Root said and it felt like she had said it a hundred times over the past few weeks. To Harold. To Shaw. She was tired of reminding them. Tired of reminding herself. “There’s work to be done.”
Shaw rolled her eyes. “There’s always work to be done. Doesn’t mean you can go around being so careless.”
Root looked at her sharply. If she didn't know any better, she would say Shaw sounded worried.
“I wasn’t being careless,” Root said. Well, no more than usual.
“Going in without back-up is careless,” Shaw admonished.
Root smiled, genuinely this time, none of her usual frontage in place.
“Are you saying you want to be my back-up buddy?” Root asked with glee.
Shaw grimaced. “That’s not a thing.”
“We can make it a thing,” Root suggested. Shaw ignored her, staring at the spot on Root’s shirt where her fresh bruise was hidden underneath as if she had x-ray vision and could see right through the material.
“How’re your ribs?” Shaw asked, frowning in that way she did when she was in doctor-mode. It was a subtle difference, that concentration that said Shaw was analysing and processing, determining the best treatment for whatever injury or ailment.
Root always loved that look.
“My ribs are fine,” Root said, unable to keep the amusement out of her voice.
“You should get them checked out,” Shaw said, her words coming out in an uncharacteristic rush. “But don’t go to Brookdale. Those guys are morons.”
Root’s jaw was starting to hurt from all the smiling, but she didn’t really care.
“What?” said Shaw, shifting on her feet uncomfortably.
“And people think you only care about the dog,” Root said lightly, but there was a hesitancy to her voice still.
I guess there are things I care about here. It still echoed in her head. The way Shaw had said it, the look on her face, playing over and over again in Root’s head. But she had gone and opened her mouth, as usual, because it had all seemed too real. And she knew Shaw would deny anything outright. It’s what they always did. And for a while, it worked for them. But now Root wasn’t so sure. Time was running out, their war getting more and more dangerous by the day. One or both of them could end up dead at any moment.
Maybe it was better this way, if they kept that distance.
“I don’t...” Shaw mumbled, “only care about the dog.”
“Shaw,” Root said, unsure if it was a warning or something else. A challenge perhaps.
Shaw stared at her for a moment, like she was considering something; weighing up all the options, the good and the bad. The air seemed trapped in Root’s lungs for a moment, afraid of (anticipating) what might happen next. She didn’t know what was worse.
“You wanna do the honours?” Shaw asked eventually and Root froze, thinking Shaw had just made an innuendo of her own. But then Shaw pulled the box of matches out of her pocket with a smirk, tossing them to Root who caught them with fumbling hands. “Let’s just get this stupid night over with,” Shaw muttered. “I’m exhausted.”
So was Root and she followed Shaw back to the trashcan filled with clothes and made short work of lighting the match and tossing it in amongst the garments.
Flames licked at the sides, sending up dark grey smoke and heat that didn’t seem to penetrate beneath Root’s skin no matter how close she stood. They stood staring at it for a while, watching as the fire died down.
“That jacket was expensive,” Root complained, thinking about their lack of funds these days and how it would be hard to replace it.
“I’ll steal you a new one,” Shaw said, the corners of her mouth lifting up slightly when Root raised an eyebrow at her. “I am supposed to be a thief, remember?”
“Didn’t think shoplifting was your style,” Root said.
Shaw shrugged. “It’s not,” she said and Root heard the but I’ll do it for you anyway and felt a tightness in her chest that she had been trying to ignore since that night in the hotel, Samaritan’s operatives firing bullets at her and Root thinking, this is it. This is the end. She had been okay with that thought back then. Ready to die for the Machine and Her cause.
Now Root wasn’t so sure.
She thought that, just maybe, there might be something worth living for after all.
Shaw was sticking around and so was Root.
She thought about her bruises, the healing bullet wound and thought about how much worse it could have been. How she could have died, so many times over.
“You wanna get out of here?” Root asked, still staring at the burnt out remains of their clothes. She quickly lost whatever confidence she may have had and added, “It’s about time for breakfast anyway.”
It was almost five now. Root thought it was a bit pointless going to bed. Besides, the Machine hadn’t given her a new identity yet, so she had nowhere to go for the moment.
Shaw glanced at her. “I could eat,” she said nonchalantly.
Root smiled and moved past her to go find some shoes, but Shaw grabbed her wrist before she could get very far and tugged Root towards her.
“I, uh,” Shaw began hesitantly. “I had fun tonight.”
Root raised an eyebrow sceptically. “You had fun destroying several vials of a deadly virus?”
“No,” Shaw grunted, breathing out heavily. “I mean... it was less... dull, than it would have been. If, you know, Harold or Reese were here instead.”
“Oh,” said Root, frowning slightly. “Are you just saying that because Harold would fuss too much and Reese would have just wanted to shoot it?”
“Root,” said Shaw and Root knew she was doing that thing again, where she pushed too far so they could pretend it wasn’t real.
She noticed then, that Shaw’s hand was still gripped tightly around her wrist and she smiled, feeling warmth spread throughout her. The tightening in her chest lessened a little, still there, but a little more comfortable.
“I guess I had fun too,” Root said.
“Good,” said Shaw, squeezing her wrist slightly before letting go. “Come on, you’re buying breakfast.”
“Why do I have to buy breakfast?” Root whined.
“Because I’m stealing you a jacket,” Shaw countered.
Root shrugged. That seemed like a fair deal to her.