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Hate the Player

Chapter Text

The campus lab is quiet except for the soft whirring of computers and the breathing of the few students working this late on a Friday night. Leaning over her keyboard, Root grins with satisfaction as the last line of code compiles successfully and the program autosaves. She pops the usb drive out and slides it into her pocket, texting her buddy Daniel with the other hand.

//sorted it. What should I do with the drive?//

She slides her winter coat on over her long sleeved polo neck and immediately overheats, so bustles past the remaining students hunched over their computer stations and saunters out into the corridor of the Electronics building where the fall air is seeping through the cracked windows.

//can you take it straight to Harold?//

A moment later, contact information pops up on her phone and she rolls her eyes. Really, Daniel? She’s been on campus since four pm, and it’s now pushing ten. She really just wants to drop off her extra curricular coding project and go home. Irritated, she thumbs a message out to this ‘Harold’ character as she slams out into the chilly night.

//Harold? This is Root. I have some code for you//

Her breath mists in front of her as she ambles down the concrete stairs, heading for the quad for lack of a more specific direction. She’s already decided she’ll give this Harold guy ten minutes to get back to her while she gets a cup of hot chocolate, and then head home, but her phone beeps again immediately.

//Oh, wonderful, Miss Groves. Is there any chance you could bring it to the sports fields? I am on pitch 4, in the red jacket//

How does he know my real name? Root wonders with faint irritation as she turns on her heel and heads onto the shadowy footpath leading to the sports fields. The cash she’s getting for this particularly complicated structure is enough to make a short walk worth her while, and she’s also pretty curious to meet him. Her coursemate/ friend Daniel had mentioned he’d taken on some extra work free time with one of the TAs from his AI class, and Root accidentally gotten embroiled in the challenging structure he was working on, offering her own thoughts up. Eventually Daniel had given up and ended up handing it over to her in chagrin.

Leaves crunch under her feet as she makes quick work of the forested path and emerges next to the sports building. Huge floodlights illuminating the pitches cast light across the parking lot, right to her, and groups of athletic looking people in the building are visible through large glass windows, all doing sporty things.

Root smirks at the spandex clad joggers and follows the sign for pitch 4, not being overly familiar with the area. She sees someone sat on a folding chair between the pitches in a red jacket, and makes her way over, slightly damp grass catching on her converse sneakers. She lifts a hand in an awkward wave when the guy with the spiky brown hair makes eye contact and he gives her a lopsided smile as she heads over.

“I think this is yours?” She offers him the drive and he eagerly takes it, face lighting up.

“Yes indeed. I must say the solutions you were working on were just, so elegant, I am very impressed. Would you be interested in...” He trails off, attention taking by yelling on the pitch, and Root turns to follow his eyeline.

To her utter surprise, a tiny brunette girl is attacking a large, bald man, and as she watches someone hauls her off. The dude, 'Collier', by his shirt, is bleeding from the face, a lot, if the scarlet dripping down onto the fabric is anything to go by. The angry girl has ‘Shaw’ written on the back of her soccer jersey, and Root smirks at the sight of a huge man almost failing to physically restrain her. The argument is soon resolved by a tired looking referee, and the game resumes, but Root can practically see the fumes of rage rising off this Shaw as she boots the ball far down left field and sprints after it.

“Oh, I was saying, I wondered if you were interested in any further work?” Harold regains her focus and she angles herself so she can see the field and him at the same time.

“Definitely. I’d really like to see what you’re working on.” Root manages to split her attention fairly equally, and watch Shaw smack the ball into the net at high speed. She's incredibly graceful, moving with an economy of movement and confidence that is fascinating to Root.

“Are you a big soccer fan?” Harold actually sounds faintly amused and Root blinks, realising how distracted she was.

“Uh, something like that. You must be. You have a chair and everything.”

“Well, not the sport itself, per se. My friends all play.”

“Are you friends with the tiny angry one?” Root absently fiddles with the string of her duffel coat. A shrill whistle pierces the night and the sprinting players all grind to a halt, some throwing their arms up in victory.

“For goodness sake don’t let her hear you call her that. But yes, she’s actually my ...boyfriend!”

Root blinks, totally confused. But hey, after that time she gave a new wok set to a pansexual she was seeing and did not get the excellent thank you sex she had anticipated, she’s been trying to educate herself around queer terminology, and if Harold wants to call Shaw his boyfriend she guesses... A large, sweaty man brushes past her and leans over, pecking Harold on the cheek. Oh.


The big guy turns to her like he didn’t even see her, and extends a large hand. “Oh, hey! I’m Reese. John. John Reese. Either’s fine.”

“Heh. I’m Root. Nice to meet you.” Now more people are approaching, a gaggle of three women including Shaw, to Root’s combined interest and awkwardness. For some reason she can’t seem to take her eyes off her.

John keeps chattering, oblivious. “Did you come to see the game? We can always use more fans.”

“It was a practise, Reese.” Shaw remarks sourly before Root can reply, as she grabs a bag from next to Harold’s chair and rummages through it, hauling out a water bottle. Root drags her eyes away from the column of her throat swallowing and returns her attention to the group she’s now being introduced to by the large, enthusiastic John Reese.

“This is Root, Harold’s friend.” Both Harold and Root look a little surprised at the announcement, but Root manages a short, uncomfortable wave.

“Hey, Root. I’m Joss, this is Zoe. The furious one is Shaw. Good to meet you” The gorgeous dark skinned girl drops down and starts taking off her cleats as she replies.

“You coming for a beer?” Zoe chimes in, untying her sweaty brown hair and shaking it out before hauling it up into a messy bun. “After we’ve showered, obviously.”

“I, uh...” Root had completely planned to go home, but now the group was looking at her expectantly, like they’d just adopted her, well, minus Shaw who is in some kind of battle to the death with her shin pads, and she feels a bit overwhelmed. The pause stretches out into discomfort, and Zoe smirks, looking from Root to Shaw and back again.

“We’ll be back in a minute.” Somehow the four players have all changed into regular shoes while Root dithered and they jostle each other as they head for the building, leaving Harold to get to his feet and pack up his chair.

He looks up at her as he slides the camp chair into a sleeve and hoists it over one shoulder. “You don’t have to. They’re very enthusiastic. But it would be lovely to pick your brains about that recursive loop you came up with.”

“Enthusiastic. Hmm.” Well, except for Shaw, she adds in her head. Shaw had barely even looked at her. But, she realises with an inner sigh, she’s not exactly dressed to impress, if she’d known she was gonna run into someone so fascinating she’d have made an effort, but coding isn’t something she usually dresses up for. Harold starts walking with a pronounced hitch in his step toward the sports building, and Root hastens after him. “Well, one beer couldn’t hurt, could it?"