“I’m so glad you finally let me out of that cage, Harry.”
Her tone is mocking as she uses a nickname for him, and it makes Harold flinch. Root smiles and rearranges her menu on the table in front of her.
“Or should I say, I’m so glad Sameen let me out of that cage. How is she doing, by the way? I didn't have much chance to speak to her while I was out of New York.”
“Miss Shaw is fine,” Harold says carefully.
The fear when he looks at her is significantly reduced in comparison to the last time they went out for a meal together, but he still doesn't take her eyes off her and they widen in fear when she reaches into her bag to get her medication.
“Relax, Harold. It’s just Lanoxin. Turns out my little run-in with Control had a rather more significant effect on me than I had hoped.”
She takes some pills with a sip of decaf coffee, making sure to look at him over the brim of her cup with a wicked expression.
Harold shifts in his seat and glances nervously at his watch.
“Miss Groves,” he says almost as if admonishing a child.
“Come on, Harry. This was your idea. What was it you said, ‘we don't always see eye to eye so you were hoping we could corroborate more towards that end’. We can't do that if you refuse to talk.”
“No,” he says. “We can't do that if you refuse to listen.”
She laughs. “I don't know if you noticed, but I’m having a bit more trouble with that lately.”
Harold looks down at his almost-finished plate of fish and chips. “Sorry.”
Shrugging, Root says, “It's not your fault. I chose to risk my life saving you. Mostly Shaw, but you and Arthur as well.”
“Did the Machine not tell you to?”
“She did. But it's not just Her telling me what to do. She gives me the information and I choose what to do with it. Sometimes She gives me a nudge in the correct direction or objects to something I plan to do, but we have mostly reached an arrangement.”
“I have concerns about what contact this close with it will do to you.”
“What do you mean? She is helping me understand people better, isn't this what you wanted?”
“I just don't see how a machine can help you relate to people.”
“That's where you're wrong. I already told you I related more to computers than people as a child, so She and I are coming at this from the same angle. You taught Her the value of human life, so I don't see why you're judging Her doing the same for me.”
“It is not human, you need actual people to help...recalibrate you, if you will.”
Root picks at a lettuce leaf with her fork. “Who says I don't?” she asks quietly.
Shaw is as close to Root’s vision of ‘perfect’ as any person had ever been, even redefining Root’s concept of perfection insofar as Root doesn't know how she could ever want anything other than Shaw.
With Shaw and the Machine, Root has much more than she ever had. Harold, his helper monkey, Lionel and the dog are beginning to grow on her as well, no matter how much she resents it.
“I beg your pardon?” Harold asks.
Root daintily pierces a grape and eats it.
After swallowing, she says, “Now that we have reached an impasse on the topic of morality and ethics, what do you suggest we talk about?”
Eyeing his empty plate, Harold says, “I don't see why we need to talk about anything else.”
“I don't know about you, but it's not often I have conversational partners I can talk, I mean really talk, with and considering we don't have many other friends and I have to be on another plane in half an hour, we might as well get in some small talk. How do you feel about television serials?”
“Miss Groves, I do not wish to talk about television with you.”
“Have you ever seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”
“Miss Groves, please-”
“Admittedly, I haven't seen all of it. Back in the day I watched it in hotel rooms between, um, engagements and I fell in love with it. Recently I started watching it again on Netflix -”
“I really must insist-”
“Because I wanted to watch it all in order and I’m up to season 4. I can't believe Willow and Tara actually became a couple, I must have missed the episode when they got together. As far as I know, they never use the word lesbian but it was still a brave move at the ti-”
Harold slams his hand down on the table and exclaims, “No lesbians at the dinner table!”
Tiredly, Root puts down her cutlery and pushes her chair back so the legs scrape the floor. “I’ll be off then.”
He blinks owlishly. “Oh.”
“Oh?” Root repeats with an amused smile.
Through the speaker on Root’s phone, the Machine says, “Harold…”
“I see.” He seems to be struggling for words, opening and closing his mouth until he manages to filter out: “well.”
“You mean you didn't already know?” she asks with genuine curiosity.
Root frowns at him and tilts her head to the side. “Surely you must have noticed? I’m not exactly subtle. Or is this one of those heteronormativity things I don't understand?”
She flaps a hand dismissively. “It doesn't matter.”
“So that's why you talk about Miss Shaw so much,” Harold says, realisation dawning on his face. “Wait, is she…?”
Root wraps her hands around her mug. “I don't know,” she admits. “But I have a feeling she’s bi. Alas, it is just a feeling.”
“Can you, um, tell?”
Shaking her head, Root tries to subdue her smirk and says, “My word, Harry! Has nobody ever spoken to you about this before?”
“Not really,” he says sheepishly. “I don't want to say the wrong thing.”
She reaches over and pats his hand. “I appreciate it.”
This time he doesn't flinch away from her touch. Maybe her revealing a little of herself to him was what their friendship had been missing.