Click. Click. Click. He doesn’t need to look as his finger repeatedly hits the backspace key, watches instead as the symbols he just wrote disappear from the screen again with a frown. Something still doesn’t quite add up. In an old habit that hasn’t made any appearances in years now, he tilts his head to the side, until a hot, stabbing flare of pain reminds him that such a motion is no longer a good idea, now that there are titanium screws and plates keeping his neck together. He sighs. His eyes slip closed and it takes more strength of will than expected to force them open again, and it is only now that he notices they are burning with dryness.
As he tries to blink said dryness away, he finds another flaw in the code, creating an endless loop, and with a heavy sigh, he presses the backspace key again and holds it, making line after line disappear. It’s only muscle memory that allows him to continue working, lets his fingers find the right keys, though backspace is still the one getting the most use. It’s a relief that they figured out the hows of piecing these particular fragments of the Machine’s code back together hours ago. By now he is barely even awake, or at least he feels dissociated, stuck in a tired trance, and he certainly isn’t anywhere near rested enough to solve complex problems, master any task beside typing. Although even that could be called into question. He hits backspace again. Retypes.
Something tickles his ear and there has been an unexplained and verging on unpleasant pressure on his left shoulder for a few minutes now, but he is determined not to break what little flow he has achieved now, so he keeps his eyes firmly on the screen. Right until he hears the soft snore, right next to his ear, making him startle. His left hand leaves the keyboard and reaches up towards his shoulder on its own volition; fingers finding strands of long, silky hair against his collarbone, trail further upwards until they encounter soft, warm skin that isn’t his own. Finally, he turns, carefully not to disturb the head resting against his shoulder.
“Ms Groves?” he murmurs softly, almost a whisper.
The only response he gets is another snore.
It occurs to him that this should not be a surprise. Now that he thinks about it, the sounds of the rapid-fire keystrokes from his immediate left that have been his steady company – along with the woman producing them – have gone quiet a while ago.
After another moment, Root makes a sleepy, inquiring hum, nuzzling closer for a moment in an attempt to find a more comfortable position before she seems to become aware of her surroundings and slowly pulls away. She blinks drowsily at him, eyes reddened and probably as dry as his own, right side of her hair messy. With a small frown, she reaches over and tries to smooth out the creases she must have left in his pyjama – dark blue silk with white seams, comfortable and identical to hers. That he hadn’t been able to resist buying them matching pyjamas during his last venture into the outside world should probably have been a warning sign regarding the state of increasingly severe sleep deprivation he has been living in for days now. But the memory of Root’s almost childlike delight at the gift has a smile tugging on his own lips even now.
Apparently still not quite awake but satisfied with Harold’s somewhat restored appearance, her attention drifts towards their project and she smiles.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
He follows her gaze, taking in the code displayed on the screens. Not the lines he – they – spent so many sleepless hours writing, but the pieces in between. Faulty and fragmented as they are, there is something naturally elegant to them, something almost organic. Code that hadn’t been written, but had grown instead, had developed and evolved, thrived, and would have done so eventually even if he hadn’t tossed the virus to free her out into the world. Root had been right, he never should have tried to inhibit her growth.
“Yes she is.”
At the use of the pronoun, Root’s briefly glances at him and her smile widens, before it is pushed aside by her half-suppressing a yawn. He barely hears her quiet “Back to work.” over his own yawn immediately following hers. Her long, slim fingers hover over the keyboard for a second, then slowly sinking down to come to rest on it, not pressing a single key, and after another second, her head is beginning to sink downwards as well. Harold can feel her startle back awake when he puts a hand on her shoulder to draw her attention.
“I think we’ve done quite enough for today.”
The accusing look her reddened eyes level him with barely hides anguish and loneliness. “She’s hurt, Harold. We can’t just abandon her like this, she needs us and...”
“I know.” he interrupts her softly. “And we won’t abandon her. I have wronged her too many times to do so yet another time, but we’re still human, with unfortunately very human limitations. We both are long overdue for a few hours’ rest, and to be quite honest, I doubt we will make much more progress without some sleep.” Slowly, he reaches out and plugs one of her hands from the keyboard, wrapping it in both of his and giving it a gentle squeeze. “She is going to be alright. We will fix her, and then she is going to help us defeat Samaritan.”
It’s little more than empty reassurance to him, not a minute goes by without his doubts and fears creeping in, life has left him being somewhat of a pessimist at times, but he doesn’t need to believe it. Root looks at him with a kind of reverence, a complete, irrevocable trust and absolute faith he knows she reserves only for the Machine, and in occasional moments like the present one, for him. It’s humbling, but he thinks that it’s perhaps him who has gained more reassurance just now. No matter how much he questions and doubts, he knows she has more than ample faith for both of them.
Root squeezes his hand in return and holds onto it as she stands up, little of her usual grace left due to her fatigue. She stumbles and for a moment, she sways dangerously until he steadies her with the hand not held in hers. His own leg spasms painfully as she helps him up, wincing in sympathy. Together, they slowly make their way across the subway, movements sluggish and clumsy, bumping into each other frequently. Halfway to her room, Root’s head comes to rest on his shoulder once more.
He is about to bid her good night and leave for his own impromptu bedroom a little further down the station once they’ve finally made it as far as the doorway, but she must have felt his intake of breath and her hand tightens around his before he can speak. She steps away from him backwards, into her room. This time, there is no accusation with which she can hide the loneliness in her tired eyes and Harold’s feet follow her before he has consciously made the decision to do so, letting her pull him towards her bed.
Only now does she let go of his hand, crouching down on the bed and gathering up her pillows, rearranging them – to his surprise, though he probably shouldn’t be, he is well aware what an observant and intelligent woman she is – almost perfectly the same way he himself would, to offer support for his neck. He is too tired to hide his surprise, or the answering smile at hers when she sees it.
“Age before beauty.” she quips, but politely turns away under the pretence of toeing off her fuzzy socks while he awkwardly climbs into her bed, settling in comfortably on the heap of pillows with a chuckle, holding up the blanket for her as she slips in next to him. She switches off the lamp on her night stand, leaving the room only illuminated by the soft glow from the lights in the subway car falling through the open door, before she rolls over, settling against his side with a content little sigh.
“Thanks, Harry.” she murmurs, quiet and sincere.
His answer is just as honest. “Anytime. Sleep well, Root.”
Harold doesn’t need to see her to know she’s smiling when she shifts at his side, so she can press a soft kiss to his cheek. “Good night.” Her breath is warm against his skin, her long hair tickles his neck as she settles down, head back on his shoulder, one arm thrown across his midsection, legs entangled with his. He listens to her breathing even out, matches his own to it.
He is convinced she must be sleeping already, more asleep than awake himself, when she speaks again, so softly he can hardly make out the words.
“I miss her.”
His heart clenches for her, and he doesn’t need to ask whether she is referring to the Machine or Shaw; he knows the answer is both. Careful not to disturb her, he tightens his own arm around her, shifting slowly until he can plant a kiss on her forehead, just below her hairline. The only other sounds are her still even breaths and the distant whirr of their improvised supercomputer’s ventilation as he whispers into her hair “So do I.”