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Reconfiguring Variables

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Root knocks on the door of the hotel room where Veronica Sinclair is supposed to be staying. She glances down at the gun tucked into the front of her pants. Does it come off as too aggressive? It’s supposed to be reassuring in a trust-me-I-can-handle-this kind of way. She’d put it there because tucking it into the back seemed a bit nefarious, like she was trying to hide it, but people were giving her weird looks on the way over anyway. Where do normal people put their guns when they’re out and about? Maybe she should just get some holsters like she had when she was with the ISA, then people would just think she was a cop. That could cause other problems, though.

Veronica still hasn’t appeared. Root shifts her weight from one foot to another, glancing back down the hallway. Did the ISA already get to her? Or what about that other guy who randomly showed up? Was he from Research, or somewhere else entirely? Why is Root so popular all of a sudden, and why couldn’t it have happened back in high school? Being popular, not being nearly murdered and chased around New York, although both can be fun under the right circumstances.

A dark haired woman opens the door, fixing Root with an intense stare.

Root gives her most winning smile. “Veronica Sinclair?”

The woman continues her stare for a moment, jaw moving back and forth slightly. She seemed a lot more nervous on the phone. Eventually she seems to come to a decision and says, “Yes.”

A muted thumping sound reaches Root’s ears, emitting from within the apartment. It sounds like someone tied up in a bathtub. Which is rather specific, but tied-up-in-a-bathtub is a completely different sound from, say, tied-up-in-a-closet. A true professional recognizes the nuance. Root tries to look around Veronica, who then punches her in the face.

***

Root wakes up ziptied to a chair. Which, generally speaking, isn’t a situation she’d mind, especially at the hands of an already very attractive woman who has become incalculably sexier by virtue of knocking Root out and tying her up. But she is in kind of a hurry, given how the ISA seems so eager to murder her. She’ll have to figure out a way to interrogate this woman, and find a way to escape from her.

Possibly by seducing her.

There are other options, but they’re less fun.

“I don’t want to be here. I’m sure you don’t either so let’s make this quick.” ‘Veronica’ pulls a chair up in front of Root and sits down, drawing a gun from inside her jacket. That’s what Root needs. Tons of storage, and it would look amazing on her.

“I don’t mind,” Root says with a shrug. “We can stay as long as you want.” The ISA is probably on their way here now. She’ll keep that bargaining chip tucked away until she needs it.

“What is Research?”

“No foreplay at all?” Root smirks, shifting in her chair a bit, then stopping at a pointed look from ‘Veronica.’ “It’s where we get our numbers. Threats to national security that we need to eliminate.”

“What else?”

“We don’t ask questions about Research, Veronica,” Root says with a mocking smile. “We just—“

She cuts off with gasp of pain as ‘Veronica’ grabs a finger on Root’s left hand and bends it sharply backwards. Holding it there, leaning forward and bringing her face inches from Root’s, she says in a low voice, “I’ve read your file. I know you found something out. I know the ISA is trying to kill you and I know they’re on their way here right now so quit wasting my time.”

She releases Root’s finger and leans back, keeping her gun level. Root flexes the aching digit to ensure that it’s still functional. It’s one of her favorite fingers. “Just when I thought we were starting to make a connection,” she says sardonically, and gives a wistful sigh before continuing on. “We had a number a few years ago, a guy trying to sell government secrets to Hezbollah. Real Veronica there,” she nods her head towards the closed bathroom door. “Who I’m guessing isn’t in the tub just for a nice soak, told my partner the payments had been spoofed. I looked into it myself. They came from inside the ISA.”

“I asked about Research.”

“No need to rush,” Root says lightly. “Research is never wrong. They gave us bad information on purpose.”

‘Veronica’ leans back slightly. “You really don’t know what you’ve stepped in here. They’re covering something up. Something I need to find.”’ Veronica’s phone makes a small sound, and she reaches over to take it from the table it’s lying on, keeping her on eyes on Root except for a brief glance at the screen. “Time’s up,” she says, standing and returning her gun to her jacket. “We’ll have to finish this later.”

“Anytime, sweetie.”

‘Veronica’ spares her one last, baleful look before making for the door.

Which bursts open, two men with guns charging through. ‘Veronica’ is on the ground faster than Root would have thought possible, evidently having drawn her gun at the same time since four quick shots sound and the two begin to topple. Root can see two more outside the door. She doesn’t recognize them specifically, but she knows who they are. ISA.

‘Veronica’ heaves herself up from the floor, colliding with one of the still-falling men, pushing him forward as a shield that his comrades empty bullets into. Her gun fires from under the corpse’s arm, dropping the other two in quick succession.

At this moment, in Root’s mind, all other women cease to exist.

‘Veronica’ leaves.

Root stands, shrugging away the zipties she’d cut with a small serrated knife she keeps inside her sleeve. Had ‘Veronica’ noticed? Root was sure she had. That she didn’t do anything about it implied either that she didn’t really want to hurt Root, or that she simply didn’t view Root as a viable threat. Neither does anything to diminish Root’s infatuation. Though if it’s the latter, she’ll make sure to prove otherwise the next time they meet.

Moments later, the man from before, the one in the suit, comes into the room, gun in hand. ‘Veronica’ had kept Root’s own gun, she realizes suddenly. Probably as a keepsake. It’s a bit early in their relationship for that kind of sentimentality, but Root won’t give her a hard time about it.

Not too much, anyway.

“Are you all right?” The man asks, clearly not intending to shoot her. She supposes she could have taken a moment to talk to him last time instead of just unloading her weapon into him, but hey, second chances and all that.

“I think so,” she replies. “We’re having a second date.”