There’s a knock on the door. Root pauses where she stands in the bedroom, her fingers stilling on the buttons of her shirt. She quirks her head in the silence that follows, wondering for half a moment if she just imagined the sound. Maybe she’s just hearing things. Not exactly an impossibility, given the fact that she only has one good ear and the other one has the voice of an artificial superintelligence constantly whispering instructions to her.
It’s not exactly common practice for people to be knocking on the front door this early in the morning. Or at all, really. Both of the usual inhabitants of this apartment are legally dead, after all. Officially speaking. So it’s not like they’re in the habit of receiving visitors.
If someone did just knock — and if she hadn’t been imagining things, which seems increasingly likely the more she thinks about it — she wonders who it could possibly be. Root figures it can’t be Harry or John, since they always call her for help with a new number — and they’re not exactly the type to stop by unannounced for a quick morning coffee, either. And it can’t be Lionel, since Shaw would rather cut off her own ear than tell him where she lives. And since She isn’t providing Root with a half-dozen exit strategies out of here, then it can’t be any kind of threat, either.
The knocking sounds again — louder this time, and a little more urgent.
So she hadn’t been imagining it.
It could be Shaw, Root thinks as she makes her way across the empty apartment and towards the door. If she forgot her keys, maybe. But that doesn’t feel like something she would do. And either way, Sameen is more than capable of breaking into her own apartment, if need be.
Root grins as she approaches the door. It’s probably a solicitor, or someone who came to the wrong door looking to call on one of Shaw’s many neighbors. Root runs a hand through her hair, and starts to swing her hips with a little more saunter. No harm in having a little bit of fun and putting on a show for whatever poor unsuspecting sap has had the misfortune of trying their front door. He’s lucky she’s the one around to answer it, and not Sameen. With her, he’ll get a very-pleasant-but-very-uncomfortable interaction; but at least he’ll make it out alive and unharmed. The same can’t always be said for Shaw.
She’s wearing very little, as far as these things go: just one of Sameen’s button-down shirts (so of course it’s inches too short on her), a pair of boy short underwear, and a suggestive smirk. She pulls the door open, her smirk turning more lascivious as she practically purrs, “Sweetie, did you forget your keys ag—” She stops immediately, blinking in bemusement at the figure who greets her.
The teenager looks young, with a wild head of unruly hair and a disgruntled frown on her face. “You’re not Shaw,” she says, bluntly.
Root blinks at her. “I’m… what?” She suddenly recognizes her state of undress and immediately pulls her shirt lower, desperately hoping she can cover at least some of her exposed legs. As much as she enjoys putting on a show for consenting adults, she draws the line at standing half-naked in front of minors.
The girl is eyeing her warily. “Who are you?” she asks suspiciously.
“I’m…” Root tries again, spluttering a little and feeling off-balance. “Who are you?”
The girl looks like she isn’t about to answer. “Where’s Shaw?” she asks instead.
Root glances up and down the hall, like maybe if she looks long enough someone will jump out from around the corner and yell: Surprise, we got you! But there’s no one around. “She’s not…” she glances down at the girl again— “here, right now.”
The girl huffs. “Fine,” she says, elbowing past Root, a duffle bag slung over her shoulder, dragging a suitcase that’s at least as big as she is through the door behind her. “I can wait.”
Root’s never had much going for her in the way of physical strength and muscle, but she’s still a little rattled by the fact that this literal child is able to push past her without even a second thought. Although, that could also be attributed to how the girl surprised her, and caught her off-guard. Or the fact that she has two cracked ribs, a bum knee, and muscles in her legs that feel like they’re screaming at her, even as she stands still.
Root scrambles after the girl as best she can. “Wait, Kid, hold on,” she tries to say, but the girl doesn’t listen to her. Instead she dumps her bags unceremoniously outside the kitchen and stomps over to the couch. “Who are you?” Root tries again, following after her. “What are you doing here? And how do you know Shaw?”
The girl shrugs and grabs an apple from the bowl of fruit in the middle of the dining room table (a touch of detail Root had added to the apartment — just to be antagonistic, really, because she knows how much Shaw hates things that don’t have a purpose — but she thinks Sameen might secretly like the decorative flair to that little bowl because someone keeps replenishing its fruit supply and it sure as hell isn’t Root). She flops down onto the couch and kicks her feet up onto the table, her legs crossed at the ankle. “It’s winter break,” she says, taking a large bite from the fruit in her hand. “I appreciate that Mr. Finch is paying for me to go to school, but I got tired of sitting around in that stupid prison while everyone else got to go home for Christmas. And since Mr. Finch is my legal guardian and none of the addresses he has listed on file are actually real, I came here.” She glares at Root and says, defensively, “Shaw said I could come by if I ever needed anything.”
“Um… Okay,” Root says slowly, shaking her head and trying to wrap her mind around all of the information that had just been presented to her. The Machine, for Her part, is being annoyingly silent on the matter. (It feels weird, to not know things.) “I still don’t know who you are. And usually I know everything about everyone. I have a… friend who likes to give me information. But She’s not telling me anything about you.”
The girl squints at her. “Are you a crazy person?” she asks bluntly. “Do you hear voices? Can I record them to see if I can hear them, too?”
“Yes, yes, and no. And I’m not answering any more questions until you tell me who you are.”
“Fine.” The girl crosses her arms over her chest. “I can wait.”
The second Shaw’s key slips into the lock of her front door, it’s pulled open and away from her. She brings her head up quickly in surprise, but immediately glowers at the sight that greets her.
She knew it was a mistake, allowing Root to spend her recovery time with her, in her apartment. What had she even been thinking when she offered? That Root didn’t have a full-time place of her own in which to spend a few weeks of recovery? That without Shaw forcing her to rest she would be off on the next plane to who-the-fuck-knows-where on another life-or-death suicide mission for the Machine? That Root needed a medical professional on-hand 24/7 to make sure she didn’t do something stupid, like tear her stitches or get herself shot again? (Yes. Yes, to all of the above.) If she had known that this was how it was going to be, though…
This whole business with Samaritan has really made her soft. The Shaw of a few years ago — Newly Self-Diagnosed Axis II Personality Disorder Shaw, ISA Government Operative Shaw, U.S. Marine Shaw — would never have pulled this kind of sentimental shit. And she probably would have been a lot more well-rested. As fun as Root can be, she has this exhausting habit of being right up in Shaw’s personal space every minute of every goddamn day.
She’ll never have any peace and quiet for as long as she lives, at this rate.
“Sameen,” Root says, pulling the door open to greet her, “so glad you’re home.” She has a sweet smile on her face — which Shaw knows can only mean trouble. “We have a visitor.”
“What are you talking about, Root?” Shaw asks gruffly, side-stepping the other woman and making her way into her own apartment. All she wants is a nice long shower after the work-out she just had, but Root seems hell-bent on ruining that for her. (She knew it was a mistake to invite her to stay.) “Who—?” Shaw pauses as she catches sight of the girl perched awkwardly on her couch. “Gen?” she asks quickly, her hostile demeanor immediately (unconsciously) melting. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh good, you do know her,” Root says from somewhere near the kitchen. “I was worried.”
Shaw rolls her eyes. “She’s a kid, Root. What did you have to worry about? That you couldn’t take her in a fight?”
“It’s not about could, Sweetie; it’s about would.”
Gen huffs from her spot on the couch and crosses her arms tightly over her chest. “Your girlfriend is weird, Shaw.”
Shaw shakes her head. “Not my girlfriend.”
“I’m her wife,” Root supplies, unhelpfully.
Shaw growls. “She is not my wife.”
“No, Root. Stop it.”
“Well,” Gen cuts in from the other side of the room, “if she isn’t your girlfriend, then why does she live here?”
“She’s…” Shaw shoots Root an unhappy glare, “more like a roommate. Or an outdoor cat you let inside when it rains.”
“She was naked when I got here.”
Shaw whips her head around, her glare only intensifying. Root holds up her hands in self-defense. “Not naked. Just not wearing pants. It’s different.”
“Root,” Shaw hisses.
“In my defense, I didn’t know you were babysitting this week.”
“I’m not a baby,” Gen supplies unhappily. “I’m just too young to rent a hotel room. This was my next-best option.”
“Wait, I’m sorry,” Shaw holds up a hand, shaking her head. Her eyes narrow at the guilty look that’s slowly taking over Gen’s face. “Your next-best option for what, exactly?”
Gen swallows a little thickly, and Shaw feels a little glimmer of triumph at her undeniable ability to intimidate without even breaking a sweat. That triumph, however, lasts only up until Gen’s next slow, timid sentence: “For… winter break?”
Shaw stands regarding the young girl, a contemplative frown on her face. She taps a finger against her lips with an even rhythm as she thinks.
It’s been quiet in the apartment for a good four minutes, now. Root, loitering in the kitchen with a freshly brewed cup of coffee in her hands, watches the silent stand-off taking place in front of her with barely-contained amusement.
“Okay,” Shaw finally says, and Gen perks up on the couch, straightening in her seat. “Okay, you can stay here.” At the bright smile that immediately bursts onto the girl’s face, Shaw holds up a finger, stilling her instantly. “But it’s only for your winter break, you got that? No longer. And you can’t use me as an excuse to ditch school, anymore. Not without telling me first. Deal?”
Gen nods enthusiastically. “Deal!”
Shaw nods curtly. “Good.” Gen moves to get up from the couch, her hand reaching to grab the bags deposited at her feet, but Shaw holds out a hand to stop her. “Not so fast, Kid. We need ground rules.”
Gen pulls a face. “I’m not a kid, Shaw.”
“If you can’t rent your own hotel room, you’re a kid, Kid.”
Gen pouts and sinks back onto the couch she had only just vacated. “I’m still not a kid,” she mutters despondently.
Shaw glances around the apartment for a few seconds, her eyes flicking over to where Root lounges lazily against the kitchen counter. Her jaw clenches, like she’s fighting the urge to roll her eyes, and Root’s smile only widens. She waggles her fingers just a little bit, and the huff of air that Shaw lets out through her nose is more than a little pointed.
“Okay,” Shaw says without preamble, turning her attention back to the girl in front of her. “Rule number one: no guns. No guns, no knives, no grenades, no throwing stars… no weapons of any kind. If you see any around here, you do not touch them. Understood?”
Gen sighs dramatically, but acquiesces, “Fine.”
“Rule number two: no recording equipment inside the apartment.” From her spot in the kitchen, Root clears her throat loudly. Shaw’s jaw clenches again, and she growls slightly. When she speaks, her voice is low and murderous, and she doesn’t even dare turn her attention to Root, lest she end up doing something violent that she’s sure to regret. “I told you to get rid of that stuff, Root.”
“She needs eyes and ears at all times, Sameen. I don’t make the rules.”
Shaw mutters heatedly under her breath for a few more moments before she stops and inhales deeply. “Okay. Fine. Rule number two: no new recording equipment inside the apartment. And I mean that, Kid. No cameras, no tape recorders, nothing.”
“Shaw,” Gen moans slightly, but Shaw shakes her head.
“Non-negotiable. Can’t risk it. No recording.”
“Good. Okay, rule number three: no going into our—” She pauses, and if Root believed it was at all possible, she might have thought Shaw was blushing. “No going into my bedroom,” she corrects quickly. “That one’s for your own good; believe me.”
“Okay,” Gen nods. “No weapons, no recording, no bedroom. That all?”
“Um…” Shaw blinks, looking suddenly at a loss for words. “I… guess?”
“No drugs, no alcohol,” Root calls from the kitchen.
Shaw nods along with her. “Yes. Right. No drugs, no alcohol.”
“That one’s easy. I’m fourteen. And not an idiot.”
“Idiot or not, you still have to agree to all the rules. Do you agree?” Gen nods once. “Nope, need a verbal confirmation. Do you agree to all the rules?”
“Yes, I agree.”
“Alright, then.” She nods curtly. “There’s a spare bedroom that way,” she says, pointing down the hall. “Let me know if you need—” she pauses and frowns, like her own hesitance is a particular annoyance— “food, or… something.”
Gen pulls a face at her even as she stands from the couch, shouldering her bag. “I’ve been cooking for myself since I was nine, Shaw. I think I’ll be fine.”
As she disappears into the spare bedroom at the end of the hall, Root sidles up behind Shaw and says, “I think that went well.” Shaw mumbles something noncommittally and turns to stalk back into their — her, her mind corrects — bedroom. “Should I tell her we only have grenades in our fridge, or should you?” Root calls out to her.
Shaw slams the door behind her.
She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She absolutely, 100%, does not know what the hell she’s doing.
What was she thinking, agreeing to let Gen stay with her for two weeks? How psychotic was that? Root’s one thing. She’s almost a teenager herself, in some ways: computer-obsessed, moody, and prone to sleeping all through the morning, with a tendency to eat Shaw damn near out of house and home. But for all of her childish tendencies, at least Root can fucking drive. At least she can make grocery runs, can communicate with an all-powerful super computer that likely (probably) wants to keep her alive. Gen is… another matter entirely. Root, at least, is a grown ass woman. She can come and go as she pleases; she knows how to shoot and fight; she can buy her own booze; Shaw doesn’t have to worry about her burning down the apartment if she wants to make some eggs.
She doesn’t act like a teenager. Not the way she should. Not the way Shaw thinks teenagers are supposed to act, anyway. For one thing, she’s smart. Probably too smart to be anything but trouble. And she doesn’t talk the way teenagers talk. She’s pretty consistently glued to her cellphone, but the one time Shaw manages to catch a peek at what she’s looking at, she sees that it’s not a social media app (she’s pretty clueless in the ways of the internet but she’s not that clueless) but rather some weird Russian-language news site. Probably on the Dark Web, if Shaw knows anything about precocious, too-smart-for-their-own-good teenagers (which, having at one point been one herself, and currently almost-cohabitating with another, she thinks she has some authority on the matter). Shaw can’t forget that the first time they met, it was because she had to save Gen from mobsters who were trying to kill her for spying on them. (She also can’t forget that Gen, at 10 years-old, was able to spot her on her tail — and the list of people who hold that accolade is, generously speaking, infinitesimal.)
Shaw doesn’t exactly trust her. (Then again, she doesn’t exactly trust anybody.) She’s a teenager; that’s more than enough to make Shaw suspicious. But after a few hours of carefully (and suspiciously) watching her, Shaw comes to the conclusion that, maybe, Gen isn’t going to be the handful she anticipated. She’s quiet, and spends most of the afternoon curled on the couch with her head buried in a book. Shaw keeps a close eye on her just to make sure she isn’t snooping into anything she shouldn’t be snooping into, but Gen truly looks like she couldn’t care less that there’s an arsenal of weaponry hidden in her general vicinity.
Gen goes to sleep about about 11 that night (is that too late for a teenager? Shaw has no idea, but doesn’t really care enough to question it), and Shaw goes to sleep thinking that… well, maybe the next few weeks aren’t going to be as bad as she thought.
She probably has to get a Christmas tree now, though.
Maybe she’ll just make Root do it.
On the very first morning, Shaw wakes up to an empty apartment. This is usually the kind of thing that would fill her with… not joy, exactly — she doesn’t really do joy — but it would usually make her relaxed. Not angry, at least (her usual default state-of-being). Which is about as close to ‘joy’ as she ever gets (except for: drinking a good Scotch; eating a great steak; having better-than-average sex; seeing Bear after a long time away from him; and, though she would never admit it out loud, whenever Root comes back from a mission alive and mostly-well).
And the thing is, waking up to an empty apartment is nice. It’s very nice. She’s able to get in her morning strength training, make a ton of bacon and eggs and share none of them with anyone else, and drink her coffee in peace.
At least, until Finch knocks on her door.
“Miss Shaw?” he calls out from her hallway, and Shaw growls under her breath. He should know better than to announce her name like that where so many people could hear it. Her neighbors might think it’s okay to talk to her, if they know her name.
She rips the door open with a glower prominent on her face. “Finch.” She holds the door open for him, gesturing sharply with her head.
He walks inside slowly, his limp pronounced. “I’m sorry to call on you so early, Miss Shaw,” he says, leaning heavily on his cane, “but I received a call from Miss Zhirova’s school this morning. Apparently, she left for her Christmas break, yesterday, and they wanted to make sure she arrived safely.” He adjusts his glasses quickly. “I’m afraid that something may be amiss, and knowing your relationship with Miss Zhirova—”
“It’s alright, Finch,” she cuts him off. “Gen’s here.”
He blinks at her, his eyes owlish behind his glasses. “She what?”
“She’s here. She’s staying with me for her winter break. She was tired of school and didn’t have your address, so… she came here.” She shrugs. “No big deal. I have a spare room.”
“But… but…” Harold splutters for a moment. “She’s here?”
Shaw nods. “Yes. Well, not right now; she wasn’t here when I woke up. But she’s staying—”
“Are you saying you don’t know where she is?” His voice sounds a little too high, his lips pulled tight.
Shaw frowns. “I guess not. Why?”
“You took on the role of her guardian, Miss Shaw! You cannot just let a child wander around the-the streets of New York City unaccompanied! What if she encounters one of her former attackers? What if she’s in trouble?”
“She’s fourteen, Finch. I really don’t think she can get into that much trouble.”
As soon as the words are out of her mouth, she knows they’re bullshit. This is a kid who almost got herself killed by the Russian mob when she was barely 10 years-old. Of course she’ll find some way to get herself into trouble.
Finch is shaking his head at her like he’s disappointed in her, and somehow that makes it all worse.
“Just…” she makes a sound like she wants to argue, but finally just huffs in annoyance. “Fine,” she grumbles. “I’ll get my coat.”
Finch nods. “You do that. I’ll call Mr. Reese and Detective Fusco and see if they’ve had any unusual reports.” Shaw sighs, already bemoaning the loss of her quiet morning alone. But she grabs her jacket from its place on the wall and pulls one of her spare guns out from under the table. “We should start at her old apartment,” Finch says from his spot by the door, leaning heavily on his cane, “she might have gone there. I’ll send Mr. Reese—” But just then the door is pushed open, and Gen and Root come tumbling inside. A little wind-ruffled and red from the cold air, but otherwise completely unharmed.
They’re actually laughing together, which is almost as disturbing as one of them coming back injured. Root looks up when she notices Finch by the door, and she immediately brightens. “Harry!” she exclaims. “This is a surprise. Did you come by for breakfast?”
Finch doesn’t say anything. Root turns her attention to Shaw, her brow quirked in question, but she’s only met with a glare.
“Gen, go to your room.”
“What?!” Gen splutters. “But Shaw, I didn’t do anything wrong! I didn’t go out on my own, I didn’t get into trouble. I was with Root the whole time!”
“You also left school without telling Finch. So room. Now.” When Gen doesn’t move for a few more seconds, Shaw points down the hallway. Her face is set in stone, to prove that she means business.
Gen huffs but finally turns on her heel and stomps away.
“I’m glad you’re safe, Miss Zhirova,” Finch calls down the hall after her. Gen doesn’t turn around or answer back, which is pretty much to be expected. Her door slams shut, and Finch winces at the resulting sound and the way it seems to shake the very walls.
Shaw has turned her focus on Root. She stands with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring. To the untrained eye, it would appear that her disapproval has no effect on Root, who continues to shed her many layers of winter wear by the door without flinching. But Shaw knows how to read Root better than just about anyone. She can see the way Root is moving stiffly, the way her ears are pulled back like she’s listening intently. Shaw knows she’s rattled. Good, Shaw thinks. Serves her right.
Finch, too, has seemed to clue-in to the tension simmering between them. He clears his throat, though neither woman turns to acknowledge him. “Well, I… suppose I’d better be off. My deepest apologies for interrupting your morning, Miss Shaw. I see now that everything is alright. Do let me know if you would like to send Miss Zhirova over to me, for the holiday. I’d be more than willing to place her in one of our safe houses, for—”
Shaw cuts him off abruptly. “She’s fine here.”
Finch nods. “Very well. Enjoy your time off. If I receive any new numbers, I will let you know.” He disappears out the door without another word. Neither woman turns to watch him leave.
Shaw takes a deep, steadying breath before she turns on Root. Her words, when she speaks, come out low, as an almost-growl. “What the hell were you thinking, Root?”
“Relax, Sweetie,” Root says easily as she makes her way into the kitchen. “I was just taking Gen out for the morning. Showing her around. Getting to know her a bit.”
Shaw squints at her. There’s something off about Root, the way she’s looking at Shaw with that air of pure innocence. Shaw’s eyes scan her body, looking for any signs of— there. She’s favoring her ribs, like she put unnecessary strain on them at some point this morning. And her left arm looks stiff, like she went shooting without a proper warm-up. Shaw glowers. “Did you take her to a shooting range?”
Something in Root’s eye twinkles mischievously. “A lady never tells.”
“Root,” Shaw growls in warning, “we talked about this. I said no guns.”
“Technically you said no guns in the house. We weren’t in the house. It was perfectly legal.”
If Root’s trying to get back in her good graces by proving she’s clever enough to find a loophole in Shaw’s very practical, very simple rules, she’s chosen entirely the wrong tactic. Shaw doesn’t like being out-smarted. But, not wanting to admit that she’s disgruntled by the disobedience (or maybe the fact that they didn’t invite her to the shooting range with them, despite the fact that Root knows how much she loves a shooting range), Shaw settles on the next best route: guilt. “I don’t want her getting exposed to this, Root,” she says quietly, hoping her voice won’t carry down the hall. “It’s… she’s gonna start thinking she can handle herself in situations she shouldn’t be in. She’s already too smart for her own good. We don’t need to teach her how to kill people, too.”
“I thought you liked killing people?”
Shaw clenches her teeth. “I don’t kill people anymore. You know that.”
Root rolls her eyes. “Fine. Shooting them, then.”
And yeah, okay, fair. Shaw does love to shoot people. But even she’s not so out of touch that she doesn’t understand the fact that exposing children to firearms is almost never a good idea. See: everyone on goddamn Team Machine.
But this is probably an aspect of their argument that they don’t need to continue. Shaw already knows she’s won the is-it-morally-okay-to-take-a-teenager-to-shoot-guns argument (though Root would never admit defeat) because Root lied to her about going. She kept it a secret. And she only does that when she thinks it’s a matter of national security, or when she feels guilty about something.
But it doesn’t make sense why Root would take Gen anywhere. In the very minimal interactions they had yesterday, they didn’t seem to particularly get along. Not sworn enemies or anything, but also not exactly the kind of bosom buddies who wanted to take day trips together. “Why did you even take her out, today?” Shaw asks, because she can’t come up with any even moderately-decent explanation in her own head. The only thing she can figure is that, whatever Root’s intentions with Gen, they almost certainly aren’t good. “What’s your angle here?”
Root scoffs and leans her back against the counter. “What, I can’t spend time with kids, now? I have to have an angle?”
Shaw looks unimpressed. “You hate kids.”
“I hate dumb kids. She’s not dumb.”
“Root,” Shaw says again, flatly. “Seriously. Why.”
Root pauses for a moment, and for that moment Shaw thinks she’s going to dodge the question again. Come up with some lame excuse, or try to change the subject, or flirt and hope that Shaw will change her mind about wanting to know the answer. Hell, she’s half-expecting Root to come onto her, just as a distraction, which is partly why she’s so surprised when she answers truthfully. “I didn’t know about her,” Root says with a shrug.
Shaw frowns. “What?” Of all the answers she had been anticipating (and there had been more than a few), this was definitely not one of them.
“I didn’t know about her. You care about maybe three people in the entire world. Four if you count Bear. Five if you count Lionel.”
“I don’t count Fusco.”
“Right, so… four people. In the entire world. At least that’s what I thought. But… you care about her. Enough where she knows your phone number and your address and feels like she can stop by without telling you first. And she cares about you, too. Enough to visit, at least. Enough to think about you when she needs help. And I didn’t know about her.”
Shaw feels almost… guilty is the wrong word. She doesn’t really do guilt. But she feels something. Something in her stomach that rolls a little uncomfortably, a little uncertainly. She doesn’t like it. It also, absurdly, makes her want to defend herself. “I met her before I knew you.”
Root nods. “I know. But you still never told me about her.”
Shaw huffs, the defensiveness still not wavering. “We don’t generally do a lot of talking, Root. I don’t… share things. You know that.”
Root smiles, but there’s something a little off about it; something maybe a little sad. “Right. I know.” But her voice makes it sound like she doesn’t know, not really; her voice makes it sound like Shaw’s said something wrong, like she’s done something wrong, like she’s pushed against some part of Root she didn’t know was fragile, and now she’s broken it.
Shaw’s frown deepens. “Root…” she starts to say, but Root waves her off and disappears into her — their, her mind weakly supplies — bedroom.
Shaw stares at the closed door and feels, suddenly, very lost. She doesn’t like it.
It’s awkward for about a day. That’s how long Gen continues to sulk in her room, only coming out when she needs food of when she wants to drag her feet around the apartment, trying to make Shaw feel bad for her behavior. It doesn’t work, and she realizes that pretty early on, but still she tries.
Shaw gets Thai takeout as a sort of peace-offering. It’s from Root’s favorite place, but she pretends like that isn’t a factor when she chooses it.
The smell of noodles and peanut sauce eventually draws Gen out of her room, and by the time they finish their meal everyone is in slightly-better spirits. Shaw gets sauce all down her chin and Root even laughs and uses her own napkin to wipe it off, and Shaw feels relieved at the action, though she tries not to dwell on why.
And when they go to sleep that night, Root turns on her side so her back is facing Shaw, but when Shaw kicks her feet out to brush the back of Root’s legs (she doesn’t do cuddling, alright? but a little physical contact with Root during the night does do a lot to settle the nerves she doesn’t admit to having), Root doesn’t pull away from her.
So. A win, she thinks.
Shaw puts Root firmly on bed-rest the next day. (“Bed-rest, Sameen?” she asks with a teasing smirk. “If you wanted to spend the day in bed with me, you just had to ask.” Shaw pointedly ignores her.) After her shooting excursion (so stupid, so foolish, and why doesn’t Root ever think about the fact that she’s injured and shouldn’t do these things?) she wound up with a few torn stitches that Shaw had to sew up last night. And her ribs are hurting her, too, and he knee is still fucked up, no matter what she tries to say.
The only thing is, that leaves Shaw and Gen alone in the apartment together for most of the day. And she’s a good kid, generally speaking. She’s quiet when Shaw wants to be quiet, for the most part.
But she’s observant, and too smart for her own good. So, sometimes, she asks questions Shaw doesn’t particularly want to answer.
Like now, for instance.
“Is Root your girlfriend?”
The no is on the tip of her tongue, ready to slip out, when something makes her pause. She stops for a moment, tilts her head to the side, and seriously considers her words. “She’s…” She pauses. “It’s complicated.”
“How come?” Gen asks, barely looking up from her reading. Shaw’s not sure if she actually isn’t interested in their conversation or if she’s just putting on a show to make Shaw more comfortable expressing herself. Knowing Gen, it’s probably the latter. The thought almost makes Shaw want to smile.
But she doesn’t smile. Instead, she says, “I don’t really do relationships. I’m not good with feelings.”
“But Root lives with you.” She says it like it’s simple, but it doesn’t feel simple.
“She’s not around a lot, Gen,” Shaw says, her voice remarkably quiet. Which is odd, because she doesn’t really do quiet. Not unless it’s of the quietly fierce, intimidating an enemy through unexpected and unwavering composure variety. “Not enough to be living with me. She… travels, a lot.”
“Doing super secret spy stuff?”
Shaw, in spite of herself, smiles a little. “Something like that.”
“But when she’s here, you live together? And you are together? And you don’t date other people?”
“In our line of work, it’s sort of tricky to meet people who aren’t either about to kill or about to be killed.”
“But even if you could meet other people,” Gen says, finally looking up from her book, as if she’s almost desperate for Shaw to stop beating around the damn bush and actually answer her, already, “if you could see other people… would you want to?”
“You sure do ask a lot of questions; you know that?”
Gen smiles. “My teachers call me precocious.” Shaw hums, but otherwise doesn’t answer. Gen sighs heavily and keeps prodding. The kid definitely doesn’t know when to quit. “So, do you love her?” she asks loudly (a little too loudly for Shaw’s liking), and Shaw winces.
“I told you, Kid,” she says as she shakes her head, “I don’t really do feelings.”
Shaw sighs. Gen’s not going to give up on this, and Shaw knows it. Might as well give her something to shut her up. (And if what she says is more than a little truthful, then… well, it’s not like Shaw is really in the habit of lying to kids, anyway.) “But…” she finally says, slowly “I suppose… Root’s not too bad.”
Gen grins up at her. “Good,” she says.
Shaw can’t help but feel like she’s just missed something.
She figures out what she missed the next day.
“I found this under our bedroom door, today,” Root says as she emerges from the bathroom, toweling her hair dry. She’s holding something out in her hand. Shaw is so curious, so confused about what it is Root might be trying to show her, that she doesn’t correct her on the use of ‘our’ instead of ‘your’. Two months ago, that pronoun choice would have made her clench her jaw so tightly her teeth would have been in danger of shattering. As it is, now she barely even notices it.
“What is that?” Shaw asks, taking a step forward. She’s still dressed in her sweats, the ones she likes to sleep in, because it’s still pretty early in the morning; too early for Root to be finding mysterious things in their bedroom, certainly. Her bare feet pad along the hardwood floors as she finally gets close enough to see what Root’s holding. In Root’s outstretched palm sits a tape; a small one, the kind that fits inside a portable tape recorder. Shaw takes one look at it and rolls her eyes. “I told her no recording in the apartment. What did she do, catch us having sex?”
Root chuckles and shakes her head. “No. Nothing like that.”
“Then why should I care about it?”
“It’s a recording of one of your conversations. The one where you talk about me.”
Shaw freezes momentarily. She opens and closes her mouth a few times before clenching her hands into fists. “I knew she was up to no good.” She growls and stomps toward their bedroom door, already on a tear, ready to give Gen a piece of her mind and remind her about the fact that she’s only allowed to stay here because Shaw had an unlikely and ill-advised moment of mercy. “I swear to God, that kid is dead fucking mea—”
“Did you mean it?”
Shaw stops, her hand already outstretched on the doorknob. “Did I mean what?”
“What you said about me?”
“Wh—” The question is unexpected, and it pulls her up short. She pauses with her arm out for a few more moments before she lets it fall limply back to her side. She runs the conversation over in her head, tries to think if she said anything during it that might have been untrue (or that she might not want Root knowing), but she already knows the answer. She’s just buying herself some time. Finally, she takes a breath and answers. “I… yeah, Root. I guess I meant it.”
Root swallows thickly, and some emotion Shaw can’t quite recognize slips over her eyes. Shaw shifts where she stands, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. “That’s…” Root starts to say, but she trails off, her voice thick with something unnamed.
Shaw shifts again. “I just said you weren’t bad, Root. No need to cry about it.”
Root laughs and shakes her head. Her eyes are still wet, her throat still a little clogged. “Right. My mistake.”
Shaw frowns and shifts on her feet and feels… something. Nothing she recognizes, but nothing necessarily bad. “You done?” she asks gruffly, for something to do. “I need to eat something.”
Root gestures to their door, her hand moving in a big sweeping motion that makes Shaw want to roll her eyes. “After you, Sweetie.”
In the end, Shaw buys a stupid Christmas tree. Her abhorrence of plants in her apartment is firm and unwavering, and she absolutely will not budge on that. But after a few days of the combined pouts/puppy dog eyes courtesy of Root and Gen (who Root must be teaching, because Shaw’s never known the girl to be the kind to beg before now), Shaw figures she can bend the rules just this once. So, she buys the dumb tree. But she absolutely refuses to decorate it.
She comes home from a run one day and finds it strung up with lights and strings of popcorn. Root and Gen both adamantly deny that they were the ones to decorate it, but Shaw catches Root winking at Gen later that night, when Shaw kicks her feet up onto the coffee table and starts to read by the light of the tree (it’s kind of nice in a shitty, kitschy, atmospheric sort of way; so sue her), so she’s pretty sure they’re in cahoots.
Christmas morning rolls around and Shaw, of course, finds herself completely out-matched.
Root gets Gen a new computer, one of those fancy PCs that Root likes to use for gaming (and hacking), the kind that have insane memory cores and fucking out-of-control processing power.
Shaw gets her a hat.
After they’ve made breakfast and cleared away the dirty dishes, after Gen has already disappeared into her bedroom to play with her new computer (and probably do something highly illegal, like try to hack into the CIA, or something), Shaw goes digging in her closet for the other gift she purchased a few days before.
When she gets back into the kitchen she shoves it into Root’s hands unceremoniously. It’s not even giftwrapped, really. There’s just a bow on the top of the box. And she didn’t even do that, the store did, so… whatever. It’s not a big deal, or anything.
Root looks up at her in surprise. Shaw refuses to look at her, instead making herself busy with loading up the dishwasher.
She hears Root pull the box open behind her. (She’s moving slowly, a little too slowly, and it’s not like there’s any wrapping paper standing in her way, or anything, so what does she think she’s doing? Doesn’t she know that it’s making Shaw feel nervous and uncomfortable, setting her teeth on edge?) There’s the sound of crinkling tissue paper, and then a little quiet inhale of breath, and Shaw feels something between her heart and her stomach clench tightly. “Sameen…” Root says in that soft, quiet way of hers. That way she gets when she’s brimming with some emotion that Shaw can’t understand nor fathom. That way she gets when she’s about to say something that’s going to make Shaw supremely uncomfortable.
“Whatever,” Shaw grumbles, sparing the quickest of glances over her shoulder. “I know your hands get cold.”
Root looks at her, all wide, doe-eyes and quivering lip, and Shaw almost wants to yank the box back from her, almost wants to pull it away and say, No, sorry, you missed your chance; you fucked it up, so now you get nothing.
But Root doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t start crying, or confessing some deep-seated emotions. She just leans over and kisses Shaw on the mouth, quick and sure and nowhere near the intense, bruising force that she usually likes to kiss Shaw with.
“Thank you,” she says when she pulls away. “I needed new gloves.”
And if there’s something like pride in Shaw’s chest, something like satisfaction… well. It is Christmas, after all. She’s bound to be in a better mood on Christmas.
When the two weeks draw to a close, on the second day of the New Year, Shaw is almost sorry to see Gen go. (Almost; key word there is almost.)
In the end, it wasn’t all that terrible to have her there. It was maybe even kind of nice, sometimes. Their dinners were a lot livelier. And when she finally did manage to hack Amazon’s website and screw up all of the deliveries for a day, that had been pretty entertaining.
But now, it’s time for Gen to go back to school. And Shaw hadn’t particularly liked having a kid around, hadn’t particularly liked having to watch how often she cursed, or where she stashed her weapons. She hadn’t exactly liked that she and Root had to keep their fucking contained to their bedroom, at night. She hadn’t loved the fact that she had to keep reminding Root to keep quiet, to keep her voice down while Shaw was three fingers deep inside her, lest she wake the kid (but watching Root struggle to keep her noises under control had been a little satisfying, gratifying in its own way). Having another mouth to feed and a minor she was technically responsible for hadn’t exactly been how she planned to spend her Christmas.
But it really hadn’t been so bad.
Shaw thinks she might even almost miss her.
Now, they’re standing by the front door, Gen’s suitcase packed and her backpack slung over her shoulder. Shaw’s called a car for her, some private, discreet service — that cost absolutely way too much — to drive her back to school. The driver should be pulling up any minute, now. Which is why she and Gen are loitering in the entranceway, awkwardly stumbling through a goodbye.
“Well,” Shaw says as she rubs her hands against her legs, “uh… don’t get into too much trouble, alright?” she ventures, which is about as close to admitting she cares as she ever gets.
Gen seems to understand that. She’s always just sort of innately understood Shaw in a way so few people do. “Don’t kill Root if she annoys you too much,” she shoots back with a grin.
Shaw has to chuckle. “No promises.”
“Well, me either, then.”
“Alright. How about I agree not to kill Root, and you agree to stay out of trouble with any and all government entities, domestic or foreign.” At the look Gen shoots her, Shaw rolls her eyes. “At least until you’re eighteen,” she acquiesces. Shaw holds out her hand. “Deal?”
Gen cocks her head, like she’s seriously considering the bargain. “Alright,” she finally says, gripping Shaw’s hand tightly with her own. The kid has a good handshake. Shaw is pleased by that. “It’s a deal.”
Shaw’s phone buzzes with a text, indicating that the driver is outside their building, and Shaw looks at Gen one more time. “Well… bye, then,” she says lamely.
“Bye, Shaw. Bye, Root!” she calls into the kitchen.
Root comes striding out. “Bye, Gen. Stay safe. Get good grades. And email me if you ever have any questions about…” she glances at Shaw before whispering, conspiratorially, with a mischievous wink, “you-know-what.”
Gen laughs and steps forward, pulling Root into a brief but tight hug that seems to surprise her as much as it surprises Shaw. “Thanks for Christmas,” she says when she pulls back. “I’ll call you when I’m back at school.” And with one last wave, she’s out the door.
“How come you got a hug?” Shaw grumbles when the door closes behind her.
“Aw, Sweetie,” Root coos as she walks past. She presses a wet, sloppy kiss to Shaw’s cheek, something Shaw should object to, something she should want to dodge away from, or glower in response to. But, if anything, she leans into the kiss. Which is not something she should do. Like, at all. God, maybe she is getting too soft. Maybe this has all been— “You can hug me anytime you like,” Root purrs into her ear, and Shaw’s mind goes blank.
Maybe she should stop thinking so much. After all, it’s just Root. And, most of the time, Shaw doesn’t even think that Root is half-bad.
She can handle a few cheek kisses, she thinks.
She’s undergone worse tortures.