It starts like this:
Root has always had an appreciation of music — not so much for the people who created it, the composers and the musicians and the artists — but the algorithms that even music follows.
The beats and tempos, the rhythm, the entwinement of the melody and the harmony.
(But I do miss music in stereo, she told Harold once.
And she does, but the Machine fills her silent ear with ringing sounds and brings the world to life around her.)
Root shares that appreciation with the curious Machine. It becomes their method of communication, a language that is truly and wholly their own. Something that cannot be replicated.
Something only for them.
And Root preens and shines and yes, She is a dancing star.
The Machine hums in her implant, a steady stream of notes that Root nods to absent-mindedly as she focuses on the task She has given her.
She’s been doing that more often now, filling Root’s ears with sound. Never a quiet moment (and maybe it’s because Root still shakes sometimes from the aftereffects of Control’s delightful company, still staggers sometimes, her balance not quite the same anymore).
She composes themes for everyone, introducing them through Root’s implant slowly but surely. And Root feels her lips twitch when she hears a familiar tune, an uplifting, springy kind of number that signifies Bear’s presence.
He bounds toward her, nails skittering across the sidewalk, and Root’s smile widens when the change slowly fades into something else. Something upbeat and electric, and oh, there she is.
Shaw trails closely behind Bear, fingers loosely tangled around the lead, and when she sees Root, her eyes narrow and her jaw ticks. Well, the Machine did say Root was going to stumble upon some assistance for her number.
“Hello, Shaw.” Root falls into step beside her, tucks her hands away in her pocket (Shaw’s music fills her ears, settles something fluttering in her stomach).
“Want to help me with something?”
She sees Shaw frown for a moment, contemplating an answer. “Do I have a choice?”
“Of course, Sweetie,” Root placates, smiling all the same. She knows Shaw will say yes. “How do you feel about arson?”
Shaw apparently feels very comfortable and downright gleeful about arson, setting up charges in the warehouse the Machine guided them to with a permanent tiny grin on her face.
(And over gunfire and explosions, Root still hears the rhythm in her ear, the heady synth melody of Shaw’s that the Machine created, and oh, it’s starting to become her favorite.)
Root finds comfort in the music. Feels warm and content with the Machine’s steady presence in her ear (makes her feel less alone as she roams across the world, preparing for Samaritan’s inevitable awakening).
Stress and fear eat away at her most nights. Nights where she can’t sleep, her mind buzzing with code and a desperate need to keep moving even when her body threatens to crumble, completely bereft of energy.
And when Samaritan is up and running and She is on the run and hiding — Harold and John and Sameen donning their new covers, slipping into new skins — the Machine’s silence is blaring.
An empty, void of space when the world used to be so vibrant in Her words. In Her songs.
Root drops her head against the door behind her, stares into the new hotel room she’ll be spending the next day or so in as her new cover.
She misses the music.
(Misses waking up from fretful sleep to the Machine playing a softer, quieter version of Shaw’s melody in her ear.)
When Shaw is taken away and Root feels cold and numb and furious, the Machine tries to assuage her anger. Allay the fear and pain by playing that song in her ear whenever She can.
But it makes Root flinch, her hands tightening around the butts of her guns.
Her breath is unsteady, her heart thrumming and thrumming and thrumming under her sternum, between her ribs. Aches with loss.
It doesn’t ease anything, and her eyes burn at the thought of how Shaw’s theme used to feel like home.
When Shaw escapes from Samaritan’s clutches — scarred and beaten but not broken (never broken) — their songs clash in a thundering crescendo, a discordant rhythm, a melody and a harmony that shouldn’t fit together but does.
And oh, Root finds the words in the middle of a lethal shootout. The perfect description of them that leaves her breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest.
If we’re just information, just noise in the system, we might as well be a symphony.
The edges of her vision are rapidly darkening, a creeping numbness stretching across all of her limbs, but the Machine is playing something in her ear.
Something familiar, something pulsating and electrifying, and Root chokes on a laugh that feels so much more like a sob. Because of course the Machine would know. Of course She would know that the last thing Root would want to hear is Sameen.
She wakes up, wincing at the sunlight that assaults her eyes, hissing in pain when she pulls something that hurts.
But the first thing she sees after she squeezes her eyes shut, reopens them, is Sameen peering down at her with something so akin to relief. There is no music in her ear this time; it’s quiet and vacant, but Shaw is there.
Shaw with her sturdy hands and steady presence.
Root lost Shaw but still had the Machine (in whatever little ways She could be there).
And now she’s lost the Machine but found Shaw.
The world is back to streams of code and a deafening silence on her right side, but Shaw and Bear are here — are alive — and maybe that’s enough.
Root misses the sounds of their symphony. Without the Machine in her ear to splice their songs together, the world is somber and much too quiet. Distant as Root presses her fingers to the glass of the window she sits beside.
The sky outside is dark, and the air tastes of ozone, of an oncoming storm.
Root hears Shaw in the kitchen, the cabinets and the refrigerator opening and closing, and Bear lies in his dog bed, ears flicking when thunder begins to rumble over their heads. She doesn’t focus on on them, just waits for the clouds to break and bring the downpour.
Storms bring their own kind of music. The rain pattering against every available surface, bouncing off glass windows, hitting the concrete below with its own sort of rhythm. The howling winds singing, the lightning flashing, the thunder rumbling.
A melody of sorts (Root wishes the Machine was here so she can discuss it with Her).
Root turns to Shaw instead, gestures to the sky, bringing up these observations she made, and she swears she hears Shaw mumble nerd before she’s flicking off the lights in the kitchen, plunging the apartment into darkness. Only the intermittent flickering of lightning casts jagged paths of light across the floorboards.
“You know,” Shaw says, and Root turns to her, feels a pressure against her ribs, a warmth spooling through her lungs, stitching up her bones, because oh, Shaw doesn’t look at all put off by her rambling. “We can always make our own symphony.”
Root quirks a brow, meets Shaw’s gaze, and her mouth stretches into a feral grin, her voice sickly sweet even to her own ear. “Oh? Are you volunteering to be as wet as the weather outside, Sameen?” Root waves a hand toward the window, sidles closer to Shaw as she speaks. “Because I can help with that.”
“Wow.” Shaw says after a beat, shaking her head. “That wasn’t even subtle.”
Root traces a finger along the side of Shaw’s leg. Hums. “We’ve never needed subtle”
Shaw stares, her eyes flicking between Root’s, and Root grin melts into something less salacious. Feels the muscles loosen into something softer when Shaw grabs her wandering hand but doesn’t shove it away like she used to.
With a short squeeze that leaves Root’s fingers tingling and a smirk of her own, Shaw nods toward the bedroom. And in the short burst of light from a flash of lightning through the glass partition, they leave Bear in his dog bed, the door of their bedroom slamming shut behind them.
(Bear whines a little, but he’s used to their activities by now.)
Rustling sheets and breathless gasps and hisses of pleasurable pain rend the air.
And as they breathe into each other’s mouths, eyes fixed directly on each other’s faces, Root smiles against Shaw’s lips. Feels Shaw’s lips twitch upward in response.
A symphony, indeed, Root thinks, biting down on Shaw’s lower lip.
It starts again like this:
The Machine whirs to life in her ear, and Root jerks awake, the drumming of rain still echoing outside the apartment walls. Shaw shifts beside her, face half-pressed against her pillow.
But Root is lost in the stilted words of the Machine through her implant, filing her head once more with sound. It’s staticky and glitchy, for She’s not fully functioning and recovered from Samaritan, but oh, She’s back.
(She lost both Shaw and the Machine but now they’re here. Alive, and — well, not fully okay, but who is after what they’ve been through?)
Her heart hammers in her chest, and Root barely registers how Shaw sits up beside her, places a hand on the crook of her elbow.
“She’s back,” Root whispers, and the corner of her eyes prick with tears (she’s back, she’s back, she’s back).
“Oh. Is she…?” As she asks, Shaw leans over to flick the bedside lamp on.
“She’s…” Root runs her fingers through her hair, lets out a shaky laugh. She goes to grip Shaw’s hand on her arm. “She’s going to need some time,” she scrunches her nose in thought, “and I need to make sure everything’s working right, but.”
Root tightens her grip around Shaw’s fingers. Shaw slips her grasp and flips her hand over, twines their fingers.
“Okay. Is she still in the subway?”
“I… yes? She’s there.”
Shaw switches the light off again, settles back down against her pillows, tugging Root with her. “Then sleep. ‘M sure she’s not gonna go anywhere until you guys can talk properly.”
Root nods against Shaw’s chest, the Machine buzzing quietly in one ear, Shaw’s steadily beating heart in the other.
It takes time for the numbers to start coming again.
But they come, and Shaw and Root take to the streets once more, Bear tagging along with them on some missions — Shaw was very adamant about Bear not being caught in the crossfire (not that Root disagrees).
There’s a pang in her chest at the loss of Harold, and John is still recovering from his own grievous wounds. But Lionel provides back up, grumbling in that certain way of his.
And once the Machine returns to running full capacity, Root sees technicolor. The music returns, the language that she and the Machine developed together. The beat echoing in her ear every step she takes. Shapes taking form in her peripheral.
When Shaw steps up beside her, not questioning her awed silence, the song shifts to the beginning chords of a song Root hasn’t heard since that day.
Root tilts her head toward Shaw, and Shaw arches a brow. “New number?”
“No,” Root says with a laugh. She loops her arm through Shaw’s. “I missed this.”
If Shaw is baffled by her answer, she doesn’t let on.
With her head filled with the soundtrack of them and the knowledge that John will call in five minutes to complain about forced bedrest, Root soaks in Shaw’s presence beside her and the symphony the Machine composes in her ear.