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Stomach vs. Heart

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It starts as a joke. Root tossing Shaw a granola bar as she stakes out a building, like saying "if you're going to follow me around I might as well feed you." There's something in it of the relationship between a cautious woman and a stray cat, she realizes later, something kind of like that feeling that now she's noticed her, now that her welfare is an active concern, perhaps by feeding her Root can bring her close enough to be petted, to put away the claws long enough to learn how to purr. Oh, she'd love to teach Shaw how to purr, love to let her sharpen her claws all over Root's skin, love to tease her and toy with her like dangling a catnip mouse, knowing what she wants and making her work for it.

It's not hard to look thoughtful-- or psychic-- with an all-seeing computer whispering in your ear at all hours. The next time their paths cross, Root flips a Whatchamacallit at Shaw, amused all over again by how whimsical her favorite candy bar sounds, and grins at the momentary brightening of Shaw's expression, very momentary because a second later she's looking annoyed, like Root's presence is weighing on her, but Root's in too good a mood to let that bother her. "Come on, Sameen, She's got something for us to do," she chirps, "and bring a spare clip. Or three. Three would be better." And there it is, Shaw brightens up again at the thought of action, and Root wonders if she'll ever evoke that look on her own, without a bribe of food or a promise of battle, if Shaw will ever look at her and brighten up just because seeing Root is something she likes. Maybe she just has to make the association between her and things Shaw likes, and Pavlov will take care of the rest of it.

It turns out that Shaw needs every bullet in those extra three clips, and exactly that many. Root's finding the appeal of kneecap shots, even if she's still fighting her instincts to aim for center mass-- the Machine doesn't want her to kill, the Machine wants her to work with the rest of the team, the Machine knows what's best for her and Root will do as She says, even if that means aiming low and leaving her opponents breathing behind her. They do what they've come to do, breaking into a secure server and stealing certain files and then melting into the night like a kneecap-blowing poltergeist vanishing into thin air. On their way back into the city, they pause to get gas and duck into the small diner at the stop. The coffee is terrible, but the cherry pie is fantastic, or so the Machine tells her to tell Shaw, and Root confirms it when she steals a forkful from Shaw's plate. Shaw glowers at her like she's considering sticking her fork into Root instead, but instead she just finishes the pie faster, daring Root with narrowed eyes to try that again. Root doesn't need to-- that taste of sweetness lingers long after they're back on the road.

The next time she grabs Shaw, they're on their way to Miami to deal with a relevant number, and Root is armed with a sandwich to prevent Shaw's bitching about terrible airline food. "Is this... avocado?" Shaw asks after her first bite, and Root just smiles at her-- of course there's avocado, and bacon, and baby spinach, and that honey-roasted turkey Shaw likes so much thickly sliced, on fresh-baked ciabatta-- and silently savors the quiet happy moan Shaw quickly suppresses as she takes another bite.

Dealing with the number is just hard enough to be fun, and in the bar full of unconscious thugs Root hops behind the counter to mix bright and fruity drinks for the both of them to sip while the Machine tells her about where they need to be next. She puts extra passionfruit juice in Shaw's, on Her advice, and the way Shaw's eyes close with pleasure at the first taste tingles all the way down to Root's toes. It's a shame to have to send her off on her own when they have so much fun together, but there's always another relevant number-- or in this case, two of them-- and considering how very small the safety net has become thanks to Vigilance's interference, Root has no time at all to spare for regrets when she packs Shaw off to Alaska with a tip about avoiding seafood restaurants now that the whole Pacific is irradiated. "I'll get you a lobster when we're back on the East Coast," she promises, and Shaw rolls her eyes. "No, I'm sorry, it's king crab legs you like, isn't it?"

"You have to stop doing that," Shaw says, but she sounds more amused than bothered.

Unfortunately, there's no time for seafood when they're both back in New York. The storm that Root has been watching loom on the horizon is about to make landfall, and her thoughts turn fully toward survival, her own and that of the Machine's other assets, the ones Samaritan will aim to take out first when it comes online. No time for flirting, hardly time for food, for that matter. Root's pulled in so many directions at once that she's not entirely sure how she's holding it together except for the grace of her own personal God, constantly whispering reassurance in her ear.

She preps their new identities well ahead of time, small packages for each of them, documents, cash, keys, phones, and stashes them where She tells her to put them. When Root goes to put Shaw's in the library with Finch's and Reese's, the Machine tells her to hang onto it. Root knows she doesn't get to see the big picture and she's okay with that, but little details can be revealing, and this little detail gives her hope that she'll see Shaw again before what she fully expects to be her suicide mission into Samaritan's server storage. She keeps Shaw's package in her bag, with hers and those for the boys, and if she puts a Whatchamacallit and an extra clip in there with the driver's license and stack of cash, well, she's just sure that Shaw will be hungry when they're running for their lives, and maybe she'll appreciate that one small gesture, if it's the last one Root will ever make.

There are two things, two moments, Root considers to be the most beautiful she's ever experienced. The first is the voice of the Machine speaking to her for the first time in the mental institution, proof her God hadn't abandoned her, proof she has a purpose, a higher calling, proof that, whatever came after that, her fate and the Machine's were inextricably entwined. The second is Sameen Shaw with her legs wrapped around a Decima guard's neck who a moment before had his gun pointed at Root, choking him into unconsciousness, leaving him behind and walking up to Root with a smudge on her cheek and a look of anticipation. Root knew the Machine wouldn't tell her to keep Shaw's package without a reason, but the timing, that was impeccable. And knowing that Shaw was worried about her.... Root doesn't have time to revel in that, but it underlies the rest of the mission, a whisper of pleasure that Shaw does, in fact, give a fuck about her.

Root does her best to enjoy it. After all, what she's doing here is all that's going to keep her and her friends from being outright slaughtered in the very near future, and this is the last time she's going to be working with Shaw... perhaps ever. She hooks up the servers, secure in the knowledge that Shaw's got her back, trusting the other woman to keep her safe with this last and most vital task in progress.

Root thinks about who each server is defending as she hooks it up-- Harold first, the Machine insists, although Root fears he may be dead already. Harold, paternalistic and principled, stupidly stubborn, and determined to save her despite herself. Harold, who brought forth God, whose creation surpassed him, who did his damnedest to cripple a deity that still loves him dearly despite that. She does her own second, because the Machine will need her hands to carry out Her works, and thinks about the ways she's been changed in Her service. Reese third, and she wonders how he'll handle life without Harold's voice in his ear at all hours, when their companionship is nearly as constant as her own with the Machine. Then Shaw, her perfect partner in crime, or crime prevention, as the case may be. Shaw and the way she smiles slightly when she's kneecapping someone. Shaw licking her lips to catch the last taste of something Root gave her. Shaw, who's standing right behind her, tense and on alert and ready to kill anyone who might interfere with this last mission of theirs. By the time Root gets to the last three servers her hands are working almost ahead of her own thought, familiar with the task, and she thinks of Daizo's ridiculous wordplay and the way he laughs at himself when no one else understands, Daniel's obvious discomfort at being back among people (he'll like the life she's set up for him, she thinks), Jason's bulldog tenacity at any task she set him toward.

Such a small flock of angels her God has gathered, so very few of them to undo the horror that's about to be wrought. If they can. If anyone can. Root's faith has no room for doubt-- they will, they must, or all is lost beyond any hope of repair. So very few of them, and now each of them has to go alone simply to survive.

They make their escape, not without injuries, but with their lives, at least. Root wishes they had time at least to let Shaw patch up her arm for her, but time’s the one thing they have none of, and she does it herself in the back of the SUV, teeth gritted against the pain preventing her from saying any of the words clamoring in her mind to be spoken. None of it is any good-- she can’t tease her in the face of solemnity, she can’t reminisce about the things they’ve done together when they’re on their way out of each other’s lives, she won’t say anything about her feelings because no good would come of a confession at this point. She wishes Shaw would say something, but she holds her silence.

It’s Harold she speaks to, finally. Harold who the Machine tells her needs to go now, to leave, to disappear into the unremarkable life she’s constructed for him, and she never expected John to be anywhere but at his side. She tells him what the Machine tells her needs to be said, and Shaw listens while she speaks of Pandora’s box, of the last thing left inside. Hope’s almost all they’ve got at this point, and things will get worse before they get better, if they ever do get any better, which is far from a sure thing.

They can’t linger once the car is parked. They need to go, now. But Root’s still a tiny bit pleased that Shaw’s already eaten her candy bar. Then Shaw leans in, says low and rough, “Thanks, Root,” and kisses her, once, briefly, tasting of chocolate and missed opportunities. “Take care of yourself,” she says, and pulls her hat down a bit, and that’s it, she’s walking away, and Root wants to stop and stare but she can’t even afford to do that.

She walks down the street, into her new life, sucking on her lower lip and fancying that she can still taste chocolate.