the thing is, you like men.
it's never been a question. you clock a series of pleasurable physiological reactions at the contours of certain bodies. you like male musculature: broad shoulders, narrow hips, a well-defined package, four to eight percent body fat. you like to fuck non-white men, not too tall men, men with stubble, men who talk dirty but not down to you- men who will let you take charge and push them around. if only you could order a one night stand like you can order a scotch.
you like working with men. they value your emotional ineptitude, code it as stoicism. on a very basic level, men say what they mean. there's no games. or if there are games, they are the kind you already know how to play: violence, power, precision, strategy.
women tolerate you the least. you're brusque, pretty much blind to social cues, and you have neither a speaking nor reading knowledge of emotions. some women hate this, some women really like it. most people, of any gender, find you a little too close to rude to actually like.
bodies, you can do. you can read facial muscles like Harold can read code. you can predict, pretty accurately, what an opponent's body's going to do next, based on those barely visible sub-dermal muscle movements. it's kind of a gift, it makes you a wonderful fighter, a gifted interrogator, very good at killing.
you do love dogs. you know what love is because of dogs. love, if anybody asked you, ever, (which no one ever has) is what makes dogs put up with humans. simple as that (love: affection and maybe the promise of steak).
the thing is, you don't just like men, you need them. you need anonymous, rough hook-ups. you need beard-burn on your inner thighs. you need some good, hard, cock in your life sometimes. sex is a necessary equation and, crass as it sounds, penis is an important part of it.
the thing is, Root is a woman.
Root is a tall, slim, pale as a fairy, long-haired, moderately flat-chested, red-lipped woman. she has a girlish voice. she sways her hips when she walks in front of you. she uses an eyelash curler. she once used it to torture a decima agent, but that's beside the point. Root, as a human body, has nothing you find inherently attractive. Her eyes are too big and doting. Her collar bones are precise and delicate (they remind you of bird wings, why even?!). her hands are too long and slender and her wrists annoy you, the way the veins curl up them like ivy.
you don't know what force inside of you prompts you to tell her, back when she's wearing Veronica's identity, that you kind of enjoy torture. it's a throw-away comment, meant to call the bluff of this smiling buffoon with an iron. instead of disgust, though, delight sweeps across her face. like you've just confessed to being the only other world champion at her favourite game and now you're going to be her playmate.
before your interrogation is rudely interrupted, her open, joyfully sadistic grin burns itself into your memory.
you don't know what it is about Root, but after that incident, that first meeting, you really want to shoot her. the thought of someone else shooting her first annoys you. in the end, you do shoot her (a flesh wound she will later refer to as your first kiss). you also punch her in the face.
"turnabout is foreplay," she whispers in your ear, much later. that's not even how the saying goes.
you don't really know how it starts. there are the comments, that, although sensual in overtone, have nothing really to do with how normal people have sex. they're always about tying you up, or hurting you, or girl talk, or making you scream, or handcuffs. it's like she's running a long code of kinks through the air in front of you, observing which ones get the best reaction out of you, which ones unlock your processor or whatever. there's the two gun thing, which is, ok, you'll bite, more than kinda hot.
the first time it happens is in the CIA safe house. she annoys you so much, building up wave after wave of flirtatious irritations, kind of like building waves of discomfort during phase one psychological torture. nothing should annoy you that much unless it ends in orgasms or neck snappings, and since you can't snap her neck (or your own), you sigh. your hair is greasy and disgusting. you haven't had a chance to brush your teeth in two nights. and your fingers are literally twitching with annoyance because she just won't shut up.
"if i fuck you, will you stop talking?" you finally ask.
you don't know why you offer this.
she perks up- you swear if she had dog ears they'd be standing straight up.
"i don't want you to fuck me," she chirps. and then she's up, off the table, the apple she was eating rolls to the floor. she backs you into the bedroom. she puts one hand on your belt buckle. you raise your chin defiantly.
"i could break your wrist in point six seconds." you say flatly.
"i know. but let's pretend you can't. let's pretend you can't get out of zipties and you can't break my neck with a well-placed twist of your arm."
she shoves you toward the bed. you bristle.
"now shaw," she says, like she's explaining algebra to a class of bolt-heads for the fifth time, "you won't be fucking me."
she rolls your shirt up until it loosely holds your hands in place. she sweeps your feet and you tumble gracelessly back onto the bed.
"i'll be fucking you."
she zipties your hands to the headboard. "this is kind of turning into our thing, isn't it? so romantic."
what Root does next. well. you don't know how she knew. you never said anything, apart from that first stupid comment. but she knows. she knows about you liking it rough, but not just rough, she knows you like to meander through the first phase of pain. she has figured you out. somehow she knows you have a tripwire threshold, that is not your actual limit, but the one at which the neurological responses stop being fun. she knows you enjoy dancing around that threshold. it's just her and a taser and a penknife, and later she scrounges up a lighter-- and she keeps you there all night. you sweat and squirm and pant and revel in it for hours. she doesn't let you come until the sun is peeking up, but when you do, it's a violent crescendo, more intense and longer and just more than it's ever been before.
After that, Root comes and goes, but whenever she comes, you know you will too. there's no arrangement. just a dark, ferocious look she'll give you, a microsecond twitch of her face that says i'll be following you home tonight. it's always new and exciting and exquisitely painful with Root. she understands your body, is at home with it, enjoys putting you through an infinity of creative cruelties. she's a genius of a sadist. you have tremendous respect for the way she can burble silly nothings at you while making you bleed and gasp or choking you out.
you don't know what is about this pale, dark-eyed, fawn/fruit loop that unwinds you so completely. you don't know why it's so much more with Root, why it always feels like orgasms from Root sweep through your body and your brain (your psychology brain, not your biology brain) separately. you can't figure it out, but that doesn't mean you're going to stop. oh no.
the not-having-a-penis thing isn't as much of an issue as you'd thought it might be. Root uses her mouth and her hands and a range of toys (where does she even get them?) to reduce you to a quivering mess. She has no qualms about stepping into a strap-on and riding you with it 'til you black out (maybe it's penetration, and not penis per se, that you enjoy). Root teases you when you come, drives two orgasms into three. she fucks with the horsepower of ten men.
Root never asks or expects anything from you. she never stays the night, even though you tell her that she can. she never asks you to make her come, or to kiss her or touch her or anything. the little intimate exchanges you share- they're really all about you, and you're fine with that. because Root is a woman. she has a female body, parts you have no interest in and no desire to explore. The thought of having sex with Root does not appeal to you, even though, in a way, she's been having sex with you for almost a year.
tomas, of course, changes everything. you want to fuck him from the moment your scope aligns with his ass. you want to ride him, feel him inside you, make him sweat.
and you almost do
but as he's unbuttoning his shirt and offering you south america and a bright new horizon of adventure, you remember Root.
Root, who has been Eeyore-ing since the Machine went quiet. Root who doesn't have an apartment or even a pillow to call her own, who lives out of one business satchel and still after all this time refuses to take up any of your space at three in the morning after fucking you senseless. Root, who teased you about tomas, who goaded you, who basically said but didn't say i'm here if you want me- but do what makes you happy. Root who is probably alone in that dank subway station moping and chewing on an apple.
the thought of Root moping (Root alone) kills your libido. you look at tomas and see a gorgeous, seductive person. yours for the taking. but the taking, and the leaving. that would make Root sad, it would hurt her. you are not oblivious enough to overlook this fact. and who would protect her? John doesn't understand how reckless she is, you think, as tomas tips his head towards his open bedroom.
Root alone. it makes you feel too heavy and also nervous like you need to leave right now. in the end, the choice is easier than you would have expected. you make some excuses and you slip into the night.
You find her. She smiles. In as vague a way as possible, you remind her that you have responsibilities here that you wouldn't just up and leave. Maybe you imply that you care. Maybe you directly say it.
"I need help with this decontamination" is a flimsy excuse, and, judging by the smirk she shares with you, she sees right through it.
that's the night everything changes.
you make it back to your apartment after neutralizing the virus. you lock the door behind you.
you don't know why, but you want to do something for her. something beyond letting her torture and pet you into a delightful oblivion. you want to please her- without her knowing that's what you're trying to do.
"you need to to stay tonight." you say as she's slipping out of her jacket.
"i'll run a blood test in the morning to make sure the decontamination was complete. if you sneak off, it could jeopardize public health."
it isn't a question. she quirks an eyebrow at you.
"is this your subtle way of asking for morning sex?"
"You looked so yummy when you were neutralizing that virus. I just had to steal a lab coat. and some goggles," she pulls them out of her satchel and holds up the coat like a trophy.
"Wanna play doctor?" she asks, her voice lilting like it does when she's about to take over, tie you up, make you shiver.
you jerk your head a little bit. it might be a passable "no."
"interrogation? mad scientist? naughty researcher who needs to be punished for unauthorized testing on human subjects?"
you shake your head again.
"Yeah, we've kind of done all those, haven't we... i'll come up with something else then..."
"Root." you cross the room and find her hand. you somehow manage to prise all the extra stuff out of it. you lead her to your bedroom door.
she's about to start talking again so you reach up and softly cover her mouth.
"i just want you. you and me. tonight."
she nods but her eyes look watery. it's not helping. you don't know why you're doing this, but there you are, undressing her, pushing her gently back onto the bed, doing all these things you never knew you wanted to do before.
that's the first night Root doesn't tie you up or handcuff you or do that thing with bungee cords that you still haven't figured out how to escape.
that's the first night you and Root actually have sex. mutual, reciprocal, everybody-comes-a-lot sex.
that's the first night you go down on another human being. you thought it would be gross and possibly demeaning. it's not. Root's vagina tastes like Root's skin and sweat, just a little bit stronger. and a lot wetter. you kind of like the way she looks, too, propped up on her elbows with her knees askew, studying you. the warm, soft skin of her thigh brushes against your cheek. she shivers. it makes you feel really fucking powerful. The most vulnerable part of her body is just there and open and she's trusting you to make her feel good- probably a tactical error, in your opinion. you go slow, your mouth moving in time with the upward thrusts of her hips, your tongue exploring a part of the human anatomy that still, objectively, doesn't interest you.
except this isn't just the human anatomy, is it? this is Root. Root's body, which, by proxy of Root's annoying mind hitching into some trail of unbroken code in your mind, is now something your body actually wants. your body doesn't seem to care about the gender thing as much when it comes to Root. Root who just happens to have these parts that you're learning to work with- that you want to work with because it will make her feel good. Root whose breathy, feminine sighs and gasps and moans will fill up your bedroom. Root who doesn't have a nice, loaded cock or washboard abs- who instead has a soft belly and thin arms and pale skin that bruises easily. Root who, yes, ok, has a vagina, a delicate, pinkish, silky, completely foreign territory between her legs. Root whose breasts you want to lick and kiss and whose whole body you want to learn (since when?). Root who completely dismantles you.
Root who pipes up "you've looked me in the genitals longer now than you've ever looked me in the eyes."
so you slap the side of her ass. she chuckles. then,
you use your mouth some more, you use your fingers, you use both together...
you slide up the length of her body as she comes for the third time, "do you care if i kiss you, after?" you ask.
she smiles and pulls you in. you make out for what must be at least half an hour, your fingers still playing with her, her hips still lazily bumping up into you.
"what does kissing feel like for you?" she asks when you finally break for air.
"swimming." you tell her. wet and slow and an all-over kind of tingling. "what's it like for you?"
she laughs a little recklessly, "drowning."
after that, she stays the night every time. you don't know why it helps you sleep easier, knowing she's safe, sprawled next to you, with a gun tucked under every pillow. for some reason, rolling over and seeing her there, with one arm thrown up over her face like a narrow, white wing, makes you feel like you're doing something right. if sometimes you drag her home with you and fuck her or let her fuck you just so she'll stay, and not because you're all that much in the mood, she never notices. or never comments.
after that, you have a lot of regular sex and a lot of fucked up kinky sex and a lot making out in the subway when no one else is around. you don't tell her, but you're not sleeping with other people. you want to, there are a lot of really sexy people out there. a few of them have offered. you want to, but you don't. that would hurt Root- not like a gunshot or a punch, where you can halfway blame the other person for not ducking. That would hurt Root in a way you don't understand and have never experienced- a way that you think might be more painful than a flesh wound. and the thought of Root hurt or Root alone because you are with someone else just isn't worth it.
you make a throwaway comment about it one day. something like, but not exactly, "i wouldn't do that because it would hurt you." you're on a stake out. maybe you're actually talking about selling her computer for munitions money. you forget. she looks at you so strangely, then.
after that, she starts up with the feelings business.
"I'm worried about the mission," you tell her, "I'm only in it for the dog," or "didn't trust John not to fuck this one up."
she smiles patronizingly at you, every time, the "yeah, riiiight" passing silently from her smirk into the air between you.
"I'm a sociopath," you have to remind her again and again, "I don't have feelings."
you don't know why, but you're starting to wonder if it isn't possible for a sociopath to have some (very muted, very rare, very pale, almost nonexistent) feelings. feelings that are deeper than hunger, anger, lust, and exhaustion. feelings that, like the orgasms Root gives you, seem to reach beyond your own body, into something else.
"i'm not asking you to label your emotions, or even to have emotions- i just want you to think about why you do some of the things you do. that's it. even if you don't talk to me about it."
six months after that conversation, you are arguing in an elevator. she pulls your sleeve. "if you even think i'm gonna let you-"
you are so annoyed, you almost punch her. this is your job. this is your life. to die for something that you-----
-and then you know what is about Root. that nagging, unfinished puzzle finally completes itself. Root isn't just a warm body, or anybody, or someone who knows your kinks. Root is a person who, as a rule, doesn't waste her time on humans, on other people. but she took the time to learn your code, to speak your language instead of trying to force you to speak hers. Root gets you and accepts you and enjoys you. Root loves you.
-and you roll your eyes, because of course, you love her back (even if it looks massively different for you than it does for other people. even if its dog love- affection and maybe the promise of a steak). that is the final piece of the puzzle, the most elusive fact.
you kiss her, because this is your language that you've built together. and this kiss is for you too, even though it's too short. even though seconds later her scream is fading down the elevator shaft and your steady hand is firing away at an onslaught of Samaritan agents and three searing hot slugs land in your chest.
"it's drowning for me too," you think as you pass out, staring up at martine's bitch face.
what happens next is a year of your life you can't talk about yet. it's a year where your body gets taken away from you, in so many ways, and you're drugged for months and moved around the country until John is suddenly there, in a cloud of acrid gunsmoke. he wheels you into a van and you black out for three days. it's a year that starts with a kiss in an elevator and ends in a safe house you don't recognize.
when you wake up, Root is slumped over in a desk chair. she's drooling and holding your hand.
when you wake up again, you hear voices outside your now empty room. you stand up and find you're actually wearing clothes. you wonder about muscle atrophy and lasting brain damage.
a few hesitant steps happen and then, suddenly, Root is there in front of you.
"are you a hallucination?" you ask, flatly.
she steps forward and you find yourself wrapping your arms around her. she's too thin. you can feel her ribs. you squeeze and you don't let go. she holds you back. neither of you say anything.
finally you can't stand up anymore so you end up sitting on the bed with Root right next to you, her arm still tight around your shoulders.
"did you miss me between AI apocalypses?"
"Sameen." Her voice is heavy and wet. Your name has never meant so much.
you look at Root hard. you know your face probably looks blank, or bored, but that's just who you are.
you hold her hand. not because some script says you should, but because you want to feel her fingers threaded through yours.
"Root," you begin
"I'm a sociopath,"
"I have self-destructive impulses. and when I hurt other people, I don't actually care."
she nods again.
"I'm a masochist."
she smiles a little. this, she knows.
"I don't feel things, the way other people do, if at all. but Root, that day at the stock exchange... I didn't do ... what I did, for Harold or John or Fusco or the Machine or Bear even. I mean the running into enemy gunfire part I did for them, but before that. I didn't kiss you to distract you, you know. I did it because I didn't want to die for something I loved without actually making sure the something... knew i loved it- them- you."
Root bursts into tears.
"don't do that... please" you say, petting her hair.
you can't not touch each other after that. hugging devolves into trading long, slow kisses. you let her hold you. you need it as much as she does. somehow you manage to undress yourselves (mostly it's her stripping off and then peeling your clothes off) and slip under the sheets of your bed together. she wraps her arms around you, cradling the back of your head like your skull is made of glass. you enfold her legs in yours.
"i never thought i'd get to touch you again," you whisper.
she runs her fingers along your chest, down your body, until she's holding you somewhere else. you sigh into her mouth.
"you need to know I love you" Root tells you seriously, her hand still as stone.
"you think i don't? Root, knowing you love me is pretty much what kept me alive for this past year."
Her cheeks are wet when she kisses you, but her hands are steady and sure. It's the first time since the night before the stock exchange that someone else is making your body feel good. and the relief is so good it almost hurts.
your skin-on-skin marathon runs all night and most of the next morning. just Root. and you.
the thing is, you're Root's now, and she's yours, in all of the ways.
it's never been anything but a question from day one. what is it about her? how does she know? what does she want? the thing is, Root's a puzzle and you're never going to solve her and you don't need to because you're a rubix cube and Root has no desire to force your sides to align. she figured out how you work and you may just be the only person she hasn't tried to manipulate. and she might just be the only person you've ever wanted to shoot and kiss at the same time.
the thing is, nothing else matters but your head on her chest and her arms coiled around your back.
well, that and a steak, later, maybe.