In November, about a year after the fall of Samaritan, the Machine keeps Root sky-hopping all over the globe, stamping out cyber fires and techno uprisings. She goes back to living out of one small bag, leaving all the detritus of her life scattered around the apartment (which is also where you live, for security purposes. For the mission). You want to go with Root, but there are so many numbers to work and new associates to train. You stay in New York and freeze your butt off. You sleep on the couch because being in bed without Root now annoys you. You stare at the tiny camera on your laptop, wondering if Root can see you from wherever she is.
Reese pokes your elbow every time he finds you scowling into a cup of coffee. Which feels like it's practically every morning.
"She'll be back soon," he says, snagging the last glazed donut from the box Fusco brought.
"Who, Root?" You say, as though there's someone else whose beanie you're wearing and whose shower gel you're using and to whom you send a classy as fuck dirty picture every night at midnight EST, even if you're not sure she can even see them.
"Root can do whatever she wants," you slurp your coffee, "I'm cool."
Reese flicks a smirk at you. You have never felt further from cool. Even though he's the one with a smudge of sugar on his chin. You're the one with a case of weird clingy... concern. John pats your forearm with two fingers, respecting your need for minimal physical contact while still offering a friendly touch.
"I'm pretty sure if Root had her way, the only thing she'd be doing is you."
It's the dirtiest thing John Reese has ever said and you're almost shocked by it. But he has a point. Root's absences aren't by choice. You have to live with them, even if it's immensely annoying when she disappears for weeks and sometimes months on end without warning.
When she rematerializes, it's six days later, just as you're dragging a perp into the back of a white unmarked van. You cuff the perp to a ulock on the wall and climb into the driver's seat, only to find the passenger side occupied by a half-asleep, extremely pale and jet lagged little hacker. Root smiles at you with her just for Shaw, half-condescending, half-doting, entirely hopeful smile. Before she can piss you off with a snotty comment about your fighting skills or an overtly sexual quip, you catch her eye. It's been six weeks. Neither of you says anything for a moment, the warm pulse of silence between you is enough.
"Together again," your brain whispers, and you feel like a tiny iron cage in your chest, just south of your sternum, has been broken open. That sharp, pinching tension invoked by Root's absence disappears. Your body feels off-balance if you're not near enough to protect her (you've given up trying to understand this. It just is).
"Miss me." she says.
"No," you retort, but you're sort of nodding yes and reaching for her before the word is even fully formed.
Even as you embrace, your hands dance across her body, checking for injuries, bandages, breaks, sore places, anything you can tend to. She realizes what you're trying to do and grins against your cheek.
"I love it when you go all field hospital on me, Shaw."
"You shut up." You order softly, kissing her so she has no choice but to obey.
Sometimes, Root is a fragile, fumbling, wide-eyed creature, wobbling her silly self into danger- and you're her idiot huntsman, bringing down everything else in your path to assure her safety. Sometimes, though, Root is a hurricane. Like when you get home and she pins you to the mattress; her eyes gleam and she owns your mouth with her lips and tongue. Root sweeps into your loft. Root changes the current of a casual conversation with a single word. Her sharp grin clouds your vision with promises. Root rains kisses on you, and you can only dodge so many before they overtake you. Root floods you with desire. Root billows through your bloodstream. Root litters your skin with the debris of her lust- teethmarks, scars, bruises, rope burns, welts, scratches, rubbed raw places, handprints. Root leaves you wrecked and wet and gasping for more.
Root storms through darkened hallways with blazing pistols and a tinned voice in her ear. She has no qualms about jamming a needle into your neck, smashing the trust in your relationship if only to keep you safe. Root is completely twisted and cruel when it comes to people who get in her way, but she is unflinchingly gentle with you, even when you don't want her to be. You have seen Root with brick dust in her hair and a filthy smirk on her face, hauling a thoroughly incapacitated perp from a collapsing building. You know for a fact that when you were a prisoner, she tried to tear the world down to find you- threatening her God, flying solo, snapping necks, burning, burning, burning, with the kind of stormy fury you've only ever read about.
Root is delicate: Root is dangerous.
You don't know how to understand these vastly different parts of the woman you're with- the careless creature and the unstoppable force of nature. You want both parts, as close to you as possible at all times. One, to save from destruction at all costs- and the other to destroy you, just a little bit, from time to time. You decide it's some trick of biochemistry that has rendered you this susceptible to Root. You don't know how to tell her what you want with her, or why you want it- but you do try to show her.
You watch Root, sometimes, when she sleeps. Her mouth goes slack and she often drools on herself. It's a little bit disgusting, but you still kiss her and push your tongue into her mouth in the morning when she wakes up. Root in the morning might just be your favorite thing (besides Bear). She's sleepy and disoriented. She makes whiny little waking-up noises and lets you climb on top of her without any protest. She wraps an arm around you and sighs happily when your body settles and sinks into hers. She stretches the whole length of her spine as you tease slow, deep orgasms out of her. Mornings are good. Mornings take away the frantic tension of your protective instincts and the sting of Root's raw power.
One rare, lazy morning, Root captures your hand and plays with your fingers while you catch your breath. She dawdles over the faded, gnarled scar that jumps across the four top knuckles of your left hand.
"Have I seen these before?"
"Marines? or before that?"
"Day I... left my residency program. I punched out the windshield of a sedan. And the windows."
"Tell me about it."
You're happy to leave your explanation at that, but Root is lying naked next to you, watching your face with expectation. The skin of her cheeks and neck and chest is still flushed and sweaty from the sex you've just had- her bent knees angle toward you, not even covered by a sheet. Her inner thighs are still shimmering with evidence of your persistent attention. Her rare and unguarded openness is a reminder that she's sharing parts of herself with you that she's never shared with anyone else. You see no reason why you can't at least try to do the same.
You draw a breath and give her a sliver of yourself.
"One night, during my second year at NY Pres, I was working an oncology rotation. It was late, like nine, ten o'clock. I finished my shift and the director of the residency program paged me to this dank little conference room. All the lights were off except two computer monitors..."
You can still see that room now. Its cold, blue tint has never really been far from your mind. Windowless, dull, the end of the road.
"He sat me down, told me I'm technically brilliant, but, I wasn't cut out to be a doctor. My attendings, they'd noticed my lack of empathy, my lack of fear for a patient's life, my..."
"Emotional colorblindness?" Root supplies.
"Yeah. Call it that. Anyway he took me to task on it. On how I'm... different. Said I knew the DSM, I probably knew what I was all along. I never should have been in med school. 'You'll never be a doctor,' he told me like he was doing us all a favor."
You remember the chill that crept into your blood, numbed your muscles and nerves, when he said, "you probably diagnosed yourself in your first year," because you had. You knew, and he knew. You remember feeling like you were drowning in that conversation. Like the shards of humanity you'd tried so hard to grasp for yourself had been swiftly knocked out of your hands. "You'll never be a doctor," those words haunted you- still haunt you.
"You've seen my file. You know I got a perfect score on my math SAT. Graduated top of my classes in high school and college. I was in the top 2% of people who took the MCAT the year I did. I did internships in college. I destroyed med school, just... put in longer hours, worked harder than any- -- I didn't bother with a life outside of becoming a doctor. I thought being a--- being what I am was such an advantage. Y'know, not getting emotionally involved or afraid or anything. Cool head, clear eyes, empty heart."
Root nods at you but you wonder if she really understands.
"Turns out, most people want a doctor who might mess up but will care if they do, but not a doctor who won't mess up but won't care either way. All that work, though, kinda sucked to see it amount to nothing. So. I rolled up my stethoscope and my coat and I left. And I punched the lights out of the first car I saw, and the windshield out of the second. Broke the glass and almost broke my wrist until I stopped feeling angry. Twenty stitches, on that hand."
Within a month you had enlisted in the Marines. Powered through basic and special ops training. Nobody had questioned your motives or your scars, then.
Root studies you. You can see her scrunching her forehead and mouth, fighting to keep some expression off her face, though you can't tell what. She keeps running the pad of her thumb over your knuckles.
"I never told anyone that. Don't make me regret it."
Root blows out a frustrated puff of breath, then her eyes soften.
"You know, having a personality disorder doesn't mean there's something wrong with you."
"Yes it does," you tug your hand away, "I'm a sociopath."
Root says nothing. You wish, for the first time in your life, that you could make her understand what it's like, what you mean when you say that.
"I can never feel things. At least, not like other people. Even if I wanted to."
"I don't think that matters. You still care."
"Not really... I care because I choose to, not because there's some warm tingly feeling in my chest when I do the right thing. Or the thing that matters. I'm human, Root, but at the end of the day I'm not quite a person."
Root shakes her head. "Is that what you think?"
"It's what I know. I'm a functional human, but I don't have the same qualities or instincts that you have, that Harold has.... I'm not... I'm not like a person."
"Are you saying that the woman who got a perfect score on her SAT and was top of her class through college and med school, was a brilliant doctor, soldier, and assassin- she's not a person? The woman who sacrificed herself for her team? Who calls Gen once a week just to 'check in'? Who-"
"I was only able to do those things because of what I am. Don't forget that."
"Oh, Sameen. I would very much like to flay every last man and woman who ever made you think there's something wrong with the way you are."
"It wouldn't make a difference." you tell her, "It wouldn't change the truth... and it wouldn't make me feel like I love you."
She goes quiet again. Wrestles your hand back to her chest and holds it tight. You roll your eyes,
"That doesn't seem wrong to you?"
"Yeah, Root. Honestly."
"Well, then, honestly, Shaw, I think you're hot and talented and ruthless. And those are the reasons- well, some of the reasons- we have such ... explosive... chemistry. But I love you because of who and what you are. Exactly how you are. Unaltered. Even if being exactly who and what you are means you don't feel anything back."
You can't help it if your body goes a little rigid at this. Love. That's a dark and unknown territory. Root doesn't seem phased, though, she just brings your hand to her mouth. and playfully gnaws at your knuckles like some goofy human puppy.
"Don't overthink this, Shaw. I don't need you to hit 'reply all.' As long as you're ok with it, what we have right now is what I want, exactly as is... As long as it's good enough for you."
"yeah, Root," you clear your throat and say, "you're more than good enough for me."
You roll over and draw her into one of those lingering, sloppy kisses she enjoys so much.
"You know, I'd do anything for you," she murmurs when you come up for air.
"That's kind of what I'm afraid of."