It started small, grunts and whines, whimpers and growls. It always started small. Tiny twitches in her hands and legs while she slept. Either it wasn't enough to wake Sameen Shaw or else she simply couldn't pull herself out of whatever dark dream-scape she was experiencing inside her mind. The tremors would become kicks and punches, the grunts and growls destined to be terrible, agonizing screams.
Sometimes Root could soothe her out of it, ease the passage to wakefulness if she got there in time. It wasn't something they ever talked about, like so many of the other things that they never spoke of, but it worked regardless of whether or not they addressed it.
Root wasn't in the apartment when Shaw bucked, legs kicking hard against the sheets tangled around her feet. Throwing a strong elbow at the wall only left a dent in the drywall and sent pain down her arm. It didn't wake her from her struggle.
Thrashing, her feet were freed when the sheet pulled loose from the mattress, allowing her struggle to continue. Turning onto her front, Shaw pushed herself up on her elbows, head pressed hard against sheets damp with her sweat. A scream, muffled by gritted teeth, made her throat raw. Her body was rigid, bowed against an assault that wasn't physical, that existed only in her mind.
Breath came as hard gasps, her heart pounding with exertion in her chest. Grunting as though she'd been kicked, she fell onto her back. In her fight she'd shifted too close to the edge of the mattress though, and fell over the side gracelessly. The short fall onto her head succeeded in waking her, shoulders rounding to absorb the impact on instinct.
Shaw froze, quieting her breathing without thinking about it, listening intently to be sure that she was alone in the apartment. That her enemies were only behind her eyes. Satisfied after half a minute of holding her breath, she relaxed into the floor, body slumping. Her sweat felt cold against her skin, her tank top clinging to her chest and stomach.
It was just a dream, she told herself, trying to shake off the visions of memories still at the top of her mind. Her dreams of Samaritan rarely had to get more creative than what had actually been done to her, unfortunately. It took no imagination to remember what they'd put her through, the pain they'd inflicted. It was all there under her skin, sleeping inside her muscles, waiting until she was unconscious and weak to awaken, to hurt her all over again.
Shaw made herself breathe deep, feeling her ribs expand, and held it until the ache in her chest was oxygen deprivation and not anything from her nightmare. Then she released it, pulling her legs off the bed and curling them beneath herself.
Standing was a head rush, making her wobble. She didn't fall, didn't stumble, only stiffened her legs until she felt solid again.
The bedroom smelled of sweat. The air tasted of fear. Shaw left it behind, clicking the switch beside the door to start the ceiling fan cycling over the bed. The kitchen was cooler, cleaner. Filled with moonlight and silence. It felt almost clinical – cool hardwood and stone counters – but the coldness was what she needed at that moment.
Fleet fingers unscrewed the cap on the nearest bottle of liquor before she thought better of it and pushed the bottle back to its place on the counter. Reaching up for a glass in the cabinet she poured a glass of water from Root's filtered pitcher in the fridge. Taking a sip, she put the glass down to rake her hair away from her face, tying it back. The water was cold, helped settle her. Her phone, discarded the night before on the counter by the sink, trilled quietly. Root's name on the screen made her eyes roll, a smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“What?” she asked as she answered it, her voice rocky. It cracked and Root's overly affectionate greeting derailed before she could even finish it.
“What's wrong?” asked Root instead. Shaw said nothing, taking another sip of her water. “Did you have another nightmare?” Root guessed after waiting for an answer had made the line between them stale.
Shaw sighed. “Why are you calling, Root?”
“I can't miss the sound of your voice, Sameen?” Her voice had resumed the sickly sweet tone she liked to use on Shaw.
“It's four in the morning. Where are you?”
“Somewhere where it's not four in the morning,” answered Root. “What are you doing awake at four in the morning?”
“You called me, remember? Was there something you needed or can I go back to bed?”
Root hummed. “I can think of at least one thing I need.” The innuendo was audible. Shaw smirked, leaning back against the counter's edge. “Unfortunately I’m needed here for another day so it'll have to wait.”
“You got anything good?” Shaw kept her tone flat.
Root wasn't fooled. She laughed. “Do you miss me?”
Sameen scoffed, holding the phone between her jaw and her shoulder, freeing up her hands to refill the water glass. “I'm bored,” she denied, rolling her shoulders. Her muscles still felt wound tight, her skin too thin. She needed to hit something.
“Well, I'll be back in the city tomorrow night,” Root promised smoothly, drawling the words. Her accent slipped out when she was tired. “I promise you won't be bored.” Her voice was honey, thick and slow and making something warm settle in Shaw's gut. It appeared that Root was capable of diffusing the lingering tension from a dream even if she wasn't there to bring her out of it in person.
Shaw sighed, retaking the phone in her hand as she cracked her neck to either side.
“Sameen -” Root thought better of whatever she wanted to say, went quiet. “Get some rest.” Her teasing tone returned, but muted. “You're going to need it tomorrow night.” In spite of herself, Shaw smirked. “I should be home by ten. I'll try and make it earlier if I can.”
A lump lodged itself in her throat, caught on one word. Home. Shaw coughed to clear it. “I'll see you, Root.”
“Sleep well, sweetie,” Root hummed in farewell, disconnecting.
Shaw discarded her phone once more, leaving it on the counter. She couldn't just stand there and think, was too wired to try and sleep again. She needed to move. On the door frame to the bedroom was a pullup bar she'd installed herself. Harold had nearly had a nosebleed when he'd walked into what had formerly been his safe house to find her wielding a drill against hand polished cherry wood.
Worn in gloves were hanging over the bar and she yanked them down, strapped them on. Her first set was fast, quick repetitions getting her blood moving. The next set was slow, deliberate, allowing her to feel the burn of exertion in her muscles. She didn't stop until she was dripping sweat. When she dropped back onto bare feet she had to catch herself against the door frame, her limbs trembling.
Exhaustion would hopefully let her sleep without more dreams. If not, there was a hook in the ceiling supporting a punching bag in the corner, also installed after she and Root had unofficially moved into, or rather, never moved out of, the safe house that had become their apartment.
It had happened without any conscious thought, without discussion. They'd brought her here after her escape from Samaritan and she'd simply never left. Rehabilitation from the drugs and getting back into fighting shape had taken a few months but once she'd been cleared Shaw worked numbers as she had before. When things were handled though, instead of going back to a sparse, empty loft, she came back here. To furniture, and central air, and her clips mixed up on the table with Root's hard drives.
Shuffling into the bathroom off the bedroom, Shaw stumbled over one of Root's boots, discarded in the middle of the floor. She cursed under her breath even as she stripped her own sweat-soaked top over her head and dropped it behind her. Some strands of hair slipped their bond, hanging in front of her eyes. She didn't bother pushing them back. Leaning into the expansive shower stall, she started the water running.
Steam clouded out quickly while she dropped the rest of her clothes to the tile. The heat felt good on her muscles, making her sweat even more. It felt cleansing. Everything washing out of her to circle the drain. Her skin was red when she finally reached forward to flip the water to cold. The icy blast made her gasp, her body instinctively wanting to recoil but she stayed still, letting it wash over her, the cold sinking inside through her pores.
When she was trembling too much to stop the shaking she turned it off and got out. The towel she pulled around herself was plush and soft. She didn't linger inside it, wiping down her limbs, her chest and back, tousling her hair before she hung it up again.
Instead of changing the sheets she merely pulled the comforter up to cover them, falling into bed in a fresh pair of boxers and a sleeveless t-shirt. Falling asleep within minutes, she slept until the sunlight through the window reached her face.
Sounds drifted in through the open door, the fridge opening and closing, soft footsteps, and Shaw rolled out of bed, instantly alert. The gun she kept tucked on the back of the nightstand was in her hand when she landed soundlessly on her feet. Crouching low, she moved toward the door with the weapon up and ready.
It dropped abruptly when Root danced across the kitchen, siding sideways from the fridge to the stove where she appeared to be making breakfast. “Good morning, Sameen!” she called cheerfully without turning.
“Jesus, Root! I almost shot you!” Shaw barked back. Moving forward, she dropped the gun on the breakfast bar. “I thought you were coming back tonight.”
She shrugged, capably folding the omelette in the pan. “Plans changed.” In point of fact, she'd had the Machine change her tickets for her return flights to the earliest possible fight to get her back to New York before dawn. Something in Shaw's voice had made it impossible for her conceive of spending another day away. Not when Shaw needed her. Not that Sameen Shaw would ever admit to needing anyone. Root knew when she was needed, regardless. With a flourish she plated the omelette with bacon and sausage links, putting the whole thing before Shaw's seat.
“Thanks,” she said around a bite of sausage. “So the number wrapped up okay?”
Root sent her a smirk over her shoulder, preparing a lighter plate for herself, scrambled eggs and cut fruit. “Were you worried about me, sweetie?”
Shaw scoffed, chewing. “I don't want to miss any good action.” Root was moving easily, no trace of pain or injury in the way she slipped and slid across the smooth wood floor while she worked. Whatever she'd been into didn't seem to have caused her any lasting damage.
Finishing with her preparations, Root brought her plate around to take the seat beside Shaw's. “So -” She'd barely begun to speak when Shaw's phone went off.
Sameen triggered her earbud with her finger, swallowing her bite hastily. “Reese, what's up?”
“I – have you heard from Root today?”
His voice sounded strained. Shaw looked sideways at Root with a lifted eyebrow. “She's sitting right here,” she answered. “What's wrong?”
His breath came out in a huff. “What the hell happened, Root?”
The hacker shifted her weight in her seat with a sigh, rolling her eyes. Her implant looped her onto their line without her having to lift a finger. “It was nothing,” she said lightly, spearing fruit deliberately on the tines of her fork.
Shaw's brows dropped. Maybe she'd been wrong about exactly how exciting Root's latest number had been. Her finger tapped her ear again, cutting off her line. “What the hell is he talking about, Root? Are you okay?”
“Four people are dead,” Reese supplied when Root was too busy licking pineapple juice from her lips to answer immediately.
“They were human traffickers,” Root objected when Shaw's eyes narrowed at her. “They'd already been tortured, Sameen. It was practically a mercy.” She shrugged thin shoulders, popping a grape into her mouth. “I was in a hurry.”
Unsure if Reese had been able to hear that, Shaw triggered herself back into the call. “Things went sideways. She's alright, though.”
His next breath sounded relieved, relaying that message to Finch on his end of the line. “Alright. Harold saw the report from the Machine and was worried.”
Root cooed, “It's so sweet that you care, Harry.”
Reese coughed, clearing his throat. “Very glad to hear you're alright, Ms. Groves,” said Harold, nearly amused tone in his voice. “Perhaps next time things go 'sideways' you'd be so kind as to check in.” Root made a vague noise of agreement, sucking on a square of watermelon. “Very well. Good day, Ms. Groves, Ms. Shaw.”
“Bye, boys,” Root said cheerfully, swallowing her bite quickly. The Machine disengaged the call from both of their earbuds. “So -”
“You killed four people because you were in a hurry?” questioned Shaw in disbelief before Root could continue again. She blinked, deliberately taking her next bite to avoid answering. “What the hell, Root?”
Shrugging, Root swallowed her fruit. “I needed to come home.”
There was that word again, making something twist deep in Shaw's gut. “Root -”
“Those men were going to die regardless of what I did. I wanted to get home -”
“Stop saying that!” Shaw barked. Her eyes were focused, frowning at her plate. Very deliberately not looking at Root. “You keep using that word -”
Caught off guard, Root hesitated while she worked out Shaw's meaning. “Wha – home?” Sameen seemed to flinch, her shoulders high around her ears. Laughter burst out without Root intending it.
Growling, Shaw pushed her stool back abruptly. “I'm not doing this, Root.”
Hurrying after her, Root scrambled to catch her wrist. “I don't understand, sweetie. What am I saying that is so terrible for you?” Shaw glared up at her without speaking but she resisted the urge to jerk her arm away. “I promise, whatever it is, just tell me.” Root took the risk of running both hands up Shaw's arms, rubbing lightly when she reached her shoulders. They were taut, stiff under her hands. “You need a massage,” she noted, whispering. “I'd be happy to help with that.” As soon as her lips twitched into a smile of encouragement Shaw's gaze fell away. Root waited, stepping half a step closer and keeping her voice low and soft. “Honey -”
“Home,” she finally sighed, focused on one specific button on Root's shirt. It moved with her breath, slow and steady up and down right in front of her eyes. “You keep saying home.” The word felt heavy in her mouth, sinking back down her her throat to settle into a lump between her lungs. It was too much, and something she'd never had. Home. This team had become more than a job. Root – Root had become something else entirely. She could recognize that but putting specific words, and the meaning that went along with those words, to any aspect of her life now – she just couldn't do it. Thin arms slipped further over her shoulders, fingers playing with the buzzed hair at the back of her neck. “I don't – I can't -”
Root didn't respond immediately, watching the top of Shaw's head closely. “Alright, so I won't say that anymore,” she said slowly, ducking her head to try and catch dark eyes. “Okay? That's easy.” Shaw didn't resist when Root applied the slightest pressure against the knob of bone at the peak of her spine, drawing her in to rest her head against her chest.
She didn't need words from Shaw. Not a single syllable needed to pass her lips. Shaw would give her what she could give her and Root would take it all. Whatever she could give back to Shaw, she would. It was exactly as simple as that.
Walking her fingers up and down the back of Shaw's bowed neck, Root found a knot just inside her shoulder blade. “I can get this better if you go lay down,” she noted, voice lilting up. Her fingers pressed down, tight circles easing the tension. Shaw grunted, her head lifting only slightly. “Take your shirt off,” Root instructed chipperly, stepping back, leaving her hands on Shaw's shoulders. Sameen's head bobbed on her neck, eyes hooded beneath her hair. There was a smirk teasing her mouth that Root could see. “Go on,” she prompted, slapping Shaw's ass firmly when she turned to shuffle to the couch.
The contact with her posterior earned Root a narrow glare over her shoulder, Shaw flopping onto her front on the sofa. The hacker only grinned, pleased with herself. It made the lump in Shaw’s chest loosen, some of the tension dissipating at seeing that smile. Root knew her. Knew her and had never pushed her for anything she wasn't willing to give or do or share.
“I said shirt off, Sameen,” Root said even as she climbed up to straddle Shaw's hips. Without missing a beat Shaw levered herself up on both arms. Root's balance held but only for a second before she toppled to the rug. Smirking, Shaw stripped her shirt off quickly, with no wasted movements, and fell back into her prone position on the cushions. “You could have at least done it slowly,” Root rebuked her from the floor, right hand rubbing the opposite elbow as she sat up. “Let me enjoy it.”
“Are you going to give me a massage or can I go back to sleep?” asked Shaw in reply, her voice low, eyes closed. “You woke me up.”
“With bacon,” Root reminded her, retaking her seat on Shaw's backside.
Both hands reached for smooth skin, beginning at the column of her neck and working slowly down. Muscles relaxed as she worked them, taking her time with each knot that she uncovered. In the years since they’d started sleeping together Shaw had gained new scars, one or two here and there from random numbers. Now there was a patchwork of neat, orderly marks and scars covering her body left behind from her time with Samaritan. On her back, across her sides, in her joints.
Root touched each one, trailing and tracing her fingers over every mark. They would fade in time. Some wouldn’t disappear entirely but all in all they changed absolutely nothing about Sameen Shaw. Not on any level that mattered. The scars were skin deep. The dreams were – more troubling – but Shaw was nothing if not resilient. Whatever it took for her to move forward, Shaw would do it. Whatever she would permit Root to get away with doing to help her, Root was an eager participant.
If that meant more mid-morning massages for a sleepy, soft Shaw, Root was there. If it meant submitting to combat training and letting Shaw pummel her ass in a less fun way, she was all for it. That suggestion could wait until the afternoon, however. Root’s thumbs rolled across the center of what could barely still be considered Shaw’s back, teasing the curve of her ass. Leaning down, Root kissed her spine lightly. Shaw’s skin was warm from her efforts, her breathing slow and steady beneath her. Shaw wasn’t sleeping, though it was a near enough thing.
“You’re all done,” Root told her softly. Both hands slipped across her skin again, just because she could. “Get some sleep, honey.”
Shaw reached back blindly without opening her eyes. “Just – stay,” she grunted, words slurred by the cushion beneath her face. She couldn’t ask for certain things, not with the words that other people seemed to find so easy to use, but Root never asked her to. “You’re warm.” She made no move to recover her shirt, just crossed her arms under her head.
“You’re hot.” One hand gave her ass an appreciative squeeze as Root slipped sideways off of her, slotting her body alongside Shaw’s on the decadently wide couch. When Shaw only sighed, hips adjusting to give her space, Root left her hand in its place. Her smile she buried against the blade of Sameen’s shoulder. Her other arm was bent beneath her head, fingers trailing through tangled dark waves of hair.
Shaw swallowed down a moan when nails scratched lightly at her scalp, making Root’s smile twitch and grow. Pulling her lower lip between her teeth, she waited to see if the escaped sound would prompt wandering hands from Root. She didn’t push for more than the lazy touching, seemingly content to settle in for a nap. One long leg squirmed forward to cover Shaw’s, wanting nothing less innocent than more of her skin on her partner’s. Shaw rarely let her get away with affectionate gestures but she would let it slide this time. Root felt good pressed against her.
Sleep came easily, sneaking up on her in swift stages. With it came peace, stillness. It was dark outside when she finally woke again, neck twinging as she lifted her head for the first time in lengthy hours. Root was still behind her, thought she’d fallen back against the cushions. Shaw’s lip twitched up when she saw her, still present. She looked cute, hair disheveled from sleep. Not ready to rise, Shaw ignored the growing ache of hunger in her gut. She still needed to move though, shifting onto her side and pressing back against Root. Behind her, the hacker moved to replace any space that existed between them with her body, lanky frame wrapping itself around her.
“Y’okay?” Root murmured, conscious only enough to say the word.
A skinny arm slipped below her neck, wrist angled to cup her breast. It was unconscious, nearly casual. Shaw settled into the embrace without resisting. Her voice was warm as she answered, “Yeah, Root, I’m good.” Maybe she couldn’t put a word to what she had, but the feeling was something she’d become familiar with. Her eyes closed again, Root’s breath soft on her neck.