Rooted (Puzzle-verse)

*sigh* I’ve had this written for a few years now. And had the artwork nearly done. So, now y’all get it! I should really write more with Daniel and Rowan. They’re delightful.

TW: OCD, trichotillomania, food issues

“Rowan, I need to borrow-” I stopped. She’d barely reacted to me bursting into her flat. She was sitting at her kitchen table, her hands pressed flat against the wood. I suppressed a sigh.

It was her usual way of fighting her compulsions; to keep her hands from doing anything so they couldn’t misbehave. Even if I wasn’t familiar with it, the sheen of sweat over her face, her chestnut skin turned ashy, and her enforced stillness broken by the tiniest twitches would make her anxiety clear. She’d taken out her earrings and they were lined up neatly in the middle of the table; three posts in a row, a triangle of three hoops.

“Rowan?” I said quietly, sitting down across from her. From this angle I could see that her left temple was patchy red. I frowned. She was plucking again. She’d usually shaved by the time it was long enough to grab.

“I’m switching medications,” she said evenly, even as her hands twitched. “We thought this one would have fewer side effects.” A hollow smile. “It’s not going well.”

Her hands were flushed, more so than the rest of her. She’d been cleaning; she always wore gloves to stave off the battle between the need to clean and the need to get the chemicals off her skin.

“Why haven’t you taken something?”

She closed her eyes, color rising faintly in her cheeks. “I can’t get the bathroom clean.”

I sighed. Ridiculous.

~~~

The bathroom reeked of bleach. I tried not to gag and pushed open the window before I went through the medicine cabinet. She hadn’t gotten to the shower, but the loo and sink were painfully shined. Not that she ever let any of it get truly dirty.

She guiltily dropped her hands to the table when I walked in.

“I know,” she said. I huffed through my nose. I wasn’t about to say it. Of course she knew she was being ridiculous. That was the whole fault of OCD; it was irrational. But I had my own faults she didn’t chide me for. I dropped the items to the table.

She glanced towards the hallway, her expression turning to horror. “You opened the window. You-” I pushed her back down to her seat.

“Stop it. You know you need ventilation in there.” She was trembling, her hands pushed hard against the table. “Do I need to get you a caregiver?”

“No.” She reached for the pills, her hands carefully steady. Getting her sectioned would only make things worse – she couldn’t know the place was clean, so it couldn’t be. But a nurse here could keep her from accidentally harming herself.

I handed her a water bottle from the fridge. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Tomorrow will be better.” She sighed softly and set her glasses on the table over her earrings.

I nodded. “You realize you’re inconveniencing me,” I said as I laid the towel over her shoulders. “One of the best cases I’ve had this year, and you’re forcing me to help you instead.”

She relaxed minutely as I lathered her head. “I know. Detective Strand will be very upset.” She sat very still as I started to shave.

“Have you eaten today?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Yogurt. Crisps. Juice.” All sealed containers.

“Have you eaten tonight?”

Her hands clenched, then she forced them flat again. “I can’t. Everything smells.”

“Alright. I’ll have Ms. Harris check on you in the morning.”

I saw the corner of her mouth twist. “I’d rather she didn’t.”

“You know I’ll forget.”

“Dr. Baley would be better.”

A pause as I focused on the back of her neck. “He doesn’t go to work until seven.” She typically went in at five.

“I’m not going anywhere tomorrow.”

I frowned. “That’s not a good idea, Rowan.” If she was alone, she’d clean. She needed distractions and she couldn’t come to my flat. She found my cleaning habits, or lack thereof, reprehensible at the best of times.

“There’s nothing exciting right now.”

“Georgia?” I knew only the basics as all of her consulting jobs were highly classified, but she’d been tremendously delighted with it, which generally meant paperwork, red tape, bribes, spying, and other things no responsible person enjoyed.

She answered with a hint of disappointment. “Finished.”

“I see.” Thus why she’d picked to change medications now – with no other sources of stress she was more likely to transition easily.

“There were unexpected factors.”

“Someone showed up?” I picked up the other towel to clean her off. Visitors to her office were never good news, especially unexpected ones.

“Indeed.”

I ran my fingers over her scalp, looking for any missed hairs. “All done.” I dropped the razor and the towels in the trash.

“I can wash those,” she said as I tied the bag shut.

“Can you?”

She bit the inside of her lip and didn’t bother to answer. “Thank you.” Her soft expression was pushed away to her usual control as she stood. “There was something you needed to borrow?”

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