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Being with you (Makes the flame burn good)

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They were somewhere in Italy. Somewhere beautiful, because Nicky always picked the best places. It had been six months since Nile joined them, since they left Booker, since Andy lost her immortality, and since Nicky and Joe started feeling more preoccupied than they’ve felt in centuries. Sure, every time they went into a fight it was a high-anxiety situation. Andy never let them get too relaxed and confident. There was always, always the fear that it would be the last time, that it would be their time. But still, jobs like theirs were over relatively soon.

On the other hand, losing a friend that’s been with them for two hundred years, that took a toll on them. Also, suddenly finding themselves with a new friend, a young, intelligent and brave, but inexperienced and curious, very young friend that they felt immediately protective of, that was something new and exciting and kept them on their toes. Additionally, seeing their leader, the fearless, selfless, magnificent, almost too big for adjectives, their beloved leader suddenly mortal, suddenly fragile and… it was all… almost too much to bear.

To say they were all in an extraordinary situation would be an understatement. But they coped however they could. They had taken a job or two, because they seemed fitting and Andy insisted. Nobody could say no to Andy still. They traveled too, because there was so much of the world that Nile hadn’t seen and they were just realizing how fun it could be to introduce her to it all. They also rested. They took their time to relax and stand still for short periods of time.

They stayed in safe houses like this one in Italy. There was a garden, and Joe would teach Nile how to cook everyone’s favorite meals, all in ways no chef alive would have thought of. There was a small library, and Nicky spent long hours trying to teach Nile a few languages, and then getting sidetracked telling her all their best stories. Meanwhile, Andy would teach her how to fight. They would train for hours on end. Andy was ruthless, sometimes too much. Nile would have complained if she hadn’t been aware of two things. One, the immense value of the lessons. She was learning more fighting styles than she could keep track of, all straight from possibly the best fighter still alive. Two, it mattered to Andy.

Maybe Joe, Nicky, and Booker knew Andy infinitely better than Nile, after so many centuries together. But there was a chance that that same knowledge had made them immune to a few little details. Because Nile would stare at Andy with a clean, brand-new perspective, from a fresh pair of eyes. She wasn’t looking for the familiar signs of Andy when she’s mad, when she’s nostalgic, or annoyed, or tired. She looked at Andy as if she were any other person and she looked for little quirks and small reactions and somehow she knew, she got her. Andy found it all fascinating, terrifying, and a little embarrassing. But she understood that what little time she had, when compared to all the time she’s already had, there was no use in feeling shy. So, Andy let Nile get close.

They trained and would fight for hours, but then they rested together. They would lay down in the soft grass, or they would sit side by side on the roof. The silence was welcomed, appreciated, and much needed. But it was not all just silence. Andy, Nile figured it out pretty soon, liked to listen to Nile’s stories, and Nile’s thoughts, and about Nile’s past. Luckily, Nile had made great improvements in accepting her new life, and she’d decided that she’d talk about her mother, her brother, and her past life as often as she felt like it, promising herself to never forget them. Sometimes, she talked to Andy about God, her God. Sometimes, almost every time, Andy would laugh. But afterward, more often than not, Andy would be quiet and thoughtful. Nile didn’t for one second think that Andy was considering the idea, but it must remind her something she liked to think about. So Nile let her get lost in those thoughts, offering company, being a friend, being a new addition to the family.

Then the fateful day arrived.

The youngest of the group had retired to bed early that night, tired after another day of training, learning, and unexpected fun with her new family. This left Andy, Nicky and Joe hanging out by themselves in the living room of their temporary home.

“Going to bed already?” Joe called after Nile’s retreating form in the hallway.

“Shut up, I’m exhausted!”

A series of chuckles followed, and then it was just the three of them. They’d grown to quickly enjoy Nile’s presence in their lives, but they couldn’t deny that they also appreciated that she represented a distraction from a series of things that deeply haunted them.

“You’re getting too soft with her,” Joe teased the man sitting beside him, playfully poking his torso with a finger.

“I am not,” Niky laughed fondly, knowing it was true. They were all developing a soft spot for the newest addition to the team.

“You are,” Andy intervened, lifting the bottle of beer she was sipping from in her friend's direction.

She was drinking less, lately. As she’d told Booker after his betrayal, they hadn’t been doing their best at managing their lives. None of them earned anything good by trying to numb it all away. Plus, under the scrutiny of Nile’s young and righteous eyes, she made it feel possible to redeem themselves. Plus, Andy wasn’t sure if she could be as reckless with her body anymore.

“I’m just the only one that has kept his manners after all these years.” Nicky’s comments made the others chuckle.

Joe stared at Andy then. Her eyes were still tired, always grieving, but her stare was clear, and she looked as relaxed as she was capable of, which wasn’t much but, it was something. “Admit it, boss,” he told her, “you like having the kid around.”

Andy took her time answering, lips turned upward slightly and she nodded. “Sure. Why not?” It was a good enough admission.

Then, for a moment, they were quiet. There was an infinite number of things to talk about, and an infinite number of things to stay quiet about. In the end, Joe and Nicky started joking about something related to Copley, and it had their leader happily chuckling along with their teasing. She appreciated the two men’s ability to pick up on the fact that she had enough deep conversations with Nile and sometimes all she wanted was to lay back and bask in the comfortable familiarity of millennia of friendship. That lasted a few more minutes, until Nile came back.

The young ex-soldier had gotten better at handling her nightmares, her dreams of the woman in the iron coffin at the bottom of the sea. She was familiar with the image, she knew the story, she learned how to wake up, calm down her breathing, and sometimes go back to sleep by herself without disturbing her friends. She had noticed how deeply affected Andy was about each mention of the dreams. But, this time, it was different, this time she knew she couldn’t, she seriously couldn’t deal with it by herself. She walked slowly, drowsily toward the living room. She stared at Andy, Joe, and Nicky, the most remarkable people she’d ever met and she felt a knot on her throat.

“Andy…” Nile started to say, fear and confusion clouding her voice. But she didn’t have time to say more.

Andy had immediately been worried by the expression in Nile’s face, but there wasn’t any time for questioning. It was late at night, nobody knew where they were, nobody was supposed to find that house. Still, they all heard, clear as day, the sound of the iron gates of the garden being pulled open. In the blink of an eye, with perfected ease and speed, the three ancient warriors rushed to their front door, holding swords and guns and ready for an unexpected fight. At least, they thought they had been ready.

As soon as she walked out of the door, Andy felt her world come to a screeching halt, she felt as if the ground had given in underneath her feet. She stumbled and if it weren’t for Joe’s quick reflexes that held her up steadily she would’ve fallen down to the ground. If it had been just a dream, just an illusion, maybe some stranger that looked a lot like her, that would have been enough to shake Andy up, she would have gotten over it, but that wasn’t the case. Because the more she stared at the woman in front of her, the more she just knew it was her. The warm glow that came from their windows and the gentle but clear light of the moon were more than enough.

Andy could recognize that face anywhere. She’d seen her dying, and more times than she could count she’d seen her coming back to life. She’d seen her in paintings, sculptures, and in her own nightmares. She’d read about her in legends, myths, and history. Most importantly, she’d memorized that face herself, an impossible number of years ago. She knew every curve and crinkle in her skin, and knew the strength and ability of her muscles. She knew the feeling, the scent, the taste, she knew all of it. They fought together so bravely and loved each other so fiercely and still it hadn’t been enough to keep them together, to help Andy find her again. Now here she was. Quynh. The warrior. The Goddess. The obsession. The broken promise. She was all rage, regret, fear and grief, and all the emotions that dismally shadowed over the relief, the joy, the gratitude, and the love.

“Andromache,” Quynh spoke for the first time. Slow and deliberate after waiting five hundred years to say that one name.

“Quynh,” Andy responded in barely a whisper and nobody, none of them had ever heard her sound so fragile and completely vulnerable.

Quynh stared at her eyes and hated that they were so clear and watery they reminded her of the sea.

“I had hoped so badly for you to be dead. But now I know I had to find you alive, so I could be the one to find the way to kill you.”

Quynh’s firm and confident tone didn’t leave room for interpretation or doubt on her words. Andy, on the other hand, could do nothing but let out a feeble sigh. She took one step forward, but Quynh put up a hand to stop her from coming any closer. She stared at the group standing closely behind Andy.

“Hello… Nicolo, Yusuf… and a new one?” She had a hypnotizing voice that drew them all in.

“My name is Nile Freeman,” the youngest replied with courage that she wasn’t sure where it came from.

Quynh only nodded in acknowledgment, and continued, “Booker wanted you to know he would not break the agreement, and he stayed away. He let me find you myself.” As she finished talking, Quynh drew out a sword and added, “Are you not going to say anything?”

Andy’s silence unnerved them all. She looked almost in a trance, but there was no denying that in the first step she took toward Quynh that she was as strong and certain as they all knew her to be. “I searched for you for so long…” she whispered.

“I thought you would search until you died! I would have!”

“You don’t know that. It was impossible.”

We are impossible! Yet here we are.”

As they talked, both were talking slow steps forward. At one moment, Nile tried to reach out to her leader, her friend, the most exceptional woman she’d ever met. “Andy, don’t…” she whispered. But she was stopped by the gentle hands of Nicky and Joe on her shoulders, stopping her from stepping into a fight that wasn’t hers to fight.

“You don’t have to do this,” Andy said. Her voice had regained some of its strength. She wasn’t scared. If anything, her body felt alive and electric at being at such close proximity to the woman that meant more to her than anything else in the world ever did.

“But I do,” Quynh replied. Her face was never still. It was obvious she struggled with keeping hold of her emotions. She was juggling rage, insanity, and something more tender and painful but unexpectedly warm. “I lost my mind, I lost my heart too. I lost myself down, down at the bottom of the ocean. Meanwhile, you-”

“Meanwhile I lost all peace of mind, broke my heart beyond repair, and lost all sense of self. I lost everything when I lost you.” At that moment, Quynh finally raised her sword, pointed it at Andy, but Andy didn’t back down or hesitate. She tightened her hand holding her axe, then she let it fall on the ground. Unarmed, somehow she looked stronger than ever. She kept going, moving forward, staring straight into the other woman’s eyes. “I had to learn, Quynh, that time does not heal all wounds. You have to actually do something to get them to heal. And I am prepared to do anything for you.”

Quynh took another step forward, her sword was now inches away from Andy’s face. It must have been something in Quynh’s eyes, a small twitch on her face, anything. But it let Nile know that it was now or never. “Don’t!” she blurted out, before it was too late and quickly say, “Don’t kill her! She’s no longer immortal!”

Nicky and Joe tightened her hold on her but it was too late, the words were out in the open. Andy closed her eyes and looked away, “Nile...” she said to herself, half touched and half annoyed as she often was by the untameable attitude of the young woman.

“What?!” Quynh exclaimed.

For the first time, her hold on the sword wavered. For the first time since she arrived, she couldn't hold Andy’s eyes. She looked down, but her emotions still showed clear as day or her face or, more accurately, the storm of emotions she held inside. This wasn’t what she’d expected, this wasn’t what she’d hoped for. In all those years she hadn’t exactly considered this scenario. Did it make her job easier? Or was it the last thing she wanted? Did it matter? Quynh cursed and took a definite step forward, now the tip of her sword was tilting Andy’s brave and beautiful face up. It was now or never, and that was a first for them.

“Would you really, really die for me?” Quynh asked, and for a split moment, her eyes cleared. The fog of madness and resentment vanished. It was just the two of them together again. A question and a promise hanging in the air.

“Yes,” Andy replied without hesitating, “Even worse… I would live for you.”

Andy smiled. She genuinely smiled. And it was that little, almost playful smirk, that broke the other woman down. Quynh’s eyes darkened again. It was too much, the swirling of love and hate accumulated in her throughout centuries. She thrust her sword forward, and then just as swiftly she pulled it back, covered in her old lover’s blood.

The second the blade went through Andy’s neck, Nile screamed. Nick and Joe felt something powerful deep inside of them crumble to pieces. It was a sight that wasn’t entirely new to them, but there was an added knowledge this one time that nobody had prepared them for.

Andy wobbled for a second, but before she could fall to the ground, Quynh threw down her sword and lunged to catch Andy in her arms. Now she was kneeling on the soil of an Italian garden under a clear night sky, holding the woman she loved for centuries, the woman she begged for hundreds of years, the woman she fiercely wanted to hate and kill and meet again just to see her eyes one last time, and she realized, this wasn’t what she wanted.

“My love…” Quynh whispered tearfully, “I had to… I’m sorry.”

Then there was a heavy silence starting to fall over them. Blood poured from Andy’s wound and she struggled to breathe, but she was relaxed. She was finally where she had so desperately wanted to be for so long, in her lover’s arms.

Nile, along with Nicky and Joe approached them cautiously. Nile fell down to her knees near Andy, feeling utterly devastated. Behind her, Joe rubbed his eyes with one hand, while with the other he held Nicky’s hand, whose head was resting on Joe’s shoulder. They all felt broken. The silence was unbearable.

That’s when Andy started coughing. At first, nobody even gasped, for fear that the smallest disturbance would take away the miracle.

“I’m sorry too,” Andy said, her voice was rough but she couldn’t stop saying it. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Quynh watched in horror and delight as the raw, red wound in Andy’s throat slowly but surely completely healed. She tenderly placed her hand over it and even though she’d seen it happen thousands of times before, this time she couldn’t help but whisper, “How? How…” One of Andy’s hands moved over’s Quynh’s hand and maybe it was just a reflex but Quynh’s fingers curled over the other woman’s hand then it couldn’t have been just a reflex after the seconds passed and she didn’t pull away. Andy held Quynh’s hand tightly against her chest and smiled, because she couldn’t help herself.

“I really don’t know what just happened,” Andy said, and turned her head to look at her friends, “Didn’t I have to use a fucking bandaid last week?”

While Joe and Nicky laughed tearfully, Nile grinned, “I told you!” she said, because it was true. She had said it to Andy once or twice during one of their long talks after training, “Maybe you thought it was your time, but maybe it isn’t anymore! You still have more to give. Humanity still needs you. I need you! You have to- you have to train me, you have to lead us in these difficult times, you… you have some wounds that need healing before you go.”

That made Andy turn her head again to look up at Quynh, who still held her carefully in her arms. They met each other’s eyes and they found galaxies in them. There might not be time enough on this Earth for them to unravel everything their souls held, but it looked like they might have an opportunity to try.

“It would take you an eternity,” Quynh’s said with a trembling voice. She wanted it to sound like a threat. The hurricane of emotions inside her was back in full swing, she could barely hold them from spilling over. She felt furious and she felt insane and she wanted to be angry at Andy for surviving. She didn’t want to feel so delighted, didn’t want to feel whole after being reunited with her love, but she did.

“All the time I have is yours,” Andy answered, “I swear.”

Quynh wanted to stab her. But she didn’t have a weapon at hand. So, when Andy leaned in, Quynh did the second best thing she could think of, she kissed her. Nobody on Earth had waited so long for a kiss. It was the most painful and wonderful kiss. It was worse than a threat and better than a promise. They just knew that after that kiss their grief and resentment, their love and devotion were sealed forever. Now they truly will stay together, and they will heal together, and make amends, and fight together again. They will figure out how to love each other ardently again and forever. It will be just the two of them again… until the end.