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louder than bells

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"Ah — ah!" Andy shouts, then lets out a quieter stream of curses from at least three different long-dead languages, her fingers tightening around a fistful of Nile's braids. "Nile —"

Nile lifts her head from between Andy's thighs. "Yes?" she says, as innocently as she can manage with her face covered in slick and spit, her fingertips tucked in the rings in Andy's labia, holding her open.

Andy arches her back and yells, but she doesn't push Nile's head down, which is thoughtful of her. "Nile," she says, then, with an effort, adds, "Please."

That, in Nile's opinion, deserves a reward. She gets back to business, lips and tongue and teeth and the bridge of her nose all working hard, and it's not long before Andy comes, her powerful thighs clenching under Nile's forearms, her cunt fluttering under Nile's mouth like a trapped bird.

"You're — good at that," Andy says after a while. She strokes the side of Nile's face with an awkward kind of tenderness.

"I may not be as old as you, but I had priorities," Nile says wryly.

"Mmm." Andy smiles. "My turn?"

"Well, if you insist!" Nile lets Andy press her back into the mattress and show her, once again, just what she's learned in that long, long life. At one point — Nile might be a little loud sometimes — Nicky bangs on the wall between their rooms and shouts, "Quiet down! We were never that bad!"

"Yes, you were!" Andy shouts back, crooking her fingers, and Nile gets even louder.

Eventually, they sleep, curled up like the truly disgusting couple they are, still sticky and smelling like each other. Nile was never the type to stay the night, but she thinks Andy was, once. It's kind of nice, she has to admit.

"Shit! Fuck!" Nile slams into wakefulness like she's been shot in the gut, sitting up straight in bed. Andy stirs, mutters something, and rolls over.

Nile wishes getting back to sleep would be that easy for her. She doesn't begrudge Andy the ability — she's needed more rest since that brush with mortality — but she does miss it, herself.

It was Quynh again, in the dream, but this time, it was different. This time, Quynh's pounding fists broke through, sending fragments of rusted metal and chunks of sediment flying outwards through the water — and then Quynh started to swim.

Nile can only imagine how long it would take to swim up to land from the bottom of the ocean. How many times would Quynh die, if this dream were true? Would one of them be the last? She feels goosebumps rise all up and down her arms, and shivers.

Should she tell Andy? On the one hand, Nile knows a true dream when she has one, and this was a true dream: Quynh is out of the iron coffin. On the other hand, just because she's out of the coffin doesn't mean she's out of the proverbial woods — doesn't mean she's sane, or eager to rejoin the group. Andy has been so devastated every time Nile has told her about the true dreams; the idea of giving her hope and then having to take it away, if she dreams Quynh's final death, is possibly the worst thing Nile can imagine.

No, sleep isn't going to come easy with thoughts like these. Carefully, Nile climbs out of bed and goes over to the chair with her stuff piled on it, kneeling beside it to dig out her phone.

The plan: play a little Two Dots, calm herself down some. She gets through a couple of levels, starts to feel less like she's drowning, and then a text pops up.

To Nile: I am contacting you to request your assistance with a matter of a certain sensitivity. Please respond at your earliest convenience. Yours, Booker.

Booker. That's not a name Nile expected to see for a while yet, although she's not all that surprised, since she'd given him her number in the first place. His old-fashioned phrasing is weirdly charming — but what the fuck is "a matter of a certain sensitivity" supposed to mean? She texts back a row of ?????, and a few moments later, gets a reply.

To Nile: This is more easily explained in person. If you please, meet me at the following location...

"I have some loose ends to tie up," Nile tells the others in the morning. "I'll be in touch."

Andy just nods; it's Joe and Nicky who press her for details, like a pair of worried fathers, until Andy snaps, "Lay off her, would you?"

They subside. Nile's grateful — she still isn't fond of lying, and she doesn't want to get in the habit, not with them. Not with Andy. She knows that Nicky and Joe and Andy have, if not found out for sure, at least made the assumption that she's in contact with Booker, but she doesn't want to rub it in their faces. Plausible deniability, all the way.

"I'll see you soon," Nile says, shouldering her bag.

"You'd better," Andy replies. Her eyes soften, just a little, and it's almost like an I love you.

Nile gives her a special smile in return, one that's just for her, and leaves.

Booker's in Paris. Nile thinks that's where he's from, or close enough for horseshoes, a kind of home base for him. The meeting place is a café; she arrives early enough to stuff herself on pain au chocolat and do a little people-watching while she waits for Booker to show his face.

"You look like hot garbage," she says when he does, getting a good look at his heavy stubble, the dark circles under his eyes, the way he's clutching his cup of coffee. "Have you been on a bender this whole time?"

"Your mouth is covered in chocolate," Booker informs her, handing her a paper napkin.

Nile shrugs, wiping her face clean. "Not hard to fix."

"Fair enough." Booker raises his eyebrows and gestures at the chair opposite her; she nods, and he sits.

"Well?" She folds her arms.

"Do you remember that dream you had?" he asks.

Nile startles. "How do you —" Then she remembers: he means the first dream, not last night's. "I mean, yeah, I do."

Booker's gaze sharpens. "You had another," he guesses. "About... the same woman?"


"There's a reason for that," Booker says. "She's — she's back."

A wave of dizziness crashes over her. "Are you for real?"

"Serious as a heart attack." He smirks. "Or, rather, more so."

"What, uh." Nile shakes her head, hoping that will clear it. "What does she want?"

"For one thing, to meet you. She has dreams too."

"I see," Nile says. "She's at your crash pad, I assume?"

"Yes." Booker takes a long drink of coffee. "I didn't want to bring you directly there, so that you could make your own decision about whether to come."

"And so I wouldn't feel like you'd led me into an ambush," Nile says, then twists the knife: "Again."

To his credit, Booker ducks his head and blushes, looking ashamed. "That too," he admits.

"That was smart of you." Nile lets him stew a little bit, even though she knew immediately that she wanted to meet Quynh. Finally, she says, "All right."

"Really?" Booker sits forward, his face brightening.

"Why not?" She says it with a confidence she doesn't feel, but if she's learned one thing in her life, it's that sometimes, you've got to fake it 'til you make it.

Booker lets her into his place, but doesn't follow. "I'll be outside," he says. "She wanted privacy."

Nile goes inside, hoping it's the right move.

"So, you're the baby," Quynh greets her. She doesn't get up from her seat at what passes for Booker's kitchen table, like she's a queen or something.

"That's me," Nile agrees. "Nile Freeman, formerly of the US Marine Corps."

"I don't know what that means," Quynh says. "I've dreamed of you as a soldier and a lover, and that's enough for me."

"A lover," Nile repeats cautiously.

Quynh makes an impatient gesture. "I hardly thought Andromache would be celibate for five hundred years."

"She misses you," Nile says. "I mean — she misses you a lot.."

"Guilt," Quynh says. "Not that it is justified. What could she have done?"

"Not just guilt," Nile counters. "That's some of it, sure, but not all of it."

"You have no idea what I've suffered," Quynh says, warning in her tone.

"No, I don't." She looks surprised; Nile shrugs. "What, did you think I'd argue? You've been alive for so long that I can barely comprehend it. You were tortured for centuries; I've only been alive at all for a couple of decades. How could I possibly know what it was like?"

"Why are you here?" Quynh presses.

"I want to help," Nile says. "That's what we do."

"Help." Quynh shakes her head. "You make it sound so simple."

"It is. What it isn't is easy." Nile spreads her hands. "What do you want?"

"Andromache," Quynh says. Her gaze is challenging.

Nile grins. "I have an idea about that."

Back in their bedroom, Nile convinces Andy to sit at the little desk and taste something for her. "I don't see why you need me blindfolded," Andy complains, but she lets Nile tie the scarf around her eyes anyway.

"Because," Nile says, "it's more fun this way."

"If you say so."

"Now, open your mouth," Nile directs her; when Andy does so, Nile feeds her a spoonful of dessert. "What do you taste?"

"Mmm. Black sesame," Andy says. "Asia. Coconut milk... kudzu powder..." She sits up straighter. "This is xí mà. From Central Vietnam, they'd call it now. I had it — oh, it must have been the spice trade years, in Hội An, with..." Her voice catches.

"With Quynh," Nile says softly. "Andy, take off the blindfold."

"No," Andy says. "No, it can't be."

Nile waves, and Quynh comes into the room. "Andromache," she says. She steps close and unties Andy's blindfold.

Andy sucks in a gasp at the sight of her. "You got out," she says. Her voice is almost childlike with wonder, and she looks at Quynh like she's the best thing she's ever seen.

"I got out." Quynh bends and kisses Andy, who clutches at her desperately, as if they could fuse into one person. It's so lovely, Nile thinks, that it's almost painful, in a sharp, exquisite way, like it could shatter crystal. All the time they had, all the time they lost...

She makes to slip out, leaving them to their reunion, but when a floorboard creaks under her, Andy and Quynh pull apart.

"No," Quynh says, "you ought to stay." To Andy, she says, "I dreamed of you two together."

"You want to, what, make her jealous?" Andy's brows knit. "Quynh, I know —"

"How much do you think those centuries could change me?" Quynh asks, caressing Andy's face. "No, I don't want to hurt her. It was beautiful — you were beautiful. I want to share."

"Share who?" Nile asks, for clarity's sake.

Quynh's smile is brilliant and dangerous. "Both of you, of course."

Andy looks up at Nile. "You don't have to, you know."

"Is that a challenge?" Nile puts her hands on her hips, trying not to smile. This is going to be fun.

"Yes," Quynh says, "a challenge." She looks delighted.

"It's been a long time," Andy tells her, almost gently.

"Some things, you don't forget." Quynh takes off her tailored jacket, unhurried, then her blouse. "I spent whole decades down there dreaming of your cunt."

"It's mostly the same," Andy says, eyes on Quynh's breasts. "A little more, uh. Decorated."

Quynh's eyes light up. "Oh, this I must see."

Andy stands up and takes off her jeans and underwear together, her piercings glinting in the lamplight. "What do you think?"

Dropping to her knees, Quynh takes a closer look. "They're lovely," she says. "Do they have names?"

"Some of them," Andy says. "This one is called a Christina."

"Like that odd tree-climbing girl from Belgium?" Quynh asks, brushing a fingertip over the bead at the top of Andy's cunt.

Andy laughs breathlessly. "Christina Mirabilis? I wonder if she had one like it."

"Sit down on the bed," Quynh tells her. Nile's never seen Andy take an order, but she does this time, so fast she bounces a little. "Nile, would you come closer?"

"Sure," Nile says. "What, ah —" She licks her lips. "What do you want me to do?"

"Take off your clothes," Andy says. "You're overdressed for the occasion."

"Then you can show me what to do with Andy's friend Christina," Quynh adds, settling between Andy's thighs.

"I can do that," Nile says. She gets out of her clothes and curls up on the bed next to Andy. "Touch her right there, under the bead," she directs, shifting her weight to get a little friction going. "Then try licking —"

"Oh —"

"She likes that," Nile says smugly.

"Get up here," Andy demands, flailing one hand out and grabbing Nile's thigh. "I want — I want —"

"Give her what she wants," Quynh recommends, and Andy whines.

"All right, all right!" Nile's never sat on Andy's face before (though Andy's sat on hers, a dozen times or so), but what the lady wants, she gets. Nile swings one leg to Andy's other side and lowers herself — and then Andy's mouth is on her, just right. "I guess I don't have to worry about suffocating you," she muses.

Andy laughs against Nile's cunt, and proceeds to drive her crazy, like all she wants to do for the rest of her life (lives?) is fuck and be fucked. Maybe that's what they worshipped her for, way back when; Nile could get behind that, honestly.

Nile is the first to give up, all her muscles limp with pleasure; Quynh draws Andy's climax out of her again and again, with all the pent-up fervor of those awful centuries, then, without a pause for breath, climbs up onto the bed to kiss Nile. She tastes of Andy, and Nile kisses her back, open-hearted.

"The guys are going to be furious," Andy says, one arm flung over her eyes. "They might never sleep again. If you stay."

Quynh laughs. "I'm staying," she promises. "No matter what the boys think."