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Breathe.

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They have run out of air to breathe, still deep down under the surface of the see.

When Andromache presses her lips to Quynh’s, for one crazy moment she thinks that Andromache is being romantic, spending this moment together- dying together in a kiss.

 

When she breathes out into her mouth instead, it comes as a shock to her.

Quynh has to consciously not breathe out herself- save the breath for as long as possible- while she sees Andromache’s eyes roll back in her head, her hand slip away, her body lost to the iron will of the sea.

She reaches out, grasps her wrist in her hand, surprised by the fact that she manages to get ahold of it immediately- everything is blurry around her, human eyes not made to see clearly under water, the waves pulling the images apart in funny ways even now that her eyes aren’t bloodshed from the depth anymore.

She feels Andromache stir and slowly drags them both up along the rope, breathing out slowly. Maybe this was the idea- to always have one of them awake to continue the journey upwards while the other dies the inevitable death.

Andromache wakes up and is immediately in front of her again- what? She can’t mean to- can she?

Quynh's theory wasn’t entirely wrong: Andromache does want one of them to be awake to keep swimming while the other dies.

She just doesn’t intend to switch places.

 

A long time ago- centuries? Millennia? When she first started thinking that Andromache might never come to save her, she would have loved to see her die in her stead, had been cursing her for leaving her alone, for breaking their promise to each other.

But the ocean is a vast and deep place, and honestly, Quynh is surprised that Andromache managed to find her at all, that she didn’t just give up at the impossibility of the task forever.

 

Quynh watches Andromache die in front of her over and over again, and she isn’t sure whether it’s better or worse than dying herself.

Everything is blurry around the edges.

Quynh isn’t sure whether or not she still knows how to feel right anymore.

 

Light, above them.

The surface near enough to let through the shine of the sun.

In a daze, Quynh starts swimming quicker, legs beating the water, her free arm pulling them along on the rope.

She is holding Andromache close to herself now, almost an embrace, though the other’s arms get weak around her neck whenever she dies.

Quynh stopped fighting Andromache’s decision to be the one to die, if she ever did fight it at all…

No, she fought it alright, with the little fight left inside of her. Moved away, asked Andromache with her eyes what are you doing and are you sure about this?! but Andromache had smiled and leaned in anyway, and since then Quynh has all but accepted their fate.

It's selfish, really.

No matter how much it hurts to see Andromache drown, she can't make herself go through that same thing again herself.

 


 

There’s a shadow above them- a large figure, although still no bigger than the palm of her hand if she were to hold it up in comparison, they are so far down.

Waves seem to move the ship’s shadow, bending and twisting it in impossible shapes.

Safety, up there.

Something to hold on to, to stop them from drowning yet again.

Air to breathe for the both of them.

No more death.

 

Then, a light ahead- a small dot under the ships shadow. Is someone diving with a flame in their hand?

It’s then that Quynh realises that Andromache has such a light, too, and she doesn’t know how she hasn’t thought anything of it so far.

Her mind is a mess.

 

As they get closer to the light, a figure gets visible- a single human, diving down towards them.

Yusuf or Nicolo? Would they leave the other alone ashore?

Never.

Did one of them- not wake up again?

The thought jolts Quynh so harshly, she almost forgets to keep swimming as Andromache once again dies in front of her.

When she does move and look up, she realises it is neither of the men- a woman, instead, and she seems to have darker skin than either of the others- or is that just the shadow of the sea?

Quynh can’t be sure of anything anymore.

 


 

While the sight of the surface, the ship, the figure in the distance had all spurred her on to swim faster, draw herself harder along the rope, grip Andromache tighter, get out of the sea as quick as possible-

Now that the figure is almost in their reach, Quynh can barely force herself to keep gripping the rope.

Only her hold on Andromache never wavers.

Almost there.

Almost…

 

She feels light-headed, although it doesn’t make any sense for her to feel any more damaged now than a few hours ago…

Maybe it is because in the face of safety, the shock reaction that the fear had so far beat back is finally catching up with her.

Everything feels blurry, fuzzy around the edges in an entirely different way than before because of water and pain.

 


 

The woman smiles at her shyly, questioningly, as she reaches them- and she did reach them now, not the other way around.

Reaching out with another tube that Quynh now knows will give her the air to breathe, the woman then looks at Andromache with- fear? Pain? Badly suppressed grieve?

Does she not know about their immortality?

Then Andromache’s eyes snap open, but Quynh doesn’t registers the relief in the girl’s eyes.

She barely took a breath herself, but immediately pulls the tube out of her mouth and presses it to Andromache’s.

No-one will drown again today.

Andromache looks so dizzy, then so relieved when she catches her eye-

Quynh can’t think about what it all means.

Maybe Andromache can’t, either.

Instead, they swim steadily up to the surface, together and alive.

 

The stranger is swimming ahead of them, sometimes looking back as if to help them, but not quite daring to.

Quynh feels herself smile before she quite figures out the reason to do so from the jumbled mess of her thought.

Right.

The mighty Andromache The Scythian is not someone who accepts help unless she absolutely has to.

The child is right not to make such an attempt- as long as she and Andromache can still move, they will make it up on their own.

On one stroke through the water, their fingers grace against each other, and the next time, Quynh moves to touch her on purpose.

Andromache doesn’t pull away.

While Quynh has held Andromache the entire time the other has drowned, somehow none of that touch has felt as significant as this.

 


 

Quynh shivers as she breaches the surface.

She doesn’t notice at first- she wouldn’t have known whether or not she was shivering under the surface of the sea, when everything blurred together in death and pain, when all she could see was water and darkness, but now that she is ashore-

No, not yet on land, on a boat, a ship that looks strange and alien to her and she can’t tell whether it is because her memory is failing her or because ships just changed that much- now, her shivers are more obvious, blurring everything her eyes see, making her unstable on her own feet.

Yet, at first, she doesn’t notice- and how could she?

There are more important things to process first.

She is alive.

Andromache is alive.

Andromache came and saved her.

 


 

She can feel the air on her skin, she can breathe freely again.

She isn’t dying.

Of course, she was already breathing back in the water, first with the funny contraception Andromache had pressed to her mouth and nose, then through Andromache’s lips, then again through a similar contraception as the first that the dark woman had brought down to them into the water.

A blanket is thrown at her, soft fabric covering her body.

Has there ever been a fabric that soft before?

Has she forgotten all about it?

But the wood under her feet still feels like wood. The metal railing of the ship still felt like metal under her hands, even if she is sure that ships never did look like that back in the day.

 

Next to her, Andromache is struggling to get out of the strange tight clothes she is covered in, shooting Quynh anxious looks from time to time while she is just standing there.

The strange young woman says something in a language Quynh doesn’t understand before disappearing through a door.

Only then does Quynh notice that apart from the soft blanket, she is entirely naked.

Hadn't she been wearing something when she was thrown into the ocean?

But of course, the sea would have destroyed that eons ago.

 


 

As she slowly moves to dry her body and huddle up in the blanket, noticing her shiver for the first time, she hears sound coming from behind the door.

Andromache, finally free from her clothing, moves to put it away and get a blanket for herself.

A moment later, the door opens, and Nicolo and Yusuf burst through it.

Quynh is shaking even more, in insurmountable relief this time.

They are alive.

They are all alive.

 

Nicolo is moving in to hug her, and while she can’t figure out how to move to return the gesture quickly enough, she allows the touch easily.

Yusuf is coming up behind him, grinning at her and placing a hand on her shoulder- before he freezes and looks around frantically.

“[Where is] Andy?” He asks the girl behind them. Quynh notices with distanced curiosity that the italian words spilling from his lips are the first spoken words she hears and can understand in- in way too long.

“Andromache?” Yusuf turns to question Quynh, urgency coloring his voice.

“[She’s fine]” the girl says, also in italian, apparently deciding to stick to the one language they can all understand. “[She- I think she died, down there, they didn’t have any oxygen left, but she came back.]”

The air leaves Yusuf and Nicolo in rushed breaths of relief.

Quynh stares at them with small eyes.

“What-”

Andromache walks up to them again, covered in a blanket of her own, and Quynh turns to her before the others can move to greet her.

“[What is going on, Andromache?]” she is half surprised that she can speak without coughing, although her voice is rough from disuse. “[Why would you not be alive? Why would they think that?!]”

Andromache flinches guiltily.

“[I- I lost my immortality, for a while. I-]”

You what?!” Quynh interrupts her with a screech, and now she does have to cough.

Nicolo rushes up to help her, but she pushes him away.

“Andromache?” Andromache does not look into her eyes. It disconcerts Quynh more than she would ever admit. “[How could you lose your immortality and still be alive??]”

“[I didn’t die]” Andromache answers, her voice barely more than a breath. “[but I was wounded and it wouldn’t stop bleeding… I was shot and it had to be- treated- the usual way…]”

Quynh stares at her, incomprehending.

“[But I started healing again lately!]” Andromache explains. “[I just hadn’t- I hadn’t died yet, since.]”

For a long moment, the only sounds are the waves of the sea and the strange purring sound of the ship.

Then Quynh screams into Andromache’s face:

“You did- that- when didn’t even know whether you would live???”

She must have switched into Vietnamese without noticing, as Yusuf behind her is translating for the stranger.

Quynh doesn’t notice or care, she only sees Andromache wince. “{What else could I have done?}” she whispers in Scythian.

"How about letting me die in your stead?! It was quite extremely obviously that I still had my immortality!” Quynh shouts, caught up in shock and anger.

She feels about ready to stab her for her stupidity, grabs the closest piece of metal that looks like it could work as a dagger in place of a real weapon-

Then, she drop it again and just punches her, fist to abdomen, tears in her own eyes.

She can't bring herself to kill her, can't bear seeing her die, not now.

 

She punches her again, but Andromache doesn’t move to fight back, and it just frustrates Quynh.

Pushing her with both hands, she makes the mistake of looking at her face and sees that Andromache is crying, too.

“{Fight back}” she hisses in Scythian. “{Damn you, Andromache, fight back!}”

Andromache lifts up her hands to stop the next blow, but she doesn’t move to attack.

Andromache always used to move to attack.

She had never been defensive.

With a frustrated cry, Quynh manages a hit through her weak defenses, hitting her chin and making her falter-

Only for Quynh to steady her, pulling her upright.

 

Logically, she knows there is no danger of true death here.

Having seen her die and wake again time and time again underwater, she knows that Andromache would come back now, no matter how mortal she was for a while in the past.

And yet…

 

With the shock of hearing about her mortality still cursing through her veins, she can’t help imagining Andromache falling, hitting her head, blood everywhere, and simply not waking up-

Closing her eyes, the only other image coming to her mind is Andromache, under the water, limp and cold in her arms…

What if she hadn’t woken up then?

Would Quynh have dragged her dead body to the surface, in the futile hope that she would wake again once she got oxygen, even though she knew from her own experience that it didn’t work that way?

Would she have lost her grip on the body when she inevitably drowned herself, losing Andromache to the deep sea and the infinite uncertainty of her being alive or dead?

Maybe she would have deserved it, after obviously putting Andromache through the same thing for so many years.

 

With a sob, Quynh’s hand tightens around Andromache’s arm, and then she stumbles forward, pulling the other woman close.

Andromache makes a choked sound herself before wrapping her arms around her- but there’s still hesitance there,as if she doesn’t know whether she is allowed, and Quynh has to take the back of Andromache’s head and press her face into the crook of her neck before Andromache melts into the embrace.

“I thought you wouldn’t mind me being gone” Andromache chokes out in Vietnamese. “That I deserve it, that you must hate me, after what I have done to you-”

“{I could never hate you}” Quynh whispers, only loud enough for Andromache’s ears. “{Believe me, beloved, I tried, when I thought you would never come to find me for a while- but I couldn’t, and it isn’t your fault, and-}”

“[I broke my promise!]” Andromache shouts- Italian again, she and the others all seem to be more used to this language these days. “[I gave up on you, I didn’t look for you, I hoped you would just die-]” she struggles against her hold, tries to break free from the embrace, but Quynh won’t let her go, not now.

“You didn’t mean to break it” she murmurs into her skin, reverently so. "I know it, Andromache, you didn’t mean to- and the ocean is so big, of course you wouldn’t know where to look…“

Andromache sobs into the skin of her neck.

”{I could never hate you}“ Quynh repeats.

"And you did save me now.”

 


 

She doesn’t know how long they are standing that way, holding each other close.

When she finally opens her eyes and takes a step back, taking Andromache’s hand in hers as she does so (Quynh vows to never again make fun of Yusuf and Nicolo for being overly affectionate, understanding the need for touch on a new level now), they are alone on deck.

Squeezing her hand with a wet smile, Andromache leads Quynh inside.

 

They end up in a living room of sorts, and Quynh gratefully accepts the warm clothes and the small glass of hard liquor.

She hadn’t realised that she was still shivering, but she notices when it finally stops.

She feels steady on her feet again.

The only reason the world is blurry now are the tears that don’t seem to stop falling.

Andromache doesn’t comment on them, and neither does Quynh comment on hers.

 


 

“So how did you end up- mortal- for a while?” Quynh asks, putting down the strange bottle of something-that-isn’t-glass-but-looks-at-least-as-transparent back on the counter, leaning her shoulder against Andromache’s.

Andromache stiffens next to her.

“We have a- theory- but we’re not sure about it, and it’s not like we can test it” she tries to explain.

“The thing is…

"The thing is, I think I wanted to die for a while.”

 

Quynh freezes.

 

“And once I really, really wanted to die- I started bleeding and it wouldn’t stop.

"Then- things happened, and Nile and- other people, and- I don’t know. I felt like there were- good things again, good people. And we found out- that it does do something good, the way we are fighting.

"And I think I stopped wanting to die, at least as much, and my wounds healed again…

"And then we found the coordinates that lead us to you, and even though it was- even though I thought it was selfish- I really, really wanted to live again.”

Andromache looks at her now, and it takes Quynh a moment to decipher what the question in her eyes mean, to caught up in the fact that Andromache had wanted to die!

Oh.

Andromache thinks her experience might prove the theory wrong.

"I don't know" she whispers. "I don't know if I ever wanted to die. I wished for it to be- over, I wanted it to stop- to breathe again, to be with you again..."

Andromache stares at her.

'What?' Quynh wants to ask, but Andromache beats her to it.

"You are so strong!" she croaks out "So, so strong." the last word is caught on a sob.

Quynh has never seen Andromache cry before- not even when Lykon died.

Tentatively, she reaches out to her.

 

They hold each other for a while, revelling in the touch.

Quynh presses small, soft kisses over her face.

Andromache tangles her hands in Quynhs long, long hair.

Quynhs draws her fingers through Andromache’s so very short hair in return.

 

They don’t kiss, not really, but they don’t need to. That can come later, when they aren’t as exhausted anymore.

Growing tired, they slowly migrate to the strange, soft long chair- couch, Andromache tells her, not knowing a Scynthian word for it- still touching, reassuring each other.

Andromache settles down next to her, burrowing her head in her chest.

Quynh can’t remember ever feeling this content.

 


 

There’s a soft knock on the door- quiet enough for them to pretend not to hear it if they so chose. But Quynh feels Andromache nod against her skin, so she quietly calls “[Come in!]”

Yusuf’s smile is so bright when he sees them curled up on the couch, that alone is enough to make the interruption worth it.

Apart from being able to breathe, Quynh has missed Andromache most in her years under the sea, but the others are a close second.

Nicolo hugs her again and snuggles up next to her on the couch while Yusuf kneels down and kisses the palm of both her hands in turn before standing up and kissing her forehead and Andromache’s, too, then moving to curl up next to Nicolo.

 

The other woman- a new addition to their little team- lingers in the doorway awkwardly, until Andromache makes an impatient movement and pats the couch next to her.

“Nile- Quynh, Quynh- Nile” she introduces them before closing her eyes again.

Nile smiles shily, closes the door behind them and cuddling up on Andromache’s other side.

They fall asleep like that, and for once, none if them dream at all.

The world continues around them, but for the moment, the only things The Old Guard cares about are the people in this very room.

 


~ Fini ~