Pain. It was all she knew. Her head threatened to split open. Her right shoulder and arm ached. Even her ankle throbbed. It seemed that every scratch, every bruise was acting up on her. Her eyes were squeezed shut, but try as she might, she couldn't shut out the anxiety. Hell, she couldn't even stop the red stars dancing behind her lids. She knew she ought to be grateful for the simple fact that she was still alive to feel miserable but it just didn't work that way. So she gave up and opened her eyes reluctantly.
What she saw cheered her a bit.
Achilles was leaning against the wall beside her, his head cradled in his hands, nodding off to sleep. If the man could ever be associated with the term innocence, that was the picture she would have used. She turned her head in the other direction and winced at the stiffness in her neck. Her own cabin. Her own bed. That was where she was. She guessed their plans of running away were thrown right out the window. But with that was a small measure of relief that she couldn't quite comprehend. What she did manage to take in was the fact that if Andromache wanted to kill Achilles, she was more or less powerless to stop it. But one look at Achilles told her that if her cousin wanted to kill him, he would be dead already. Or at least a bunch of people were dead already.
The creak of the door easing open had her looking up.
"You are awake." The woman herself walked in, carrying a wooden tray.
"Andromache." Briseis tried to push herself up, but the quick stabs of pain in her shoulder had her gasping. Achilles stirred from his post.
"Don't." Andromache set down the tray and took a cautious step towards her.
Achilles came to and laid a protective hand on her arm. Briseis looked from the standing woman to her lover kneeling beside her. Neither said a word for a long moment. Then Briseis couldn't stand the tension any more
"Androma-" she started.
"I'm so sorry-" Andromache began at the same time.
Achilles looked at the two women with amusement, tucking his tongue in his cheek. Briseis glared at him. Trust him to find something funny about everything. Andromache merely twisted her hands in the folds of her skirt.
The moment was so awkward that Briseis laughed. Andromache looked at her with uncertainty.
"Oh come on now, cousin, you know you need not apologize. I understand why you did what you did," Briseis said with a rueful smile, "It doesn't change the fact that I am bedridden and probably will be for the next couple of weeks, but I want you to know that I, I do not blame you." She sent up a sincere look.
Andromache did not know what to say. She could feel the emotions swell up inside her and her eyes misted. But she didn't know what to say to the young woman that had a stubborn streak of bravery underneath her soft heart.
"There's no need for any explanations," Briseis added, as if reading her mind.
Achilles reached over and very gently brushed a lock of hair out of her eye. Andromache was amazed at the naturalness of the gesture and how easily it came. She might not feel any affection for the man, and she imagined she wouldn't anytime soon, but she had to admit he was good to her foolish little cousin.
"Do you know just, just how, stupid you are? God, you are impossible Briseis. You had me scared to death!" Andromache gave a shaky laugh, "It was all my doing of course but when you took that arrow and fell into that hole I thought, oh, I-" She wiped at her eyes, unable to continue.
"Hush now," Briseis said soothingly, beckoning her beloved cousin to step closer. She took her hand. "You won't believe just how, how infuriating I am. We were planning to run away." Achilles looked up, startled. Briseis shot him a silencing look and continued.
"We were going to go back to Larissa, that's where he's from, and I was planning to leave all this behind. Until that annoying earthquake came." Briseis rolled her eyes and tried to keep her voice light, but it was clogging up in emotions. "But you know, I wouldn't have been able to leave anyway. I've thought about it over and over again, and I don't think, I just don't think I could have done it. Even if I did I would have regretted my choice. So in a way, it was all very convenient." She shrugged but tears were streaming down her face. Achilles brushed them away with his thumb, careful with the tender scratches on her face.
"I'm sorry," Briseis sent him another look.
"Oh I know." He gave her a comforting smile.
"What?" Her face was written with disbelief.
"I thought I was alluring enough to you that I could pull you away from your life. I was wrong to have thought that way. You are right, this is all very convenient for us. Knowing you, you would never have admitted that you were miserable had we really gone to Larissa. And I would have convinced myself that I was all that you needed. Very selfish of me, but you know, this about killed my ego."
Even Andromache had to smile. It was so obvious from the looks they sent each other that they were teasing for her sake.
"So what are you going to do now?" This was a question that they had all been waiting for. They fell silent.
"What would you have me do?" Briseis asked quietly.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Briseis, I think you are old enough to make your own decisions. I'm sorry if I seem a bit pressuring at times," she threw up her hands when Briseis raised an eyebrow, "Oh fine, so perhaps I was very demanding. But darling, go to Larissa, go with him if that's what you truly want."
Briseis said nothing.
"Well, if it isn't, you most certainly can stay. I may be, well, pressuring," Now it was Andromache's turn to roll her eyes, "But I'm not going to force you out of your own home."
"And?" Briseis flickered her eyes at Achilles, long enough to make the unasked question loud and clear.
Andromache shifted uncomfortably. "He can stay too, if he likes. I'm not going to pretend that I'm not resentful. I am. But I guess I will tolerate him. That is, if he's ready to forgive me for, for what I've done to you." She drew in an unsteady breath.
"We will tolerate each other because Stubborn here will most likely to do something unpleasant to us if we squabbled and spoiled her day." A corner of his lip curled up. Briseis looked annoyed and swatted him with her bad arm, forgetting the fact that it was bandaged. She cursed viciously, cradling her arm while Andromache opened her mouth to lecture her on her language.
"Oh give me a break cousin," she muttered, "By the way, how's Helen doing?"
"Just fine. She's already up and around, demanding that someone teach her how to use Paris' bow properly, and grumbling that everyone's fussing too much over nothing." Andromache stood up.
"Oh I might start doing that too if you people start up on me."
Andromache made a disapproving sound and carried over the tray. "Like it or not, I want you to eat every last drop of this soup. And you watch her and made sure that she does. I will be back in half an hour to get the empty dish."
"Yes Your Highness," Achilles replied with a grin. The older woman turned on her heels and with one last look at the pair, walked out.
"You don't mind?" Briseis asked after a moment.
"Staying," she answered quietly.
"Why would I?"
"I thought maybe you wanted to go home."
"Looks like I have a new home. Now if I will convince that nice cousin of yours to move out and let me bunk with you, I'll be perfectly happy, oh, a couple of kids won't hurt either." He grinned again.
"Oh dream on," Briseis scoffed.
"Hey! I want little Achilles' running around, and little Briseis'."
"Don't be ridiculous. We're not even married yet."
He leaned in until their noses were touching. "Let's get married tomorrow then."
"All right, you are playing with me."
"No I'm not." His breath lightly caressed her face.
"You're not?" She was breathless.
"Not a chance. Seeing as I'm stuck with you for the rest of my life. How about I change your mind about kids?" He balanced his palms on her shoulders and rubbed gently.
"I'd like some too. But I want a daughter first," she said firmly.
"Oh so you're allowed to choose now?" He skimmed his lips along hers, whisper light.
"I want a daughter." She looked deeply into his eyes. There was so much laughter in them now when before she had only seen loneliness, and regret.
"All right, all right. Who am I to argue? Want to start making that little girl right now?" His hands snaked up her sides, brushing against the sides of her breasts.
"Achilles! Andromache, she's coming back." She looked at him, exasperated, "Besides, my shoulder hurts."
"Right." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "But we are still getting married tomorrow."
"Just 'fine'?" He raised his eyebrows at her.
She sighed skeptically. "I'm ecstatic. I can't wait. That good enough?"
"Hey! It's not often a man gets a third chance, couldn't you give a little help here?"
"Third chance, huh?"
"Seems to be that way. Every time I want to commit to you, one of us encounters a near-death experience."
He looked over her. She was so beautiful he couldn't begin to describe her radiance.
"I can't wait to marry you. I mean it. I'm going to name our first daughter Thetis. I respect your mother, very much. Without her there wouldn't have been a second chance, and without that we wouldn't have a third. And I like that name." She gave him a faint smile.
His thumbs brushed the corners of her lips.
"I love you, Achilles," she spoke suddenly.
"Love you too, now eat your soup before Andromache comes back and decide that I'm incompetent. Then she might kill me after all."
This time Briseis swatted him with her good arm. Looking at his wonderful face over her soup bowl, Briseis sighed with pleasure.
If she such happiness just looking at him. Then maybe he was all that she needed.
A/N: This is it, I really hope that you enjoyed reading this story as much as I loved writing it. I want to say thanks, again, to all those people that left a review for me. I don't think this would have been possible without all your support. I'm a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean too, so maybe I will write a fic about that sometimes. But...bye for now!