For a long while after that last battle in the desert, Andrew Waltfeld thinks that his lust for a challenge died with Aisha, amputated somehow along with his arm and his leg. Boredom has always been his oldest enemy, but in the wake of Jachin Due and the return to Earth, through months of quiet civilian life, he finds that even the minor challenge of learning to get around with two prosthetic limbs holds little appeal.
It holds even less appeal when, restless and a little drunk, he starts downstairs late in the evening and - depth perception even more shot than usual thanks to shadows and alcohol - missteps with his prosthetic foot and goes crashing down the rest of the stairs before he can catch himself.
He's still seeing stars when the light comes on in the hallway above. "Andrew?" Murrue appears at the top of the stairs, the shape of her silhouetted through her long nightshirt, with a gun in her hand.
"It's all right," he begins to say, grumpily, as he is picking himself up from the floor, but when he tries to stand the prosthesis, instead of staying fit snugly to his amputated leg, gives way underneath him, and he has to catch himself on the railing. "Mongolian goatfuck," he snarls without any consideration for Murrue's presence.
Before he can try to get up again Murrue is at his side, laying the gun down on the tread of a step as she crouches nearby. "Are you all right?" she asks, brows drawn together in concern. He reaches to pull the piece of junk that passes for his leg back into order, and she stops him with a hand on his arm. "Let me see."
He has no choice but to let her; he sits there on the floor, a grown man and a Coordinator too crippled to so much as manage a flight of stairs, while she examines the damage he's done.
"Well," she says presently, "you've broken this very cleverly. I don't think there's much that can be done with it until daytime. Come on." And with that she ducks her shoulder under his arm and he finds her bracing him up on his bad side, sturdier than he would have thought to look at her.
It surprises him, but he is in no mood to be cooperative. "I was going down to get myself some coffee," he says, as she's steering him back up the stairs.
An exasperated breath escapes her, and when she gets him as far as his room she all but dumps him onto the foot of his bed. "Andrew," she says in a firm and authoritarian tone he has not heard in a while, "you are going to stay right here. I will bring you some coffee." She cuts him off before he can do more than open his mouth. "And you will like it."
Andrew Waltfeld is no fool. "Yes ma'am," he says.
Murrue eyes him for a moment, watching his face for sarcasm, and then - muttering something under her breath that sounds like, "...pilots!" - she turns and leaves him sitting there, chagrined and annoyed and impressed in equal measures.
He could sit and stew in his own frustration. Instead while Murrue is gone he thinks to himself that he likes the way that she moves, the simple and straightforward purpose of it (so unlike Aisha's graceful sway). She's been such a calming and comfortable presence in the time since the war's end that a man could start to forget how she'd commanded a warship that had cut a swath through everything two sides of a war had thrown at it, including himself.
For the first time in a long time Andy begins to feel the lure of a challenge again. She'd hate to be called a challenge, he thinks (Aisha had been secretive on purpose; he'd never minded, knowing that she did it on purpose to stimulate him), but Murrue has a self-contained way about her all the same. She does not often advertise what she is thinking, and her usual soft touch makes these moments when the core of steel underneath it is revealed pleasantly surprising. He could spend a long while trying to figure her out.
He is a little ashamed of himself for thinking it, when still sometimes he catches that sad look on her face and he can almost feel the presence of Mwu la Fllaga's ghost in the room, when still sometimes he remembers Aisha so vividly it is almost as though she is there beside him.
But Aisha is gone, and la Fllaga is gone, and it's left to him and to Murrue to go on living, and somehow the temporary arrangement they made when they first landed in Orb has gone on too long to call it temporary any more. It's just easier if she's there to lend a hand when he's half blinded by the headaches that are the legacy of his lost eye (although he has not had one of those in a while now, thank god); it's helped her to have him there to offer his shoulder when she dreams of Jachin Due and wakes up racked in fresh grief (less and less often all the time, though he knows she still feels the loss). He's gotten used to her distracting him from boredom with conversation and the occasional game of chess, and to making sly comments in order to bring that little smile to her face.
The manor house that the young Representative provided is far too big for one person, but it's just about the right size for two people and their ghosts.
When she comes back, she does not bring him coffee. "I don't know how to use that contraption you call a coffeemaker," she says, unrepentantly, as she offers him a glass of cold water instead. "This will be better for the hangover you're going to have in the morning."
He takes the glass from her, cracking a bit of a grin. "Didn't you know?" he says. "Coordinators don't get hung over."
Her brows lift as she watches his face. "Is that so?" she says mildly, and then smiles a little. "Liar."
He drinks the water, and he doesn't admit (to her face) that coffee would probably only have kept him awake into the night anyhow. When she moves to take the glass from him, he catches her hand to stop her, and pushing the glass aside onto the nightstand he pulls her to him, and she lets him.
And then of course what had seemed like a brilliant idea goes wrong. It's urgent and fumbling and awkward, and it has never felt more inadequate to have only one proper hand. He ends up swearing in frustration, and Murrue, as valiantly as she tries to suppress it, cannot help but laugh. After a moment, so does he.
Some of the desperation goes out of both of them then. Murrue leans over him to kiss him with her hair falling down around both of their faces, and for a while the missing pieces don't really seem to matter so much.
Later she lies against his side, warm and comfortably relaxed with her arm draped across his chest and her cheek resting against his shoulder, but there is a faraway look on her face, a trace of wistful sadness. She is thinking of la Fllaga.
He should be insulted, but he can't quite manage it, not with Aisha such a close presence in his own thoughts, her voice all but murmuring amusedly in his ear. He curls his good arm around Murrue, presses a brief kiss against her naked shoulder. "Is this all right?"
She lifts her eyes to meet his, and though that trace of sadness doesn't quite leave her face, she smiles a little. "Yes."
Andy doesn't remember the Hawk of Endymion very clearly; he didn't know the man that long. In his memory la Fllaga is a bright golden figure, the arrow of a fighter jet cutting through the sky above the desert and making his BuCUEs look slow and clumsy, all glossy self-assurance. Compared to that, he knows, he is rougher, coarser, damaged and poorly mended.
It's all right. Whatever they have, they have because of what they have both lost. She can't replace Aisha; he is not trying to replace la Fllaga. There is no point in dick-measuring with a dead man.
Instead, as Murrue dozes lightly beside him, he makes a silent salute in his thoughts to both of their ghosts. He has already made his peace with Aisha - he thinks she would understand - but to Mwu la Fllaga's memory he makes a promise: for his sake, and for Aisha's sake, they'll look after one another, and not be alone.
The dead don't ask for much. Surely they're content with that.
It occurs to him to wonder, just for a moment, thoughts fuzzy with the onset of sleep, how long it might take him to convince Murrue to start calling him Andy.
It'll be interesting to find out.