“Ta-er al-Asfer,” the old woman greets with a half bow. “Your trip went well?”
“As well as it could,” Sara grins, shrugging with her sling-ed left arm. “Well, almost.”
“It is not serious, I hope,” Umm Saleem says with concern as al-Tuub takes Sara’s duffel bag off her right shoulder to take back to her rooms.
“Nah. Not at all. I’ll be fine in no time. Where’s Damian?”
“He is in lessons with the Heir in the courtyard,” Damian’s (and previously Nyssa’s) nanny answers.
“Oh! Nyssa’s back?”
“Great. I’ll go see them. When’s dinner? It is dinner time, right?”
“Yes, Ta-er al-Asfer,” Umm Saleem says, clearly amused. She is frequently amused by the ridiculous American who stole Nyssa’s heart. “It is dinner time. Marwa will have dinner on the table in an hour.”
“Got it. Thanks, Umm Saleem.”
Sara adjusts the strap of her sling and moves through the sandstone hallways of the villa towards the courtyard. The gunshot that winged her hit nothing vital, but unlike Nyssa, she likes to follow the doctor’s orders, especially here in the villa, where she can afford to let her guard down a little.
Within seconds, a very familiar “click click click” of claws on stone greets her, and Sara sees Rocket come bounding around the corner. She squats to catch all ten (okay, maybe eleven since Ra’s was just visiting) pounds of the pup with her good arm, getting a face full of tongue as her welcome home.
“Yes, hi, I missed you, too. Okay, that’s enough. Jeez, Rocket.”
Rocket finally calms down as Sara stands, the little dog still tucked under her right arm.
“Where’s your boy?”
Rocket’s tail beats against her side happily, and it makes Sara smile.
When she gets to the courtyard, she stays in the shadows, watching Nyssa calmly, patiently, firmly instruct Damian in his archery lesson.
Dressed in loose pants like the League always trains in but a bright red Starling City Rockets t-shirt, he’s likely one of the strangest students the League has ever seen. His natural skill, however, is readily apparent, At four, he’s all but mastered stationary targets. So Nyssa has him started on moving ones, and to the side, Sar’ab patiently bounces beach balls across the courtyard. Nearly all of the arrows he looses miss their intended targets, but one leaves a smudge of blue paint from the tip across the side of a ball.
“Better,” Nyssa says. “But let us try something else.” With her own bow in hand, she kneels beside him, now just a matter of inches taller than him rather than feet. “Put down your bow.”
He promptly complies. On the training field, in lessons with the Heir to the Demon, he is the picture of focus and obedience, even as his hair sticks up at all angles from what Sara can only imagine was an obstinate refusal to take a comb to his hair this morning.
“Take your stance. Hold your arms as if you had the bow in hand. Well done. Now.” She nods to Sar’ab as she nocks a painted, dull training arrow and draws her bow. “Tell me when I should loose my arrow.”
Sara leans against a column and scratches under Rocket’s chin, settling in.
Damian’s chest is at Nyssa’s back, his eyes close enough to level with hers, and he mimics every one of her movements. He stares mostly straight ahead, but he keeps stealing glances at his aunt, just to make sure he’s doing it right, that sweet awe written across his face.
Sar’ab bounces a beach ball.
She lets it fly instantaneously, but it passes wide, behind.
“Anticipate the target,” Nyssa instructs. “Even the fastest arrow takes time to reach its target. Do not aim where the target is but where the target will be when the arrow gets there.” As if sensing his confusion, she summarizes: “Lead the target. Ahead, not behind.”
He nods once, but she is not looking at him, and her silence prompts him.
Sar’ab drops another.
“Now,” Damian says seriously.
This time the arrow misses again, but more closely.
Too far ahead.
They repeat it for several minutes, the only sounds in the courtyard a softly bouncing beach ball, Damian’s intent “Now,” and Nyssa’s patient “Again.” It’s meditative, peaceful, and feels so wonderfully of home. The sun is just barely beginning to set, catching the lighter, nearly red highlights in their almost-matching hair, and Sara suppresses a super motherly urge to ask whether they’re wearing sunscreen. Nyssa is usually the one to worry about those things, anyway, so if they need it, they have it. Neither of them are nearly as pale as Sara anyway.
Damian (or rather, Nyssa at Damian’s command) grazes a few, ahead and behind, and Nyssa soothes his bubbling frustration with her calm, even tone. She never scolds unless he is not trying enough. Sara remembers that from her own training days.
Finally, he has her hit one more solidly on the body of the ball, enough to significantly alter its course, and he lets out a tiny triumphant shout. Nyssa schools her own grin.
“Ah.” He returns to form. “Again.”
Three more, and they hit two close-to-squarely, hard grazing another.
“Very well. Now with your own bow.”
“Maybe a break first?” Sara finally intervenes, letting the struggling Rocket down onto the soft grass of the courtyard, where she runs with abandon.
“Habibti, you are injured,” Nyssa observes, standing, concerned.
“Habibti, what happened?” Damian says near-simultaneously.
Over their shoulders, Sara watches Sar’ab suppress a smirk at their twin pet names.
“I’m fine. Through and through, that’s all,” she brushes off their concern as she crosses the courtyard towards them, squinting in the sunlight. They’re beside her immediately, Damian throwing his arms around her thighs and squeezing, Nyssa kissing her hello.
“Who did it?” Damian asks, brows knit.
“Nobody who’s ever gonna be a problem again.”
“Good,” he says resolutely, chin digging into her leg as he looks up at her. “Did ya bring me anything?”
“Psh! What? No way.”
Nyssa rolls her eyes.
“Really?” Damian needles, all puppy dog eyes as bad as Rocket’s when bacon is involved.
“Maybe if you’re really good tonight, I’ll find something when I unpack in the morning.”
That seems to satisfy him.
“Damian. Go clean the training field. We will resume tomorrow.”
He runs off dutifully, ‘cause they’re still on the training field, and she is still Khala, Heir to the Demon, not Khala, sometimes a total pushover.
Nyssa softly wraps her hands around Sara’s hips, pulling her close. Sara’s good hand plays with the wisps of hair that have escaped Nyssa’s ponytail.
“A little to right and…” Nyssa begins.
“Hush. I’m fine. When the medic tells me to wear a sling, though, I wear the damn sling.” She gives her a pointed look. “Unlike someone I know.”
“Yes, that part was markedly clear, Sara.”
Sara grins and kisses her quickly.
“I missed you as well.”
“How was Thailand?”
“Still more unstable than I’d like, but progressing. Kiev?”
“Ugh. But manageable. Any clue what Marwa’s making for dinner? I haven’t eaten in forever.”
“A lack of patience seems to be something else you and Damian have in common.”
“In addition to having you wrapped around our fingers?”
She does not deign to respond, and Sara grins at her.
“He looks good,” she gestures to their boy, who is currently having way too much fun deflating beach balls with Sar’ab. One makes something vaguely similar to a farting noise, and he doubles over in laughter. Rocket is running around not helping in the least.
“He is much more dedicated with the bow than my previous student.”
Nyssa is grinning like the jerk she is.
“I like to get my hands a little dirtier, okay? Not stand twenty paces away and hit ‘em before they can look me in the eye.”
Nyssa’s hands tighten on her hips, and her eyes flash dangerously, in the best way.
“Are you calling the bow a coward’s weapon, Ta-er al-Asfer?”
“I’m just saying what I prefer.” Her smile turns cheeky. “I like watching you with a bow. It’s just not my favorite. Get a few inches on him, and I’ll show him how much better my bo is.”
“We shall see about that.”
“You gonna kiss me hello for real now?”
“Well, I was going to until your archery comments…”
Sara pulls her down for that kiss anyway.
It sounds like home.
It’s slapping feet and clicking claws and squeals of childish glee. It’s fairly commonplace, Damian and Sara chasing each other through the halls, Sarookh sprinting to keep up.
“Jeez,” Sara’s voice carries into Nyssa’s study, “What are you eating? You’re so heavy.”
That means she’s caught him, and his accompanying laugh of delight means he’s in a head lock and he is trying to break free. Were she not winged, she’d be lifting him over her head. Sarookh is so excited she is barking. It goes on for a while.
Nyssa turns back to her reading, letting their joy fade into peaceful background noise. Two of their trio of cats has taken refuge with her, the boy, Butter, in her lap, his sister, Jelly, on the second easy chair. The second girl, Peanut, the smallest and yet most adventurous of them, could very well be joining in on the chaos just outside Nyssa’s door.
“You’re getting fast,” Sara complains as they pass again, out of breath, though it is difficult to tell if it is for show or not. “Does Khala have you running more laps?”
“Too many,” Damian retorts. “Got ya. You’re It.”
“Dang it! That was sneaky.”
“I’m the grandson of the Demon.”
The laugh that Sara lets out echoes throughout the entire villa, and Nyssa smiles softly into her book.
They run, seemingly impossible to exhaust, for another twenty minutes, even though Sara has been traveling for the last week and only arrived home before dinner. Sara catches him again outside Nyssa’s study, this time most likely on purpose.
“Okay, okay. It’s probably getting close to bed time. Oh my god, D. You smell terrible.” Nyssa smirks. “Go run and ask Umm Saleem to run you a bath.”
“I don’t need a bath,” Damian argues. “I went swimming earlier.”
“Damian, the ocean is not a bath.”
“Yes, it is!”
“Fishies don’t take baths.”
“Fishies also don’t get to eat cheeseburgers or learn how to use a bow or get tucked into bed at night. Do you really want to be a fishy?”
“Right. But you get stories after your bath, so less whining. Let’s check and see if Khala can make it for stories.”
They push into her study, Rocket on their heels, both still grinning widely.
“Have you two sufficiently run your sillies out?” Nyssa asks, using the English phrase Sara uses for the wild play they always partake in (and can often convince her to join in on).
“Yeah,” Sara answers as Damian nods.
Damian comes over and gently removes Butter from her lap, replacing the cat with himself.
“You do smell quite foul, little one,” she says even as she wraps her arms around his shoulders.
“Told ya,” Sara sticks her tongue out at him. He returns the gesture, grinning after.
“Comin’ to bedtime stories, Khala?”
“Yes, but I have a few things to check on beforehand. I’ll meet you in your room?”
“Off with you, then. It’s getting late,” she shoos him after a soft kiss to the top of his smelly head.
“I didn’t forget about your bath,” Sara says.
“Habibti,” he cajoles.
“Umm Saleem. Shampoo. Soap. Now.”
He hops off of her lap and pads out the door, Sarookh following behind.
“Did he and Rocket roll around in garbage?” Sara asks, glancing after them.
“I cannot rule out the possibility; they have free run of the place.”
Sara rolls her eyes.
“See you at stories.”
For all that Sara complains of the love of books that Nyssa and Dinah are passing on to Damian, she is certainly the best bedtime reader of them all, with Grandpa Quentin perhaps coming in at a close second. She is highly animated, though she cannot help from adding in her own commentary when she disagrees with a character’s decisions or a writer’s plot twist. Nyssa believes that that might be Damian’s favorite part.
“Aw, I mean, come on, Rabbit. Don’t be an asshole - Don’t repeat that word.”
Nyssa sighs from the doorframe. She gave up trying to clean up Sara’s mouth around Damian long ago, asking only that she remind the boy that some words were for Ta-er al-Asfer only for now. It works moderately well.
They are snuggled onto Damian’s bed reading about the adventures of some yellow teddy bear and his compatriots. Clean-scrubbed and hair asunder (he so does love his hair asunder), Damian rests his head against Sara’s chest, tucked under her right arm and holding the book for her to read.
Most days she hopes they are finding the right balance between raising him to survive the League and letting him enjoy something of a childhood. On days like today, she knows if anyone can do it, they can.
“Come on, Khala.” She’s been caught, by her own four-year-old student. Perhaps he was paying better attention last week in the counter-surveillance lesson than she thought he was. He pats the empty space to his right. “Pooh just ate so much he got stuck. Like if Marwa gives Rocket too many leftovers.”
Nyssa smiles and joins them, pressing her hip into Damian’s, leaning over to kiss Sara’s temple. She smoothes some of Damian’s more unruly patches of hair, and he immediately ruffles them again, looking affronted.
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense, habibti.”
“Yeah, Habibti, let’s go!”