Morocco, Present Day:
The darkness is thick and enveloping. The air cloying. There is must, mildew, and undoubtedly the stench of death; fetid and baked into the walls. None of these things are a surprise to Nadine, as she sits with her back against the wall of the tomb -- waiting. With a flick of her thumb to her Zippo, she lights the torch and rigs it to sit on a ledge. Not that she needs the light, but it will work to keep away the insects while she waits. She glances down to follow the path of her fingertips as she threads her fingers through the thick black hair spread across her lap. Chloe is out cold. This will be her second concussion in almost two years. As Nadine clears tendrils of sweaty hair away from Chloe's face, she takes a moment to take stock of her injuries. With gentle and practiced fingertips, she lightly traces the faint red bruise high on the prone woman's left cheek. This is the freshest of bruises; picked up a few days ago.
Morocco, Three Days Earlier:
The small tear was earned when her rope snapped and her face slammed into the sheared rock as she scrambled for a handhold. Nadine forcefully stabbed the piton into the craggy rock and reached out with her free hand to grip Chloe about the waist, as she clung to the rock face.
Once they were both stable she shouted "What the hell, Frazer?!" Nadine couldn't hide the tremor in her voice.
With a chuckle, Chloe responded, "I guess that tree limb was not a good idea." She exhaled loudly as they moved quickly to a landing. When her feet touched the smooth flat surface, Chloe let herself relax.
"Let me see." Strong fingers gripped Chloe's jaw as Nadine angled the slightly taller woman's face towards her own. The small gash was bleeding and Nadine was ripping off the hem of her t-shirt before Chloe could protest. Luckily, she had packed an extra tank top in her pack in the Jeep. They had done enough of these ventures in the last two years that they both knew better.
Chloe winced as Nadine gently dabbed at the wound, before applying some pressure. "Am I going to need stitches?"
"No stitches, but a bit of a scar." She cleared away the blood and felt satisfied that the bleeding would stop. Although, the faster they got back to the Jeep the sooner she could put some Neosporin on it.
Chloe finally pushed Nadine's hands away. She turned soft gray eyes on her scowling companion and smiled. "Good thing my partner digs scars." She winked to diffuse some of the tension.
Nadine pursed her lips to keep from smiling. "Oh yeah? What about your girlfriend?" She arched an eyebrow in challenge and folded her arms across her chest.
Chloe just smiled at the other woman, before leaning in and planting a quick kiss on Nadine's lips. "She likes it just fine."
Nadine sighed. "You're impossible, you know that." The former mercenary was only mildly annoyed now.
"But you love me," Chloe replied in a melodious manner before swatting Nadine on the backside and heading towards the cavern.
She scoffed. I'll love you when we get what we came for, Frazer." She grumbled the words and followed Chloe.
Morocco, Present Day:
Nadine's fingers move from the healing bruise on her cheek and trail down beneath her chin, down the column of a smooth tanned throat, out along her collar bones, first to the left and then the right. Her fingers stop along the bone close to her shoulder and there she finds a faded scar. The thin 1-inch long toothpick shaped mark rests at the end of the bone.
That mark had come courtesy of an arrow a year earlier in the Amazon. Nadine had reacted to a glint of sliver and launched herself at Chloe. They tumbled from the thick branch they were perched on and fell to the canopy floor with limbs and twigs breaking their fall. They were on their feet and running for cover before either of them noticed the wood shrapnel that had lodge into Chloe's flesh. Three days later, both women were sporting matching busted lips, a dislocated shoulder for Nadine, and a black diamond (the Jaguar's paw) nearly the size of Nadine's fist was their prize. It really was true...everything hurt a lot less when they found what they were looking for.
Steady fingers travel down Chloe's torso over her ribs and follow around to her back on the left side. She stops at the third rib and feels for the rough patch of skin.
This was what remained of a rather nasty 3rd degree burn courtesy of falling through a skylight in an Inisheer castle that was on fire. That little Celtic trip was how they had begun the year and it was quickly decided that perhaps Arthurian legends should be left to the Drake boys. They could add that to their Marco Polo obsession
Russia. The Ural Mountains. 18 months ago:
Not far from the burn patch was another scar. An inch above her left hip. This one was the oldest and most important. 6 months after India. They had done smaller jobs before this one, but this was extensive. Russia in winter. Never again. And not just because of snow. Rasputin's dagger and fucking Shoreline. The choice had been Chloe or the dagger. There was no choice. She meant to jump in front of Chloe, but the brunette realized what Nadine was about to do and reacted. She moved to protect Nadine from the disgruntled Shoreline lieutenant and the bullet tore through her side. Chloe slumped to the ground and Nadine emptied her clip into Mako's face. She didn't even care to see where he and the dagger had fallen, as his body careened over the side of the cliff thanks to the force of the bullets.
Nadine was on her knees and by Chloe's side in a heartbeat. There seemed to be blood everywhere and Chloe’s breathing was frantic. Steady hands were ripping open the fabric of her own down vest and pulling out the synthetic filler when teary gray eyes met her focused brown.
"Seemed - like - a g-good -idea at the - t-time, huh, love." She got the words out between breaths.
Nadine was furious. It was the easiest emotion she could latch onto at the moment. "We'll deal with your poor decision making later," she said through gritted teeth as she packed the open wound with the filler and shredded her sleeve to make a bandage. Her priority was shelter and heat. After that, assuming they made it til’ morning, she could radio for help. Right now, she just needed Chloe to not bleed out. The wound was through and through and if either of them had an ounce of good karma left, Nadine was praying that it was all used up on having not hit anything vital.
Chloe tried to stifle her hiss of pain as Nadine packed the wound and tied her makeshift bandage tight around Chloe's waist. "Don't be mad at me, okay."
"I'm not mad," Nadine spat out as she helped Chloe up and put her arm around her shoulder and pulled her snug against her body. "I'll be mad after we get out of this." They half walked, half limped down to a safe landing. Chloe was in no shape to climb down and there wasn't enough equipment to repel safely. An abandoned hollow in the Cliffside would have to do for the moment. Nadine thanked the gods for cargo pants and once she got the fire going she set up a triage with the supplies shoved deep into her many pockets. She had worked enough with Chloe in 6 months to know how prepared to be at this point.
Cauterized and 22 stitches later, Chloe lay passed out on the cavern floor. Nadine had cleaned her hands in the snow and convinced herself that she was crying because of the cold and not a possibly gravely wounded Chloe laying a few feet from her. Nadine sealed the cavern as best she could and then wrapped herself around Chloe as she worked to keep them both warm. Those 12 hours of waiting were probably the worst of Nadine's life before Sam Drake showed up with Sully and a chopper.
In the hospital, it’s three days later when Chloe finally wakes up. While the bleeding had stopped, the infection had left her weak. Upon opening her eyes, Chloe saw Nadine curled up at an impossible configuration in the upholstered chair to the left of the bed. She watched Nadine with hooded eyes and a good pain in her chest. Nadine's eyelids started to flutter and Chloe couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief.
To the lightly sleeping soldier’s ears it sounded like a whimper and she was up out of the chair like a rocket and by Chloe's side. "What do you need? What hurts? I can get the nurse? Or wat-
Her rambling is cut off by Chloe's hand on her cheek. "Whoa there love, starting to think you care." Chloe smirked and Nadine thought it was the best sight she had seen in her whole life. She dropped her head to Chloe's pillow and let out a laugh. She was bent over at the waist and while it was a bit awkward, Nadine doesn't move and Chloe doesn't budge her. Instead, she rubbed at Nadine's back with her left hand. "You going to come up for air ever?" When Nadine didn’t answer after a breath Chloe realized that the woman wasn't laughing but crying. Her face was buried in the pillow next to Chloe's right shoulder.
"Shh, it's alright, love. I'm right here. I'm right here." Chloe tugged at the other woman's shoulder. It took a few minutes of coaxing and maneuvering, but soon Nadine was in the hospital bed and nestled against Chloe’s right side. Her face buried in Chloe's neck and neither of them caring that her warm tears were soaking the pillow and her skin. Chloe merely held the other woman until the sobs subsided. And soon they are breathing in sync and Chloe is sure Nadine has fallen asleep until a gravelly voice close to her ear says otherwise.
"Please don't do that ever again. I can't, I just can't-" She trailed off and took a deep breath.
"I'm here. I promise, I'm here." Chloe pressed her lips against Nadine's forehead and whispered platitudes as the other woman tried to rein in her tears.
A minute passed as Nadine got her breathing under control. She kept her arm wrapped around Chloe’s abdomen, but she let her head roll way from the other woman's warm neck. Brown eyes were fixed on the white ceiling tiles of the hospital room. "It's my job to keep you safe. I just need you to be careful."
With a furrowed brow, Chloe turned to towards Nadine. "Since when is it your job to keep me safe?" Rising anger tinged her words. "Look at me, Nadine."
She could hear the confusion in Chloe's voice and despite her reluctance to have this conversation, Nadine followed Chloe’s request. Her eyes were rimmed red, but dry now, and the remnants of her previous tears were evident on her cheeks. "It's always been my job, Chloe." She wiped roughly at her wet cheeks before continuing. "Why else did you hire me in the first place?" She clenched her jaw and leaned up, so that she was facing Chloe and braced on her elbow.
"For fucks sake, Nadine I hired you for your skill set and the fact that you knew Asav," she responded with exasperation. "I never asked for a body guard." She swiped at an errant tear that she had been unaware of. "Is that what you think? That you're just my guard dog or something?" The venom waned from her words as she was taken aback by Nadine's admission.
Nadine sighed gruffly and sat up in an attempt to hop off the bed. A hand tugging at her belt kept her from moving off the bed. She put her back to Chloe and sat on the bed with her arms braced at her sides and hung her head. The tan squares of linoleum garnered her attention. "What else would you need me for, if not to keep you safe? It’s what I do." Her voice was relatively quiet compared to moments before, but there was a hint of confidence there. Nadine may have been a bit unsure of how she fit in Chloe's life sometimes, but she understood her worth.
Chloe sighed. She dropped her hand from Nadine's pants and began to push herself up into a seated position.
Nadine turned and pulled her knee onto the bed, as she realized what the other woman was doing and quickly turned around. She braced her arms gently against Chloe's shoulders fully prepared to push her back to the bed. Chloe pushed her hands away with a huff. "What do you think you are doing? You'll tear your stitches."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "What I'm doing is sitting up, so I can be just as stubborn as my dickhead of a partner."
Nadine groaned and looked down at the stark white sheets. Hospitals were just awful. "I just don't want you hurt." Her voice was strained.
Chloe gritted her teeth. "You keep saying that, but it's not your job and you know full well, that nothing about this job is safe." Her anger was rising again.
"That's because you're reckless, Frazer." The words came out clipped. Nadine folded her arms across her chest and met gray eyes that were boring into her own. "You never think about consequences."
Chloe folded her arms as well and blinked back tears. "That's bullshit, Nadine. You know maybe I'm not some by the book stuck-up soldier, but I'm thinking about consequences all the time." She was nearly yelling now. "I'm always thinking about consequences, Nadine! Why do you think I moved you out of the way? You think I was being selfish? Because I wasn't!" She punched her fist against the bed and the action seemed to startle Nadine. "Christ, you are so daft sometimes." Chloe rolled her eyes and sat back against the pillows.
"And what the hell is that supposed to mean?!" she asked through gritted teeth. Her voice was at a near whisper as she grew angry. Why was Chloe being so difficult? Maybe this partnership had been a mistake. They were too different and Nadine knew that with each day she grew more and more compromised. In truth, she knew that she wasn't Chloe's body guard, but it was a job she had appointed herself. A job that she was willing and able to do because she knew she could keep Chloe safe, and alive, and with her.
Chloe pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingers before sitting up once more. Of course, Nadine was going to make this hard. "It means that the only thing I was thinking about when Mako aimed that gun, was you." Chloe watched as brown eyes opened wide in surprise. That surprise quickly gave way to a skeptical frown. No, Nadine was going to make this really hard. Chloe exhaled through her nose and placed her hand on the bed next to Nadine's left hand. "The only thing I'm ever thinking about is you,” she finished softy, as she tried to make eye contact with the other woman.
Nadine kept her eyes on the sheet and stared down at her hand next to Chloe's on the bed. Chloe's long and tapered fingers appeared dainty at a glance, but Nadine knew the strength in them first hand from watching the woman ascend cliff sides and pull triggers with ease. Skin that was slightly paler in the winter months and now bronzed by the sun, lay next to Nadine's cedar brown skin; their hands were a complimentary palette, striking not just because of the difference in hue, but because of the similarities in structure. The darker woman drew in a deep breath as Chloe's words finally made it to her ears.
Chloe followed the path of brown eyes and saw how she stared at their hands. She could also see the way she clenched her jaw and chewed slightly on the inside of her lip. She watched as Nadine flexed her fingertips against the mattress, but she didn't move. Gray eyes freely roamed the other woman's face, admiring her features and wondering what it would be like to count her freckles up close, if allowed. The room grew silent, save for the rhythmic whir and consistent beat of the machines monitoring Chloe's vitals. The silence was nearing uncomfortable when Nadine made to respond. True to form, words were not her first choice. Chloe kept gray eyes affixed to the bed as she watched Nadine bend her fingers once more. This time she stretched out her hand and made deliberate (albeit fleeting) contact with the Chloe's pinky. On the second hesitant contact, Chloe quickly lifted her hand and covered Nadine's.
Nadine's first instinct had been to snatch her hand away, but Chloe simply entwined their fingers. The former mercenary knew when she was beaten. Her shoulders relaxed and she shifted her hand so that they were now properly holding hands. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you." She exhaled the words at a near whisper and kept her eyes down, focused on the fit of their fingers.
A smile teased at the corners of her mouth as Chloe watched the other woman pick her words. "Would you please look at me, Nadine?" She waited patiently for brown eyes to track up and meet her gaze. "And what makes you think I'd be any better without you?" Her answer was honest even if her smirk was cocky. "Look, I know I can be reckless and-
Nadine cut her off. "I'm sorry for saying that, I am. I just -" She paused to search for the right word. She groaned when the words did not come easily.
"You don't have to apologize for the truth. I know I don't always plan everything out." Chloe shrugged her shoulders.
Nadine couldn't fight the grin. "My personal favorite is when you have a nebulous idea." She let out a dry chuckle and winked.
"Ha. Ha." The brunette stuck out her tongue in response and flipped Nadine the bird with her free hand. Nadine reached out and corralled Chloe's other hand with unoccupied hand. For a moment, the women just sat in the silence holding hands. After a quick exhale of air, Chloe finally spoke. "I'm sorry if I scared you. It wasn't actually my plan to get shot, but I knew I wasn't going to let you jump in front of a bullet for me." Nadine opened her mouth to protest, but Chloe just shook her head. "Don't even say it, Nadine Ross." The other woman had the good sense to look chagrined. Chloe let go of Nadine's hands so she could instead cradle the other woman's face in her hands. She leaned forward and touched her forehead to Nadine's, causing the other woman to sigh contentedly at the contact. "I meant what I said before," she began. "I'm always thinking about you. Where's the next place I want to go with you, what weird gross smoothie you want me to try next, how long it takes you to wash your hair in the shower."
At that, Nadine let out a real laugh and through a chuckle said, "fuck you." She pulled her head back a bit so she could look Chloe in the eyes.
Chloe let her fingertips graze Nadine's jaw before dropping her hands back into her lap. "Believe me love, I'm trying. But I'm sure the doctor's going to tell me to take it easy for a bit." She made air quotes with her fingers as she said "take it easy."
Nadine's shoulders shook with laughter. Reaching out with her left hand, she let her hand hover just over Chloe's left hip where she knew beneath covers and the hospital gown was a freshly bandaged bullet wound. She sobered quickly and glanced down.
Chloe practically held her breath as she let Nadine have a moment. She understood the sentiment. The wanting –no, the needing to know -- that the other woman was okay. It was a long-held breath later when Nadine's warm palm finally reached her side. Her touch came with barely any pressure. Nadine's trepidation was palpable, but as usual, Chloe's impulse won out. With her right hand, Chloe grab a hold of Nadine's left and pressed it to her side. Thanks to pain killers, there was only a dulled throb.
"See, I'm right here." Nadine looked up at Chloe's words, met her eyes, and exhaled a shaky breath. "Right here. With you." She kept Nadine's hand pressed to her side with one hand as she reached out with the other hand and touched her fingertips to her cheek.
Eventually, the words would come easier to Nadine, but for now her actions would have to suffice. Nadine leaned in and Chloe met her halfway. Both women sighed into the kiss that was long overdue. Their first kisses were gentle and anchoring - meant as gestures of thanks - meant as emblems of prayers.
For the moment, neither woman tried to control the kiss, both satisfied with the leisurely back and forth. A top lip nibbled on here, a bottom lip trapped between the other's teeth there. As Chloe's fingers curved around the back of Nadine's neck, Nadine gripped Chloe's right hip and pulled the other woman closer. Chloe cupped Nadine's jaw as she deepened the kiss. Gone were the gentle kisses and easy breathing, replaced now, by eager tongues sliding against one another and quickened breath.
Both women were lost enough in the moment that despite Nadine's training and Chloe's instincts, neither of them registered the opening of the door to the hospital room. Sam was all wide eyes and wide mouth as he took in the intimate moment. He could see Nadine's right hand buried deep within the coal black of Chloe's hair, while her other hand appeared to be affixed to her left side. Chloe held Nadine's face in between her hands and ran her thumbs across the smooth surface of her cheeks, as they continued to be too lost in their kiss to notice Sam's presence. In fact, it was only his swift intake of air that sounded remarkably like a squeak that alerted them to his presence.
While the high-pitched noise caused the women to stop kissing one another, they still remained loosely connected. Chloe dropped her hands to Nadine's shoulders as she turned her head left and arched an eyebrow at the stunned man. Nadine's hands remained where they were as she cut her eyes towards Sam.
In the blink of an eye Sam was stammering out an apology and backing out of the door. "My bad. My bad. Take your time." The words tumbled from his lips as the door closed and both women just laughed.
Nadine removed her hand from Chloe's hair and then dropped her forehead to her shoulder, which allowed the other women to use strong fingers to massage the corded tendons in her neck.
"You promised not to kill him, remember," she said with a teasing tone. She got a small laugh in response before Nadine lifted her head from shoulder. Nadine was greeted by Chloe's lopsided grin. "You okay there, china?"
Nadine grinned and nodded before surging forward and pressing her lips to Chloe's. It seemed as if she just wanted to make sure she was allowed the action. Just as Chloe was responding to the kiss, Nadine pulled back leaving the woman to lean forward a bit, in an attempt to keep contact. "Be careful or you'll pull your stitches " Nadine said with a smirk.
"Good thing you know a thing or two about stitches." She winked and kept her arms casually draped around the other woman's shoulders.
Brown eyes rolled to the ceiling before returning to meet Chloe's gray. She inhaled deeply. "Look, I know I can’t ask you to be careful." Nadine applied the barest of pressure to Chloe's left side as she spoke.
Chloe placed her hand over Nadine's and waited for the usually reticent woman to continue.
"But," she continued. "I do want you to be smart." She held Chloe’s gaze.
Leaning forward, Chloe nuzzled Nadine's nose coaxing something akin to a giggle from the other woman. "As long as you're willing to be there with me, then I will do my best."
Nadine grinned and quipped softly, "good girl."
A wicked smiled spread across Chloe's face before she gripped Nadine by the shirt and pulled her close for another kiss that left them both breathless. "You have no idea," she finally murmured after they both took a moment to catch their breaths.
The hospital room door creaked once more before quickly closing and they both could hear a near frantic Sam speaking to Sully. "Uh, you might want to give them a minute, you know." There was silence and then Sam spoke again. "And you owe me $50."
Puppy-dog brown eyes grew wide in shock and amusement, while Chloe threw her head back in laughter. "I wonder how much money he's going to bet Nate?" Chloe asked with far too much delight in her voice. Nadine could only let her head fall forward again onto Chloe's shoulder as she let out a laugh. It felt good to laugh and her relief was palpable. Granted a scar would always remain, but if it meant she got to keep the impulsive and charismatic woman in her life than she would take it.
Morocco, Present Day:
Eventually, they all managed to get Chloe to stay in the hospital for a total of two days, which was the time it took for Sam and Sully to backtrack to Mako's snow and ice covered body to retrieve their prize.
Nadine smiles at the memory while she lightly caresses Chloe’s brow. Thick dark lashes tickle the palm of her hand as her eyes begin to flutter with impending consciousness. It only takes another few breaths from her initial movement for Chloe to begin to stir. Patient brown eyes watch reverently as Chloe begins to take stock of her limbs, of her aches, and finally, her surroundings.
With a groan, she opens her eyes and as she expected, she is met with Nadine's steady brown eyes that are near black in the torch lit tomb. "Hey there," she breathes out while still managing a cock-sure grin.
A relieved smile graces Nadine's features. "Hey, yourself." She sees Chloe's pupils dilate with recognition. "Welcome back." She uses her fingers to push stray wisps of hair from Chloe's forehead. "How are you feeling?"
Chloe moans. "Like I fell through a damn trapped door and into a tomb."
"Ja, you did. I think I got a picture." Nadine flashes her a cheeky smile.
"Fuck you," she says with a laugh, while Nadine helps her to sit up.
Nadine starts to stand and teases, "Once we get what we came for, I'm all yours Frazer." Nadine holds out her hand.
Chloe's head hurts just enough for her not roll her eyes. Instead she just smiles. "Tease."
"You have no idea." Nadine winks and helps the other woman to her feet. She waits a moment to make sure that Chloe is steady on her feet. A subtle nod from Chloe is enough to know that they can starting moving again. Nadine hands Chloe the torch and let’s her walk ahead of her. "Now let's go get this damn book."
Chloe replies, “copy that.” And they head towards the light.