When all is said and done, her home in splinters and the League dead and gone, Nyssa returns to Starling City. She doesn’t have a good reason why. It is here her beloved disappeared, where her blood was spilt, where Nyssa has suffered humiliation and defeat in countless measures. The memory of this city is forever etched in bitterness and despair in Nyssa’s mind. But it is also familiar ground, ground where she has fought and won, the place where she reunited with Sara. The place where Sara grew up and, in another world, would have lived out her days. It has a pull on her.
She gets herself an apartment. It has huge windows – a giant, glaring weak spot that she would never have accepted a year ago. The place is bright and elegant and she fills it with solid furniture and warm, heavy fabrics – thick mats, colorful curtains and expansive coverlets. She puts up paintings on the walls. It's a home. Not a safe house, hideaway or a base of operations. Just a home, even if there is a dagger hidden under every piece of furniture, taped to the back of every painting and under every table.
She buys a plant, a small, spiky thing that she places on a side table and waters almost every day, whenever the soil is greying and dry to her fingers. Nyssa is a creature built for killing, but the plant seems to thrive under her care, stays green and healthy.
She isn’t sure what she’ll do, what kind of life she will make here, but it seems like a start, at least.
The cat, a big, scraggly calico, starts prowling the ledges outside Nyssa’s windows and sometimes she can hear it meow pitifully from the other side of the glass, as if looking into her apartment longingly. She can’t help but worry about the animal. It is unkempt and underfed and far too high up – even a cat would have difficulty surviving that kind of fall. Despite herself, she leaves the window open one day as she leaves and when she comes back, a deliciously, disgustingly greasy bag with a burger, fries and a black and white milkshake in hand, the cat has made herself comfortable on the couch, spread out in all its impressive length over the cushions and purring happily.
She is a lot less pleased when Nyssa takes a comb to her matted fur, spending over an hour getting all the tangles and dirt out of it. The cat yowls distressingly the entire time and only grudgingly eats the tuna Nyssa gives her as a peace offering. Combed out, the cat’s fur is thick and silkily soft under Nyssa’s hands. And as soon as the comb is away and Nyssa uses her fingers to scratch beneath her chin instead, the cat mellows, closes her eyes to amber slits and melts into a purring heap in Nyssa’s lap.
She steers clear of Oliver and his team, but still patrols the Starling’s streets like Sara would have wanted. Like she would have done, had she been here. She is careful not to leave any unnecessary evidence of her presence in the city – she leaves her bow, poisoned arrows and daggers at home and uses nothing but her fists and, as a last resort, the switchblade hidden in her boot to cover up her interventions.
It is during one particular dark and rainy night she finds Diana behind a dumpster, severely wounded. Nyssa can’t make out the extent of the injuries in the dark, but the cat keeps making weak, inhuman sounds of distress and when Nyssa picks her up as carefully as she can, she hangs limply in her arms despite the pain she must feel.
Nyssa takes her home and does what she can for her wounds. Amazingly, she survives the night and first in the morning, Nyssa finds a vet to look at her. The scratches in her side – from another, territorial, cat – are deep and vicious, but Diana pulls through. The first night she’s healed enough to move freely, she wakes Nyssa as she jumps up on the bed and butts her way halfway beneath her pillow, squirming until she’s comfortable and falling asleep almost immediately. On the floor, Nyx yowls disapprovingly and jumps up as well, curling her warm body into the bend of Nyssa’s knees.
The third cat Nyssa doesn’t even know where it comes from. It simply follows her home one day and then just stays. Ghost, Nyssa names her.
Nyssa has been in Starling City for two and a half months when Laurel shows up on her doorstep with fries and milkshakes. She isn’t surprised – she knew that her presence here would be discovered eventually. When she asks how she found her and Laurel simply answers, “Felicity,” Nyssa just nods and invites her in. The cats, unused to visitors, scatter to hide.
“You have made yourself at home,” Laurel notes as she drops her bags off on the counter and Nyssa immediately invites her to sit down. Laurel sounds appreciative, almost proud. “You’re quite the model citizen already.”
“It worries me that being a model citizen of Starling City apparently includes vigilante action, then,” Nyssa says. She has stood outside the law her entire life and it doesn’t bother her in any way, but it is different living here, with people who could never dream of the life she leads as her neighbors.
“Well, the hero business is getting a bit crowded,” Laurel says. She looks happy to see Nyssa.
Nyssa puts the fries on two plates and grabs forks out of a drawer, making Laurel laugh.
“What?” she says, but Laurel just shakes her head and accepts the plate – light grey with a gold accent – with a smile.
“Thank you,” she says politely.
Nyssa sits down opposite her.
“Fries are better to eat with your hands,” Laurel says, discarding the fork to grab a fry and dip it in her milkshake. “Did I teach you nothing?”
Nyssa just shrugs and spears a couple of fries on her fork. She has learned to appreciate deep fried potato, but she still prefers the grease off her hands.
“From what I recall, I was the teacher,” Nyssa says. “And it seems you’ve learned a lot.”
“You’ve been keeping stabs on the city?” Laurel asks innocently. “On me?”
Nyssa nods and tenses for the inevitable question, but Laurel says nothing, just takes a long draw on her milkshake. Even locked up in the Nanda Parbat dungeon, she made sure to keep track of what transpired here. She knows the hero Laurel has grown into. She knows what happened to Felicity. She knows where Sara is.
“You are always welcome to the lair,” Laurel says, effectively steering the topic away from dangerous waters. “I could use a sparring partner. I’m pretty sure Oliver still goes easy on me.”
“Maybe I will,” Nyssa says noncommittally.
Laurel stays for the rest of the afternoon, long enough that Nyx has deemed it safe to crawl out from under the couch and into Laurel’s lap to let herself be petted. The conversation flows easily between them and they both take care to avoid the heavy subjects. It is not until Laurel is about to leave, standing in the doorway buttoning her jacket, that she says, “She will come back here.”
Nyssa doesn’t reply.
“She will,” Laurel says with conviction and then she’s gone.
Three days later, Nyssa finds a brand new phone in her mail. She has a phone, of course, but all she ever carries are burners, to be used and discarded quickly. She has never carried a personalized one before, one with contacts (Laurel, Felicity, Oliver, Thea and Diggle) and a beautiful cover in black and red leather. Felicity has evidently gotten her hands on it, because it has functions that Nyssa is sure most phones lack, such as heat sensors and infrared camera vision. She is grateful, even though it also carries functions that she can’t fathom any kind of use for, such as a pink cupcake-app.
Do you want to come over? Laurel texts her the next evening. I’m ordering pizza.
Nyssa says yes and takes a tin jar of home-made brownies with her to Laurel’s place. For some reason that too makes Laurel laugh.
Nyssa starts sparring with Laurel. She needs to keep her skills honed and Laurel still has things to learn so it is an arrangement that works out well for both of them. It doesn’t take long until the hours she spends with Laurel in the Arrow’s base of operations has turned into the highlight of her weeks.
Afterward, Laurel is always snacky and insists on taking Nyssa out to eat.
“I have a craving for frozen yoghurt,” she says as they leave the underground lair.
“Frozen yoghurt?” Nyssa says. “What is the purpose of freezing yoghurt?”
“You’ll see,” is all Laurel says, smiling.
The purpose of frozen yoghurt seems to be to cram as many toppings on a pile of cold yoghurt as humanly possible.
“It’s just like ice cream,” Nyssa says. The licorice swirl is good, especially in combination with the raspberries on top, but it seems no different from the ice cream one can buy in the grocery store.
“For an international assassin you have very little sense of adventure,” Laurel scoffs, licking her spoon clean with relish.
It is not until they have finished their frozen yoghurt and their coffee, that Laurel suddenly grows serious, letting her eyes drop to where she is tracing the geometrical pattern of the table cloth with the tip of her finger in order to avoid Nyssa’s.
She takes a deep breath and visibly steels herself. “Sara is home,” she says and even though Nyssa is not surprised, even though she knew this day would come, the words seem like a blow to the stomach, making it hard to breathe.
“From… from the future?” she says slowly. It still seems preposterous, that Sara is off traveling through time to save the world. All this time, even though she has known, Sara has simply been gone, lost to her since she died on a roof in Starling City. But her return makes it suddenly real.
“She doesn’t know you’re here,” Laurel says.
There is a terrible, brittle feeling spreading through Nyssa’s chest. “Don’t tell her,” she says and before Laurel has a chance to open her mouth and reply, she simply gets up, turns her back on her and leaves.
Nyssa avoids Laurel and all contact with anyone that isn’t her cats for a week. During that time she tracks Sara’s address down and, even though she knows it’s crossing a line, she pays Sara a visit one evening, peering in at her through a window. Last time she laid eyes on Sara was when she emerged out of the pit with the trauma of death heavy on her mind and an animalistic glint in her beautiful eyes. It wasn’t her Sara, but at the same time it wasn’t not her either – Nyssa knows the darkness in her beloved’s soul more intimately than most, knows its weight and toll.
The Sara that she glimpses through the blinds in her windows is a different Sara, one that she has never known. The Sara sprawled out on her couch reading a magazine, that sings along to some outdated pop song on the radio as she microwaves a couple of burritos for dinner, the Sara that talks long and loud with her sister on her phone, is a person Nyssa has never met. Sara hasn’t lost herself, but from the few glances Nyssa manages to steal during her silent vigil, it seems that she has healed.
As Nyssa watches, crouched outside Sara’s window, the door opens and as a young woman walks in, Sara gathers her up in a tight hug and ruffles a hand through her short, spiky hair. She makes them hot cocoa from a box and adds pastel-colored marshmallows on top, handing the steaming cup to the girl with a soft smile, the kind a big sister would give her younger sibling in a heartfelt moment. Sara is happy.
As quietly as she came, Nyssa climbs down the building and returns to her apartment.
With Sara back home, the streets of Starling City no longer needs her intervention. Nyssa has hardly left her apartment in a week, instead opting for spending her nights in her large bed, her cats curled up around her. Laurel is being her usual tenacious self – Nyssa’s phone keeps lighting up with texts and calls, but she ignores it and eventually, when the battery is finally drained, it stops. Nyssa waters her plant, feeds and pets her cats.
She never thought she was cut out for a peaceful life, but she has grown to like it. It is a special sort of novelty in having a life that is about living, instead of killing or be killed.
The knock on her door comes after yet another four days have passed. Nyssa knew Laurel never would give up that easily. She’s been expecting her, to open the door to have Laurel march in here with her arms crossed and ready to argue her cause until she’s won.
What Nyssa has not expected, however, is Sara.
“Hi,” she says with a small, awkward wave as the door swings open.
Finding herself at a sudden loss for words, Nyssa can say nothing. Sara looks good. She always did, but it seems that the time she has been away has brought another facet of her into the light. She appears softer, somehow – more alive. She stands poised in a way that does not speak of violence, and there is no grimness hiding behind her wide smile, no shadows lurking in the crinkling of her eyes.
“Laurel says you have three cats and bake awesome brownies,” Sara says. “Can I come in?”
The careless brazenness, though, that is all Sara and the sudden, painful familiarity with her beloved is what prompts Nyssa to step back and let her through the door.
Standing in the middle of Nyssa’s living room with her over-sized shirt rolled up to her elbows and her hands in the back of her jeans, a small smile playing on her lips, Sara surveys the apartment with an assassin’s eagle-eyed gaze – another sharp reminder – and says, “Nice place.”
“Thank you,” Nyssa says. “Would you like some tea?” She wants Sara gone, wants to stop her from stepping back into her world, but the question just slips out – politeness seems the best way to guard against Sara. No one has ever been able to get beneath Nyssa’s skin the way she has always done.
As she passes to head into the kitchen, Sara reaches out and grabs her hand. Her smile falls away and she bites her lip, looks down at their hands. “Laurel said you needed space,” she says apologetically, “but I had to see you.”
I know, Nyssa wants to say. I had to see you too. She swallows heavily, glad that Sara is not looking at her face.
“I wanted to thank you,” Sara continues.
Nyssa’s brows draw together, more in surprise than anything else, as something swoops deep in her belly. “For what?” she asks.
“For trying to stop Laurel,” Sara says and Nyssa inhales sharply.
“If I had succeeded,” she says, keeping the tremor out of her voice by sheer force of will, “you would still be dead. I didn’t want you dead, Sara, I just didn’t want the Pit to make a monster out of you. I didn’t know that you would heal.”
“I know,” Sara says. “I didn’t, either.” She looks up at Nyssa, inscrutable, and the silence stretches between them.
It might have veered into something dangerous, that moment, if Diana hadn’t chosen that exact second to emerge from beneath the coffee table and wind herself around Sara’s legs, meowing loudly. Sara laughs and crouches down to pet her, Diana graciously lifting her chin to let Sara scratch her there.
“Aren’t you a cutie,” Sara murmurs to the cat and at a complete loss of what else to do, Nyssa retreats into the kitchen to make a pot of tea.
For some reason, Sara keeps on showing up. She comes by the apartment to cuddle with Nyssa’s cats, eat whatever home-baked goods she can find in Nyssa’s cupboards and force Nyssa to watch Netflix with her.
“Think of it as integration schooling,” Sara tells her. “We’re turning into normal human beings one Scandal episode at a time. These are so good, by the way,” she adds, cramming the rest of the salted caramel cupcake in her mouth. Nyssa made them last night, remembering that time when they were on assignment in Vienna during a carnival and how delighted Sara was when she came across caramel popcorn – eating two buckets full and kissing Nyssa with sweet-sticky lips as they watched the fireworks go off above them.
“I’m glad,” Nyssa says.
She doesn’t know what to do with Sara. While Sara has travelled across time and space and somehow, somewhere, managed to mend herself beyond the dark-hearted girl Nyssa fished out of the ocean and the creature that crawled out of the Pit in her body, Nyssa has remained here. Sara has found her way back to life – Nyssa is still struggling to figure out what living outside of Nanda Parbat and the League entails.
Sara has started teaching self-defense courses and somehow managed convinced Nyssa to help, so when they’re not watching American television or eating cookies, Sara moves the couch up against the further wall and they spar on the big, soft rug in the middle of the room. Nyssa remembers the girl she trained in Nanda Parbat, her fury and despair, her single-minded focus and her fragility, and can only with difficulty recognize her in the laughing, vibrant woman in front of her. She doesn’t know this Sara the way she knew her Ta-er al-Asfer, but she is still irrevocably in love with her.
“You really can’t say no to her, can you?” Laurel says when she comes over one night to find Nyssa pour over the schedule that Sara has sent her for the first self-defense.
“Here.” Laurel hands Nyssa a glass of red wine and sits down on the couch next to her, stretching her legs out behind Nyssa’s back. “I’m thinking sushi tonight,” she says with her phone already out and ready to order.
“Do you ever cook?” Nyssa asks.
“Not if I can avoid it,” Laurel replies cheerfully. She falls silent for a moment, watching Nyssa. “You know what we should do?” she says contemplatively.
Nyssa is already dreading where this is going, but says “What?” anyway.
“We should go out,” Laurel says.
“Oliver and Diggle are on duty tonight,” Nyssa replies. “If they need help, they will call you in.”
Laurel laughs. “No, I mean out out, Nyssa. To a club and find you a nice girl.”
Nyssa almost chokes on her wine and clears her throat awkwardly. “Laurel, just because you feel guilty about disclosing my whereabouts to Sara doesn’t mean that I want you to drag me out to some club in a misguided attempt to mend my broken heart.”
“But you’re pining,” Laurel says.
“You can’t save everyone from everything,” Nyssa replies smoothly. She steals the phone from Laurel’s hand. “However, you can save me from sushi. I want orange chicken. And spring rolls.”
“Ugh, fine,” Laurel acquiesces with a sigh. “Get me dumplings.”
Felicity teaches her to play Robot Wars and Dominion and Nyssa starts spending long nights down at the lair with Felicity’s gaming group present via video link. “Won’t they be able to track your location if they wished?” Nyssa asked Felicity once, who only scoffed in reply.
Nyssa enjoys the gaming nights: board games requires a lot of careful, strategic thinking and it is almost cozy down in the lair, eating cheese balls and watching Felicity get dangerously competitive. The only drawback is that they are continuously getting interrupted by emergencies in the city, but on the other hand it means that Nyssa is often on site and ready to move out at a moment’s notice if she’s needed.
Felicity is busy cursing out her robot that has powered down in an inconvenient location when she is interrupted by the ringing of her phone. With a flick of her finger, she picks it up via her headset. “Hello? Oh, captain Lance. Good evening to you, too.”
Nyssa doesn’t look up from the board. Both Oliver and Laurel are lazing around the HQ, sparring half-heartedly, so she probably won’t be heading out for whatever it is Lance is in need of, anyway. Turns out she’s wrong.
“Uh, Nyssa?” Felicity says and Nyssa looks up in surprise. “Captain Lance wants to know if you’re available to come down and look at something at the precinct. They got a toxicology report on a victim that says snake venom. He wants your opinion on it.”
“Certainly,” Nyssa says and stands up, grabbing her jacket off the back of her chair. There is a warm, content feeling spreading inside of her at the thought of being needed and asked for, and it only intensifies when she, with a nod to the board, says, “We’ll continue this another time,” and Felicity immediately replies with, “Looking forward to it.”
Stragglers from the League loyal to Malcolm Merlyn show up in Starling City, having located Nyssa and grown a thirst for vengeance. They are angry and leaderless which makes them easy to locate and round up and harder to actually beat when it comes down to it; they fight with the desperation of men possessed with the knowledge that they have nothing to lose. It’s six to ten to the assassins’ favor, but Nyssa, too, fights like a caged beast, cracking the necks of two of them before Oliver has a chance to stop her, knowing that they will only keep haunting her and Sara if she doesn’t.
Stepping back with the battle adrenaline quickly waning, she sees five still alive. Two seems to have fallen by Sara’s hand, and one by an arrow through the chest. As everyone stands catching their breaths, Nyssa sees her chance. In the blink of an eye, she has a knife drawn and hurls it towards one of the five, catching him in the throat.
Immediately, Oliver places himself in front of the remaining four. “That’s enough,” he says, like the fool he is.
“If they don’t die tonight, they will return,” Nyssa says. “There is no other cage than death that can hold an assassin of the League for long.”
“It’s enough,” Oliver repeats.
Looking at the prisoners – not even one of them making an attempt to snatch victory from defeat by swallowing poison – and raising her voice, Nyssa says, “My father is dead. Malcolm Merlyn is dead. Oliver Queen abdicated. Ra’s al Ghul is no more. I was the heir of the demon and I am the only one left. If you wish to claim allegiance to a League that no longer exist, I am its rightful leader and I command you to stand down.”
With that, she turns and leaves, intent on letting Oliver do whatever the hell he wishes with his prisoners. May them burn down the whole world for all that she cares – she has done her part.
Without a word, Sara follows her home and they help each other surveying the damage.
“You did good,” she tells Nyssa. She gestures for her to take off her coat, so that she can get to the wound she’s sustained on her arm. It’s nothing, just a scratch, but it needs cleaning. “I don’t grieve for the ones we killed, but I don’t mind avoiding excessive bloodshed, either.”
She presses a balled-up washcloth against the wound, gently swabbing the blood away. She’s too close, but Nyssa can’t bear to pull away. She just sits there quietly and lets Sara tend to her injury, her touch sending electricity sparking underneath her skin.
Sara is unharmed except for a few bruises, but she still allows Nyssa to give her a quick run-over to make sure. Nyssa remembers a time when Sara treated herself and any injuries she got carelessly, as if distantly curious to see what would finally kill her.
“I am sorry for everything the League did to you,” Nyssa says eventually. She never did apologize for that. She saved Sara from certain death, yes, but what kind of life did she give her? Back then, it was so simple – life or death, kill or be killed – but standing here now it seems infinitely more complicated.
Sara pauses, looking at Nyssa what that intensive stare Nyssa has never quite learned to decipher. “Don’t be,” she says finally, mouth curling into a faint smile.
Nyssa sleeps late the next morning. She never has before – it is something her body has learned to do here in Starling City. She finds Sara, hair piled into a messy halfway topknot, on her kitchen floor, using a piece of string to play with Ghost, laughing as the cat pounces right into her lap trying to catch it. On the table is a pot of fresh tea ready.
“How’s your arm?” Sara asks as she hoists herself up from the floor, brushing cat hair from her pants.
“It’s fine,” Nyssa says. She grabs two cups from the cupboard and fills them with steaming tea. She hands one to Sara where she’s leaning against the counter and takes a deep gulp from her own, turning away to open the pantry. “Do you want breakfast? I have Pop-Tarts.” She does – she remembers Sara complaining about missing them in Nanda Parbat and when she saw them at the store she had to buy a couple to try. She did not care for them, but Sara does so she makes sure to have them stocked.
As she turns back to check the refrigerator for something actually edible Sara is right there, face turned up to look at Nyssa, her sapphire eyes unreadable. She reaches up slowly, and when their lips touch, Nyssa freezes, unable to move as Sara kisses her, mouth sliding softly against Nyssa’s. Time, too, seems to stand still and in the few seconds that goes by as Sara kisses her, eternities pass and the world shifts on its axis.
“Sara,” Nyssa breathes as the kiss breaks, her forehead falling gently against Sara’s.
“I have missed you,” is all Sara says, as if that is answer enough to Nyssa’s unspoken question. And perhaps it is.
Nyssa lets Sara pluck the cup from her hand and put it down on the counter, and when Sara presses close again, Nyssa makes a wounded noise somewhere low in her throat and cups her face as she returns Sara’s kiss.
“Hey,” Sara says, her voice rumbling in her chest right beneath Nyssa’s ear, “remember that time when we smuggled a crate of expensive champagne into Nanda Parbat and got half of your father’s guard circle drunk?”
“Mhm,” Nyssa mumbles, half-asleep from the steady motion of Sara’s fingers running through her hair and the comfortable warmth of her body next to hers and Nyx pressed up against the small of her back. She presses a clumsy kiss against Sara’s collarbone, inhales the scent of her.
“He was furious,” Sara continues, her smile evident in her voice – and then she falls abruptly silent, her fingers stilling in Nyssa’s hair. Nyssa makes an impatient sound and they start up again, moving slowly through the strands. She feels Sara’s chest expand beneath her cheek as she pulls in a deep breath. “You apologized to me,” Sara says slowly, “but I never apologized to you for everything you lost because of me. And all you got in return was me taking off, again and again.”
“All I got, in the end, was a life here, with you,” Nyssa says into Sara’s skin, too content to actually have this discussion right now. Sara – and Laurel – taught her much. Without them, she would still be waist-deep in League business, her hands soiled with blood. “The League would have swallowed me up eventually, Sara, same as you. A lifetime of faithful service and I all I got was sentenced to rotting in a cell for the offense of falling in love.”
Quiet. Behind her, Nyx shifts, softly rustling the sheets.
“I love you, too,” Sara says, “habibti.”
Nyssa snorts softly, to hide the way her heart is pounding inside her ribcage as if about to implode from sheer love. “Your pronunciation still could use from work, hayati.”
“Shut up,” Sara says, fondly, and Nyssa laughs with happiness blossoming and firmly rooted inside her chest.