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Rosewater

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The leeward breeze off Lac Leman fluttered through her iron-grey hair. Her companion seemed not to feel the cold. The fork was comically tiny in his rough hands, pushing apfelwähe around his plate.
“Good,” Reinhardt opined. “Not as good as my mother’s.”
“What ever is?” Ana wondered. She sipped tea instead, so dark it was almost bitter.
“You should try some,” he said, scooping up a morsel and holding it out in offering. Custard clung to the tines of the fork, binding together the apples, with their leathery edges and soft flesh, to the sweet pastry of the crust. Ana chewed, thoughtfully, and washed her tongue with tea.
“I’m not sure how I feel about the custard,” she said.
“No,” he agreed. “An apple pie should be apples, and the cream separate.”
“Or not at all,” Ana said. “In Cairo, I know of a place with the best apple rose tarts. I used to go there as a girl.”
“Süsse! You never took me,” Reinhardt said. It was almost comical, to see him sulky, corded arms crossing over his broad chest.
“Anubis never left us much time for that,” she said, sipping her tea and leaning back against the cast iron of her chair. “After this mission,” she said, decisively. “We will go. I want to see my daughter anyway.”
“I’ll have time,” Reinhardt agreed, but it didn’t seem to cheer him at all.

Staying in Geneva wasn’t helping him, she thought. It was nice to have him close, but it had to torment him to be so close to Overwatch now that he was separated from its mission. She wanted to touch his cheek, to run her fingers over the scar that had taken his eye, to tell him she understood. It helped that it was true: she was not so much younger than him. They’d established a precedent with his involuntary retirement, and though the UN had failed in securing Ana to her desk, they would expect her to follow Reinhardt’s example. She wouldn’t welcome it.

“Umri,” she said. “I am sorry.”
“I know,” Reinhardt said. “Everyone is sorry to have done it, but still it was done.” He sighed, setting his fork down. He did not lift his gaze.
“Will you meet me in Cairo?” she asked him. “We can plan my retirement.”
That seemed to cheer him, even if only slightly. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll be waiting.”

When she saw him next, armor gleaming under the unrelenting sun, Ana Amari wondered if he had waited six years for her to return to her city. She knew better, and realized it a moment later. Her daughter had told her that Reinhardt Wilhelm had refused to put up his hammer, and she heard from time to time about his acts of vigilante heroism. They made Ana proud, and sorry. Every time Fareeha sent her more news, Ana had thought of writing to him. She knew where that led: back to the field, and her recovery had allowed her too much time for introspection. These days, Ana Amari was a ghost, a legend mourned like so much of Overwatch, and filled her days with concern for her neighbors, for her city, for her daughter.

That he had come meant her city was under graver threat than she imagined or could know, even when Fareeha’s face grew solemn with the memory of her squadmates. That was—as Fareeha later informed her—why Reinhardt had come to Egypt, until Helix Security could shore up reinforcements for the Anubis containment facility. Fareeha knew where he was staying, and because her daughter was a woman now and understood some things, she told Ana to look for him at the Sofitel.

He was not there when she went. Ana decided she would wait, but not in the lobby. It was better under sunlight, she thought, and asked if she could not leave a note for Reinhardt Wilhelm, if he were a guest there. He was, they assured her, and she said a prayer of thanks, and set to wondering if she could still call him by anything like a nickname.

In the end Ana wrote Reinhardt, and a set of directions. She followed them herself. The breeze off the Nile stirred her white hair where it spilled from beneath her blue scarf, and when she sat down, she closed her eye, scarcely daring to hope.

There was a chance, she knew, that he might not come. And that, if he came, he would not recognize her. That he had forgotten, a natural consequence of his refusal to accept retirement, even facing pervasive visual distortions. She and Reinhardt had never discussed it. The conversations had instead begun with Angela Ziegler, who had domain over medical fitness. The concerns were hers first.

The yeasty scent of pastry commingled in the air with the sweetness of dates and other fruit, with nuts and honey and the hot asphalt of the city sprawled around her. The black wrought iron of the table was warm from the day; evening’s last rays warmed her weathered skin. Her stomach knotted, as though she were a young girl again. She heard the soft clatter of porcelain being set down atop the table, and lifted her head to inform whoever had set it down of their mistake.

“Süsse,” he said. There was a note of melancholy in his voice.
“Hello, Reinhardt,” Ana said. She smiled, though there was sadness in it too, like honey in tea.
“I did not think I would wait so long, for apple pies,” he said, but sat down anyway.
“I am sorry, Umri,” Ana said.
“They do look lovely,” he said, seeming to decide with a shrug. “And so do you.”
Ana looked down to see that he was right: the tarts looked just as she remembered. Soft, white apple slices were arranged like the open petals of a rose, glittering with caramelized sugar and promising both sweet and tart. The rim of the pastry was encrusted with pistachio. It was just as she remembered, but looking at Reinhardt, she knew that memory was a tricky thing.
“Thank you,” she said, and paused a moment to collect her thoughts. As she did, the aging knight took up his fork and broke open the flower to reveal the filling: pale, redolent with the scent of almonds and cinnamon. Ana did the same, taking the first, long-anticipated bite.

She could have come at any time to the café and ordered a tart, but Ana had never done so. Almonds and apples laid sweet on her tongue, and rosewater and citrus filled her nose, and it was not at all what she remembered as a girl. Her first thought was that they had changed the recipe. Her second was that she herself had been changed. Her third was to take another bite, to discard her lofty memories in favor of what was before her.

Ana Amari did so, and found herself satisfied.
“Will you walk with me, after this?” she asked him, all but a plea. “We can plan my return to the field.”