Being immortal doesn’t mean you stop hurting.
Nile learned that straight away.
But more and more in the last few months, she’s learning that being immortal also doesn’t mean you don’t get tired.
And she is so, so tired.
Since taking down Merrick, life has been a whirlwind.
First, saying goodbye to Booker, who she already misses, but she doesn’t want to bring him up to the others yet. Not when, for them, that betrayal is so raw and painful.
Then, bringing Copley on board. Andy’s spirits have clearly been buoyed by seeing tangible evidence that the last several centuries of their lives haven’t been for nothing, but that new sense of purpose combined with a new awareness of her mortality has made her relentless.
The last few months have been filled with following up leads from Copley, tying up loose ends. Destroying potential evidence. Moving, always moving. New safehouse. New mission. Move to different a safehouse. New mission. And even when things seem like they might be slowing, and the heat dying down, Andy is strict on Nile’s training. Which is gruelling.
First, hand-to-hand combat, in a variety of disciplines.
“Your boxing is very good,” Andy says approvingly, after another sparring session that thankfully, this time, doesn’t take place on a rapidly banking plane. “Very good. It’s an excellent foundation. But I want you to have more tools to work with.”
“Awesome.” Nile pants. “Good to have options.”
Then there’s sword training from Andy, Nicky and Joe. Nile can appreciate the aesthetics and coolness factor of a sword, but rapidly learns that using them is damn hard work. She’s proud of her level of fitness and athleticism, but after 2 hours of lunging and stabbing with Nicky, muscles she didn’t even know she had are protesting. But she’s determined to stick it out. She’s part of the team now, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to be the weak link in their impossibly tight fighting formations, especially now that they’re all adapting to a Booker-shaped gap.
So she keeps going, without a complaint, until Nicky finally calls an end to training for the day.
And then she thanks him, goes to take a very hot shower to ease her muscles (isn’t rapid healing meant to fix that? Hello? Why is her butt on fire?) and faceplants into her bed, too exhausted even to dream, until Joe comes to gently wake her up and tell her that dinner’s ready.
And so it continues.
A lot of it’s fun.
A lot of it’s interesting.
All of it is exhausting.
Archery. Knife fighting. Quarterstaff. A mission.
Throwing knives. Sniping. Moving safehouses again.
Hand-to-hand combat. Horseback riding (a highlight.)
Archery from horseback (Ah. Much more difficult.)
Labrys training with Andy. Knife fighting with Joe. Shooting with Nicky.
And on days when she’s NOT too exhausted to dream, she often still has nightmares of the flash of a pesh-kabz dagger, and white-hot pain in her throat, and the overwhelming feeling of terror and panic as the world goes dark.
On and on.
The others are supportive and understanding, but they’re also ancient warriors who have lived this lifestyle for longer than Nile can fully comprehend. She’s grown truly fond of them. Already. She really has. And she wants to be strong for them. They’re depending on her getting this right, just as much as she’s depending on them.
But they’re not family. In time, maybe, they will be. Nile recognises the way Andy looks at Joe and Nicky. It’s the same expression Nile is used to seeing on her own face, in photos of her and her younger brother.
But they aren’t her family. Not yet. She has a family.
God, does she miss her mom and brother.
She knows that physically, they’re fine. Copley’s keeping an eye on them for her, although that still seems creepy. Part of her feels a bit guilty for that.
But she just wants a hug from her mom. And to go out with her brother, and to watch a movie, and stuff themselves with junk food like they used to, and just briefly forget this impossibly huge, daunting mission she’s found herself with. Just for a while.
It’s been a very long couple of months.
Tears prick at Nile’s eyes as she curls up on her bed, her face buried in the pillow.
Tired, tired, tired.
Two weeks later
This safehouse is one of the nicer ones they’ve stayed in. A big, modern open-plan cabin on a hill overlooking the sea.
They’re back in America. Nowhere near Chicago, they can’t run the risk of Nile running into someone she knows – they’re in the ass-end of nowhere, somewhere on the West Coast. But there’s still something comforting about being back in a country she knows. After being thrown into a new world she wasn’t remotely prepared for, at least this feels vaguely familiar when compared to the last few years of her life.
Comforting for Nile, anyway. Andy in particular doesn’t seem to like America much, only seeming to relax once they’ve left the city.
“All the cities feel too new,” Andy says, when Nile asks why. “It just feels strange.”
Nile supposes that’s fair, for someone several millennia old, and drops the issue.
She’s perched on the porch railing watching the sun set when she hears movement behind her and turns to see Joe emerging from the cabin. The corners of his eyes crinkle in a warm smile, the way they usually do when he sees her. Or Andy. Or Nicky.
Joe has no poker face when it comes to love.
He cocks his head at her, half-turning back towards the cabin door. “Did you want to be alone?”
Nile shakes her head, smiling back at him. “Nah, it’s fine. Come sit.”
Joe hops down off the porch so he can clamber back up the railing and sit beside her.
They sit in a companionable silence for a while, just watching the colours shift in the sky.
Once the sun has finally sunk below the horizon, Nile sighs.
Joe gives her shoulder a friendly bump with his own, then slips off the railing, landing lightly before turning to face her again. “We had something we wanted to talk to you about.”
Nile makes a face. “Shit. Should I be worried?”
Joe laughs. “No, not at all. Hopefully this is a good thing.”
Nile shrugs and jumps off the railing, far further than Joe had jumped, sparking vague memories of launching herself off the swing set as a kid.
Joe chuckles, heading back towards the cabin door. “You’re getting too fond of jumping from high places, Nile.”
“Oh yeah, a whole six feet, this time,” Nile replies, following him up. “I’m slipping.”
“You set a very impressive personal best very early on.”
Joe pushes the door open to reveal Nicky and Andy, sitting at the kitchen table expectantly.
“Wait,” Nile says. “Is this my jumping-off high things intervention?”
Andy snorts. “If we haven’t held an intervention for Joe jumping off high things yet, I think you’re safe.” She frowns. “You’ve only jumped off one thing, anyway.”
“Two, now,” Joe says, flopping down on the sofa. “You should have seen her jump off the porch railing.”
Nicky groans quietly, but he’s smiling. “Madre di Dio, there’s two of them.”
Joe winks at him.
“So what’s this about?” Nile asks, pushing Joe’s legs off the sofa so she can sit, and ignoring the indignant yelp she gets in return. “‘Cause you two are sitting weird.”
Andy leans back, crossing her arms.
“Nile...we know the last few months have been a lot.”
Nile raises her eyebrows.
“Yeah, understatement,” Andy continues. “I know. And none of us would have wished that on you. There’s been a lot to deal with, and...I mean....we know it’s hard. Really hard. And you’ve been doing amazingly well.”
“We’re very proud of you, Nile,” Nicky adds, giving her one of his gentle smiles. Not as blindingly intense as Joe’s, but somehow just as warm. Joe nods in agreement.
“But we’re aware of just how much it’s been,” Andy continues. “And there’s certain things we can’t help with, but at least now things are slowing down. So... we’ve been talking, and we all agree that we can afford to take a short break. Just for a little while.”
Nile blinks. That’s the last thing she expected to hear from Andy, of all people. “Really? You’ve been so...I mean, since you saw Copley’s wall, and cleaning up after the Merrick thing...and the training...and all the other stuff, you’ve been kind of all-go, all-the-time.”
Andy takes a deep breath, then nods slowly, staring at the tabletop.
“We’ve had a lot that needed to be dealt with quickly. That was unavoidable. But I think we all deserve a rest, now. After what we all went through. We’ve earned that.”
She pauses, then looks up, fixing her gaze on Nile.
“I’m out of practice at enjoying myself. It was all about the mission for so long, I lost sight of the things that reminded me why it was worth it.”
Nicky reaches out to squeeze Andy’s shoulder. Andy looks up and smiles at him, then at Joe.
“These two have never lost sight of that. I did." The unspoken "Booker did, too," hangs in the air.
"I don’t want you to, either, Nile.” Andy finishes.
Nile swallows, hard. The other three immortals are looking at her with such warmth that she feels almost embarrassed. “What about the missions? And training?”
“The missions can wait a while.” Andy replies, standing to grab a bottle of vodka and a chipped mug out of a cupboard. “And...you know what, fuck it. I’m counting this as part of your training. In addition to all the other regular training.”
Nile huffs a laugh. “Seriously? Appreciating-The-Little-Things-In-Life 101?”
“It’s an important lesson,” Nicky says, watching Andy like a hawk as she pours the vodka. As soon as a couple of fingers of liquid are in the mug, he reaches out and deftly snaffles the bottle. Andy glares at him.
“After your last hangover, you told me to stop you if you tried to drink too much again,’ Nicky says placidly, unfazed by the glaring. “You have a mortal liver, now.”
Andy heaves a long-suffering sigh and throws back the vodka.
“Fine. Let’s go have some goddamn fun,” she growls.
“Most people sound happier at the prospect of having fun,” Joe offers. “I know you’re out of practice, but-“
He dodges, laughing, as Andy throws the bottle cap at him.
“Non-violent fun, Andy!” he cries. No projectiles!”
Andy whirls to grab a soggy dishcloth from the counter, wads it into a ball and pitches it overarm at Joe’s head. Joe and Nile both have to dive to avoid it.
Joe tuts sadly. “Wow, Boss. You’re so bad at this.”
Andy runs at him and tackles him to the ground, Joe laughing too hard to dislodge her.
“Habibi!” Joe cries. “Help me! You’re just going to sit there while I am attacked?”
“Hmm? Ah, mi dispiace, amore mio,” Nicky responds, shrugging and leaning back in his chair with a grin. “Non parlo inglese.”
Joe’s answering squawk of outrage quickly morphs into a high-pitched screech as Andy grabs the soggy dishcloth from off the floor and shoves it down the neck of his shirt before sitting up in triumph, arms raised.
“See?” Andy crows. “Fun. You were right, Joe, it’s important.”
“Happy to help,” Joe wheezes, squirming as he tries to get the dishcloth out of his shirt.
Nile sprawls on the floor, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.
It’s been a long time since she laughed that hard.
“Ok, yeah,” she says. “A break sounds awesome.”
The next morning dawns bright and warm, and Nicky and Joe volunteer to go out for breakfast supplies. Andy and Nile spend a companionable few hours sitting on the front porch with two mugs of coffee, Andy sharpening her labrys while Nile sketches her, listening to the far-off sounds of the waves. After a while, though, the labrys is as sharp as it’s going to get, so when Nile asks Andy to tell her about her family, her upbringing, anything about the time she spent being worshipped as a god, just anything about the things that happened too long ago to fully comprehend - Andy acquiesces, being careful to emphasise the good parts as well as the grim ones.
Nile is fully engrossed in the tales when the peace is broken by Joe and Nicky screeching to a halt outside the cabin and climbing out of the car with matching excited expressions, Joe brandishing a flyer over his head.
“There’s something called a ‘Renaissance Faire’ just down the coast,” Joe announces. “In the amusement park on the boardwalk. We drove past it on the way back here.”
“The food stalls smelled amazing,” Nicky says, heading inside to put away the groceries.
“What do you think?” Joe asks, looking between Andy and Nile.
Andy glances over to Nile, eyebrows raised questioningly.
“Seeing you guys at a Renaissance Faire?” Nile asks. “Like I’m gonna pass that one up.”
Later that day, the four immortal warriors spend far too long looking for a parking space, and finally pile out into the cotton-candy scented air at the park entrance.
Nile blinks. “Whoa. I’m getting a sugar high from just breathing.”
Andy is staring at a group of people in costume who are queuing to enter. “I thought you said this was a Renaissance Faire?”
“Yeah?” Nile asks.
“Renaissance? That woman’s wearing a 19th century gown.”
“Yeah, you know, I think a lot of people just wear old-timey clothes to these. Not like, any specific era.”
“That man has a wizard hat, Nile.” Nicky says, squinting at the line.
“I wouldn’t think about it too hard. Come on, let’s go.”
“That’s an empire waist on that dress,” Andy hisses.
“Yup, on the woman with the elf ears and the lightsaber. Seriously, forget it.”
Crimes against historical fashion are rapidly forgotten, however, when the three older immortals find the bumper cars. Andy drives like a maniac, whooping every time she causes and then escapes a pile-up. Nile somewhat expected Joe and Nicky to share a car, but instead they’re incredibly competitive, chasing each other around and trying to trap each other in corners. Occasionally, though, when one of the adults in the other cars bumps into a car driven by a kid, both Joe and Nicky seem to call a temporary truce with no discernible signal being given, both picking the same target for coordinated revenge on the kid’s behalf before resuming their little one-on-one battle again.
Eventually the music stops, the cars’ pedals stop working and the lights go off, as the time they’ve paid for elapses. The cars begin to glide to a halt.
Joe grins and shoots a thumbs-up at Nile, then is abruptly jolted forward as Nicky steers his coasting, powerless bumper car into the back of Joe’s.
“BETRAYAL!” Joe yells, pointing an accusatory finger at the love of his life, who blinks back at him innocently.
Nile unbuckles her seatbelt and climbs out of her car. “Betrayal? You’ve been crashing into each other for the last five minutes!”
“Once the power’s cut, the battle should be over,” Joe says mournfully, still shaking his head at Nicky in mock-disappointment. “Dirty, underhanded tactics.”
Nicky gestures at his steering wheel helplessly, but his expression is anything but contrite. “I lost control, amore mio. Me dispiace.”
“LIES!” Joe bellows, grinning like a lunatic as he digs in his pockets for change. “Nile, would you please go and give this to the man at the front? You and Andy go on ahead. There needs to be a grudge match, this is a matter of honour.”
Nile grins, looking around to make sure no one else is in earshot. “Nine hundred years and it ends like this, huh?”
“A true tragedy,” Joe nods. “Now excuse us, Nile, I have to utterly destroy my love and I don’t want you to have to see it.”
Nile snorts and heads back to the guy operating the bumper cars to pay for Nicky and Joe’s grudge match.
“They going for round two?” Andy asks, pushing off the railings she’s been leaning against as she waits.
Nile nods. “It’s ‘a matter of honor’, apparently.”
“’Honor’”, my ass,” Andy mutters, but as she gazes over at the men she sees as younger brothers, clearly having the time of their lives trash-talking each other, her expression is so warm that Nile’s heart aches to see it.
“Want to grab some food while we wait for them?” Nile asks, and Andy nods, slinging a leather-jacket-clad arm over Nile’s shoulders as they go to investigate the food stalls.
Joe and Nicky, their playful feud apparently over, join Nile and Andy just as Andy is attacking a massive turkey leg as though it’s personally wronged her. Nile has an enormous bucket of cotton candy, because honestly, she’s died several times at this point and FUCK IT, she’s treating herself today. They continue to wander, pointing out odd costumes and stalls, and Nile actually does feel herself relaxing. It’s nice to just be out for the sake of enjoying yourself, without a mission or responsibilities in mind.
She’s jolted out of her calm contemplation by Joe’s hand sneaking under her arm to steal a wad of cotton candy out of the bucket. Her heart aches, briefly. Her own brother used to do the same thing.
But there is only one way to deal with a cotton-candy thief.
So she spins on one foot and kicks Joe in the shin with the other.
“Just ask next time.”
“Where’s the fun in that? Good kick, though. You kept your balance excellently. Very steady.”
Nile drops into a deep curtsy. “You’re too kind, good sir. But back the hell off my cotton candy.”
Joe nods solemnly and executes a deep bow with a flourish, in return. Then his hand flashes out and grabs the bucket, and he turns on the spot and sprints away with it.
“MOTHER-“ Nile dashes after him, Nicky and Andy’s laughter ringing out behind her.
She catches Joe at an air rifle shooting stand, at which point he holds his hands up in surrender and passes the bucket back to her.
“You should make Nicky do this one,” she says, poking him in the ribs.
“Hmmm. We should. NICKY?” Joe calls, waving the others over.
The stall owner, a middle-aged man in a doublet, perks up at the potential business, and stands up from his seat.
“Good morrow, my lords and ladies!” He says, in an awful faux-Shakespearean voice. “Dost thou care to try thy luck at ye olde air rifle shooting?”
Nile imagines she can hear Andy’s teeth gritting.
“He does,” she says, gently shoving Nicky forward.
“Five dollars for 10 shots!” The man continues. “Yonder targets will move across the range. Shoot 4 of them, and thou shalt win a t-shirt of thy choosing, but iffest thou shootest 8 of them, thou shalt win one of the big prizes. Verily.”
“Please stop talking,” Andy mutters. Nile stifles a snort.
Nicky picks up the rifle, studying it carefully and looking down the sights, then picking up the small container of metal pellets and loading them into the gun. He nods at the stall owner, who flicks a switch and the range rumbles into life, small wooden animal cutouts with metal targets in the centre moving in various configurations across the different levels.
Nicky stands stock still, breathing slowly, then takes his first shot at the cutout of a squirrel, halfway down the range.
Nile frowns. No way. She’s been training with him for months. Nicky doesn’t miss.
“Unlucky!” Crows the stall owner, a little too chirpily.
“Yeeeeah.” Nile thinks. “This is so rigged. You’re not subtle.”
Nicky doesn’t move, but Nile sees his eyes flick up to fix on the stall owner, who catches the look and blanches slightly. Nicky’s gaze moves back down to the targets.
He shoots once more, but not at the targets. This time, he shoots at one of the platforms holding up the targets. So far from the targets, in fact, that no one else has hit it by accident. It’s completely free of marks. A small dent appears in the wood as the pellet bounces off, high and to the right of where Nicky was aiming through the sights.
The tiniest smile appears on Nicky’s face.
With incredible speed, the gun swings back up.
Ping. Ping. Ping. Targets begin dropping, one after the other.
Nile belatedly realises Nicky is aiming significantly lower and to the left of all of the targets with incredible precision. Within 10 seconds, 8 targets have fallen.
Nicky straightens, placing the gun gently down on the counter. “You may want to check the sights on that one,” he says calmly. “They are a little low.”
The stall owner is staring at him, mouth open. Next to Nile, Andy is smirking.
Joe is gazing at Nicky with love, pride, and no small amount of amusement.
“I believe that was eight targets,” Nicky continued. “So that is one of the large prizes?”
The man’s mouth snaps shut.
“Excellent. Thank you so much.” Nicky says pleasantly, scooping up a four-foot-tall teddy bear with a red bow around its neck and pressing it into Joe’s arms.
Joe, with some difficulty, manages to manoeuvre the bear around to his hip so that he has room to lean in and press a kiss to Nicky’s mouth. “You are incredible.”
Nicky grins and touches his forehead to Joe’s. They stand like that for a moment before Joe turns around again, gleefully clutching the bear under one arm.
“God, could you look any more pleased with yourself?” Andy asks, but there’s no bite in it.
“The other half of my soul is impossibly talented, kind and beautiful, and he just won me a 4-foot tall teddy bear despite a deliberately sabotaged gun, and as such I am the luckiest man in the world. So I absolutely could, yes.” Joe replies happily, trying to sit the bear on his shoulders. “Would you like to see?”
Andy groans as Nicky leans in to help Joe settle the bear so that it’s stable, kissing him on the cheek as he does so. One of the bear’s paws ends up flopping onto Joe’s head, flattening the curls outwards. Nicky’s face lights up, quietly delighted at the sight.
“Are you seriously going to bring that back to the safehouse?,” Andy asks. “There’s no way.”
Sometimes, Nile regrets Andy’s no-photos rule.
Seeing Joe – a formidable immortal warrior- pouting while holding onto the legs of an enormous teddy bear that’s sat on his shoulders is definitely one of those times. She tries to commit the details to memory as best as she can so she can draw it later.
Andy looks for a moment like she’s about to keep protesting, but then apparently seems to decide that now that she’s mortal, life is too damn short.
She mutters something under her breath in a language Nile can’t make out, and returns her attention to the turkey leg in her hand.
The rest of the afternoon, Nile will freely admit, is wonderful.
A few times, she remembers something – smells a popcorn cart, or the smell of hot dogs, and is hit with a sudden flashbulb memory of days out at the movie theatre with her mom or brother, and she has to pause for a moment to breathe through the pain of it. But the pain subsides slightly as she watches the others.
They have their own pains, she knows.
More than once, she catches Andy laughing at something and turning to say something to Booker before realising he isn’t there, and turning back, jaw clenched.
Nicky and Joe will sometimes catch each others’ eyes and their smiles will fade for a moment, shadows passing over their faces, before one of them will crack a quiet joke or lightly touch the other’s hand and the shadows dissipate again.
Nile feels a sudden, intense surge of affection for this weird little gang.
They all needed this.
Joe proudly parades the teddy bear on his shoulders for a while, until Nicky spots a tiny girl in a Disney princess dress tripping over the kerb and scraping her knee. The two of them exchange a glance and head over as the girl starts to wail, her parents fussing over her.
“Good afternoon!” Joe says. There’s a brief lull in the wailing, the girl looking confused at being so formally addressed by a stranger carrying a giant bear.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” Joe continues. “See, I have this bear, but he needs a good home. But I don’t know how to look after giant teddy bears! But you look smarter than me, so I’m sure you’d know how to take care of him. Do you think you could?
Her knee is instantly forgotten as she stares up at the bear with saucer-round eyes.
“Are you sure?” the girl’s mother asks, as Joe sets the bear down on the ground. “That’s very kind of you.”
“Absolutely,” Joe replies, firmly.
The girl’s father looks down. “What do you say, Nicola?”
“Thank yoooooou,” the girl whispers, flinging her arms around the bear.
Joe beams. “Nicola? That’s an excellent name. I’m Joe, and this is Nicolò.”
“It was very nice to meet you, Nicola,” Nicky adds, and with a little wave at the girl and her parents, they head back to where Andy and Nile are waiting.
“So after all that, you gave the bear away?” Nile asks, grinning.
Joe shrugs. “Nicola’s need was greater.”
“The bear went with my blessing,” Nicky adds.
“The reason doesn’t really matter, as long as the bear’s gone,” Andy retorts.
“It’s fine.” Joe says. “Nicky’s promised to win me a bigger one.”
Nile’s personal highlight of the day, though, comes in the form of an axe throwing stall, nestled around the corner from the staging ground for the mock tourney.
“Hey, Andy,” Nile says. “I found a game for you.”
“So I can win another teddy bear? We just got rid of the last one.”
“You don’t have to pick a big prize, they let you choose. Please? All this time with the labrys, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you throw an axe.”
Andy grimaces. “It’s probably rigged like the air rifles, anyway.”
“Go easy on her, Nile,” Joe says sadly. “It’s been so long since she threw an axe, she’s probably just embarrassed that she’s forgotten how to do it.”
“Joe?” Andy asks sweetly.
“Shut up, before I use you as the target.”
“Well, if you’re that rusty, in front of the target would be the safest place for me to stand...”
“Don’t make me dismember you.”
Nile leans her head on Nicky’s shoulder contentedly as she watches Joe and Andy bicker.
“It’s been too long since we had this,” Nicky murmurs fondly.
Eventually Joe stops goading Andy and lets her approach the stall in peace.
The stall owner, a tall man with a scruffy auburn beard, looks over Andy somewhat appreciatively. “Oh, hey there. You...uh...looking to try throwing some axes?”
“Obviously,” Andy replies dryly.
“Sure thing. Uh, let’s see. Ok, so you’re going to hold the axe here, with both hands, like right back at the end of the handle, square your feet....Actually, this one’s gonna be a bit heavy for you, let me see if there’s a lighter one...”
“Oh damn,” Nile murmurs. “Andy’s gonna kill this guy.”
The stall owner turns to look for a lighter axe, and as he does so Andy seizes two of the axes from the table and flings them, one-handed, in quick succession at the target. Both bury themselves side by side into the wooden bullseye with a deeply satisfying thud. She turns and picks up two more, hurling them in the same way. They land within a few inches of the first two axes, all four firmly wedged in the yellow ring of the target.
The stall owner blinks owlishly at the target. “Whoa.”
“I guess you’re a good teacher,” Andy says, clapping the stall owner on the back and striding back to the others. She plants herself in front of Joe, smiles smugly – and then, to Nile’s astonishment, she sticks her tongue out at him.
Joe cracks up laughing. “Very dignified, Boss.”
“You should know by now not to test me, Joe. I’ll win.”
“Yeah, but who would we be if we didn’t keep trying? We like to keep you on your toes.”
Behind them, the stall owner has dashed over to the row of prizes, ducked below the counter, and emerges, with two water-filled clear plastic bags in each hand.
“Hey, ma’am, that was incredible, wait- Wait! – a bullseye wins you a goldfish. You got four bullseyes.”
“I don’t need a goldfish,” Andy replies, “but thanks.”
Nile looks at the four sadly swinging bags, each with a lethargic, dully coloured fish inside, and makes up her mind. She heads over to the guy and takes the bags out of his hands with a cheery “thanks!” and shuffles back over to the others, arms full of sad-looking fish.
“....Nile,” Andy says.
“Look how small their bags are, Andy. They can’t live like that. It’s cruel.”
“We can’t have pets, Nile. It’s a safehouse.”
“Yeah, so we give them a good home. Find, you know, a pond. Or something.”
Andy sighs, then rolls her eyes in grudging amusement when Nile holds the bags up at eye level so they can help her stare Andy down.
“We can do some good, here, Boss,” Nicky says levelly, and although his voice is typically calm, his mouth is twitching sporadically and his nostrils are flaring every time his eyes flick over to see Nile’s pleading expression and the swinging bags of fish.
Next to him, Joe nods emphatically. “I know we’re on holiday, Andy, but... this is what we do,” he adds, his eyes squinched shut and lips clamped together in a desperate attempt not to laugh.
And so it is that they end up back in the car, looking for goldfish-suitable bodies of water on the GPS. Nile sits in the back seat, still cradling her bags of goldfish, leaning her head against the window as she watches the sky get dark. She’s tired, she realises – but the good kind. The kind she’d forgotten. Not a bone-deep mental weariness, but.... warm and sleepy, after a long day out with friends.
Friends? Maybe. Well, yes, but the word seems lacking, somehow. They’re also mentors, teachers, maybe the only people who’ll fully understand her life as it is now.
......Family? Another family? An extended family?
Nile glances back at the car’s other occupants.
Nicky is in the passenger seat quietly singing along to the radio. He’s got a good voice, Nile realises, even though it’s so soft she can’t make out the words.
Joe is driving, right hand on the steering wheel, left hand lying between the seats by the gear shift, intertwined with Nicky’s right.
Andy is dozing against the other window in the back of the car. Apparently, they’d discovered another side effect of her newly found mortality.
Several millennia old, Nile thinks, and she’s having her first ever sugar crash.
The thought makes her smile.
I’m on the road with three immortal warriors, and we’re on a mission to rehabilitate goldfish.
It’s utterly ridiculous, but Nile can’t bring herself to care. She feels better than she has in months.
Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.
Nice and simple, for a change.
A day out with friends. Her new fami-....
No. Not that. Not ready to say that, yet. Those wounds are still raw.
Friends, family, family, friends -
A day out with people she loves. People that love and care about her in return.
Yeah. That’ll do.
That one, she can say with confidence.
Nile nods to herself, leaning her head back against the window, watching the soon-to-be-free goldfish swimming in their bags.
Whatever this is, exactly....I’m loved.
The rest is still messy, but she’s got time to figure it out.
Hell. She’s got all the time in the world.