To immortals who were creeping up on millennia together, a hundred years was nothing to them -- a drop in the bucket. For Booker, it was a wakeup call. They knew that Booker had already started to come apart at the seams after only two centuries. For him, adding another hundred years on top of that in isolation was salt in a wound, but a salt that he truly deserved.
The drink helped to numb the pain, but not make it disappear.
Nothing did that.
Maybe that was his own fault for returning to Paris, where everything was eerily familiar and steeped in a history that its people didn’t want to forget. It was everywhere, but then, only Paris allowed him to go to Invalides so he could spit on Napoleon’s tomb and get himself arrested every other month.
Quynh came to find him, but Booker understood his punishment well enough to know that he had no place with them. He had sent her on her way and returned to his exile and his liquor, using the one to manage the other. This was an exile he was meant to serve, if he wanted to have a chance of earning his place back with them.
He managed to avoid too much trouble and only ended up dying once -- drowning in the Seine was a mistake, but in his defense, he was drunk and got hit by one of the goddamn tourist boats.
Even though he went out of his way to avoid it, trouble found him.
At least, if trouble was named Yusuf Al-Kaysani -- and for whole continents for the last few centuries, it was.
“I’m getting tired of people breaking into my apartment,” Booker muttered, pushing at his broken lock. He’d just fixed it after Quynh had broken in. It wasn’t like he wanted to stay here and nest, but it was the principle of the thing.
Joe sat on his shitty sofa, staring at him like he was contemplating shooting him.
Given that Joe had broken into his home, that kind of a reaction was saying something.
“Don’t worry, I’ll leave it for the rats after this,” Joe guaranteed.
Booker set his bottles of liquor on the counter, the glass clanging against each other despite the brown paper he’d wrapped them up in. “If you’re here to kill me, get it over with,” he said, too tired to deal with Joe’s anger and far too sober. “I know I’ve got ninety-eight years left on my sentence, I intend to serve it. I didn’t even get involved with Quynh, that’s how serious I am about doing this right.”
It was a harsh penance, one that Booker was taking poorly, but the one ray of hope he had was the fact that there was an end in sight and people waiting for him at the other end of it.
“Nicky was taken.”
That got Booker’s attention, but not enough of it. He poured four fingers of brandy and collapsed on his shitty armchair, listening to the slats creak as soon as his weight hit it. One of these days, it would break.
Hopefully, it would be a day without witnesses.
“Go tell Andy,” Booker mumbled, more to the brandy than to Joe. “I’m obeying the rules, get her to help you rescue Nicky.”
Joe said nothing, but the vein at his temple twitched.
The bubbles of Booker’s drink came when he laughed into it. “Merde, you can’t tell her,” he realized, shaking his head. “You took a side job, didn’t you?” Of course. No wonder he was here for the bastard traitor. If Joe told Andy and Nile what he’d done, then maybe he would face a punishment of his own.
It probably wouldn’t be exile, but it was enough for Joe to break the banishment rules and show up.
“What makes you think I’d help?”
Joe snorted, looking at him derisively. “Because you might be a pathetic sack of shit and a traitor, but it’s still Nicky. I know, deep down, that you would never let him suffer.”
It was useless to remind Joe that Booker’s betrayal had nothing to do with them. It only led to a bigger argument about how Booker didn’t think about the torture he was putting them through, even though Booker had tried to hand himself over. Copley had pitched the offer, but Merrick wanted more.
Greedy, selfish pig.
“You’re right,” Booker admitted. “I’ll do it for Nicky, the same as I would for you.” He let the brandy slide down his throat, leaning forward to rest the glass on the table, watching the legs of the alcohol begin their slow descent down the outside of the glass. “Where is he being held?”
“Room inside Musée des Égouts.”
Booker squinted at him and snorted.
“Okay, then,” Booker said. “Let’s get Nicky back.”
Joe had brought a briefcase full of weapons, but Booker was also well-prepared. What he hadn’t put into home renovations, he’d funnelled into making sure he had a decent security system -- which didn’t mean cameras and alarms, but enough guns to make anyone think twice about trying something with him.
Six hours, ten rounds of ammunition, and a veritable shitstorm later, they rescued Nicky from a local group of gangsters who were funnelling drugs into schools.
Well, they were.
After today, there weren’t enough of them left alive to do anything about that. Nicky reeked of sewage, but he was alive (of course he was) and intact. The whole rescue, Nicky kept staring at him like Booker was some kind of ghost, but Joe had explained his presence to Nicky by reminding him that he needed backup.
“It was him, or we tell Andy what kind of side-jobs we’ve been picking up.”
Nicky had yet to say a word to Booker, though whether it was because he was still pissed off or he had nothing to say, Booker didn’t know.
“Come on, let’s get you a shower,” Joe coaxed, leading Nicky towards the streets. Booker, though, stood his ground. Eventually, Joe noticed. “Book?”
“I did what I came to do,” he vowed. “I helped you get Nicky out, that doesn’t change the terms of anything.” He knew that, as much as it pained him to admit. “Go get him cleaned up and pick better jobs in the future,” he warned. “You wouldn’t want to make calling on a desperate man for help a habit, would you?”
Nicky was a mess of blood and waste, but he nodded his understanding. He still had yet to say a word to him, which told Booker all he needed to know. He was still angry and he wouldn’t be sharing any kind words with him, but acknowledging him was a big step. Joe seemed a lot more conflicted, but that was Joe.
He was like a stick of dynamite. It’d burn until it blew, but then it’d be done.
Nicky was the eternal flame, always burning, always steady. Booker knew exactly which of them he’d be apologizing to for years to come.
“Thanks,” Joe said, continuously glancing over his shoulder to make sure Nicky didn’t go too far on his own. He didn’t say that they owed him one, because they didn’t. The balance was still stacked against Booker and would be for a very long time. This one job might have put a dent in it, but it wasn’t enough to fix it.
He watched them vanish along the banks of the Seine, heads bowed together in conversation. It filled him with an envious longing as it always did, because as always they reminded him of his wife. Taking in a deep breath, Booker glanced towards the nearest shop, wondering if they were still open.
Then again, maybe he ought to wait to take a shower before he subjected other Parisians to his smell and he was fairly sure that he had enough wine at home to last him through the ache of seeing his family again, only to have them walk away.
Ninety-eight years left.
What was that to an immortal man? If Booker did it right, maybe he might even use those years to be helpful, useful, good.
(Maybe if he did, Nicky would talk to him next time)
It was a thought that lasted all the way back to his apartment, though not one that took root just yet. It was a seed, planted, and until it sprouted, Booker would leave it be. The important thing was that he’d helped his family and they would sleep safe, tonight, wherever they were.
Nile was a much sweeter kid than Booker ever was.
She probably thought it was just because she was new and hadn’t been fully brought over to the dark cynical side, but Booker didn’t know how to tell her that he was already that way when he’d died for the first time. He knew her life wasn’t perfect, but she still had hope and her heart was good.
Booker had been a desperate man when the noose had slipped over his head. Immortality hadn’t changed that -- only amplified it.
The inherent goodness showed when he got a text inviting him to a bar in Paris near Montparnasse. She was too good to break into his apartment and wait for him. For now, at least. He wouldn’t put it past a few decades to start wearing down her manners. He was seven years into his banishment, but this was the first time that Nile had reached out. Booker knew he should stay away, but she had invited him. Maybe she was in trouble, the same as Nicky had been, even though he doubted she’d pick a public bar if that was the case. His curiosity had been inflamed, though.
So he went.
The wine bar was trendy and filled with bright and happy people, which instantly made Booker feel out of place. Nile was still young enough in appearance that she fit in, but also in linear time that she still probably felt like this was a place that she belonged. It probably brought her some kind of comfort, even. Booker kept his gaze roving through the small crowds of young Parisians until he found Nile at the back, sitting in a booth that would keep her guest hidden from view. Not for the first time, Booker wondered whether the others knew if she was meeting with him.
She was clearly fine physically, because their skills wouldn’t allow anything else, but there was a look in her eyes that told Booker that he’d made the right choice ignoring the banishment.
“Nile,” Booker greeted calmly.
She jumped at his voice, which also seemed suspicious. Something had happened, though probably not in the same way that Joe and Nicky had found themselves in trouble. “You came,” she said, sounding surprised.
“Don’t make me seem like that much of an asshole that I wouldn’t,” he grumbled, and took the seat hidden from view, glancing up to see if the security cameras would catch him in this line of sight. “The others don’t know you’re here,” he said, which wasn’t a question.
She confirmed this with a nod.
“How did you get away?”
“We haven’t been to Paris since I started so I told a story about how I wanted to take some time and come see the museums,” Nile explained, while the drinks arrived. “I had a really hard mission and I needed someone to talk to.”
Booker rubbed his thumb over the glass, staring at her through the heavy crystalware, wondering why he was her person of choice. “What happened?” he mumbled, feeling an awful lot like Nicky suddenly. She’d paid for the first round and she wanted him here, so clearly, she had something to talk about.
“I haven’t told Andy about this. Not Joe or Nicky either, but we were in Germany near Landstuhl and I saw my old squad.” She was fidgeting with the crucifix around her neck, something she still wore even now. “I only saw them for a few minutes, but they were joking around and they were happy. It was like losing me didn’t do anything to them, even though I know it’s been seven years and people have a right to move on, but then I went back to the team after the mission and I realized that they’re no different than us.”
Booker was lost, but he kept his mouth shut, drinking red wine like it was water.
“I don’t know. I guess, it just felt like I know what it’s like to be in your shoes,” Nile admitted, “and seeing them really rattled me. When they turned their backs on me in Afghanistan, it felt like they were banishing me from their lives.”
So that was why Nile was here talking to him.
“You want absolution?” Booker assumed calmly.
Confusion flickered over Nile’s face, almost like she didn’t even know if that was what she wanted. She opened her mouth, then closed it, and then came the guilt. Booker should have given her a break. She was young, she wanted the apology, and she clearly felt bad about what she’d agreed to.
What actually drove him to speak was that he was probably doing better the last few years than he had in two centuries with the team. He still drank. He was still miserable. There was something else in it, though. There was a hope that he hadn’t felt, like he could figure out a way to at least endure his long life.
“What you did to me and what they did to you is not even close,” Booker told her. “I betrayed my team. You saved yours by giving your life and they rewarded you by closing ranks when you returned to them. I returned with the killing blow. It’s not the same. We’re not the same,” he said roughly.
He wished that they were.
Nile was a good kid and Booker hadn’t even been much of a good man, his first time around. Coward, traitor, forger. He was a loving husband and father, but that hadn’t done much for him in the end. “If you’re here to make the banishment easier, you don’t need to.”
“What?” Nile asked, almost suspiciously. “Are you telling me you’ve got plans?”
He let out a fond huff. “Have a little less faith in me,” he deadpanned.
“Sorry,” Nile said suddenly. “Sorry, that sounded rude, didn’t it? I guess I’m just…”
She trailed off and Booker felt like he could fill in the blanks. She could read between the lines. She’d heard stories from Joe. She’d heard stories from Nicky. She’d found old examples of other times that Booker had been ill-equipped and poorly prepared for an immortal life.
“I got a job at the local school,” he said. “Teaching art history and english literature.” It was always tempting to tell the students which of the works they’re studying happen to be something that Joe made or that he forged, but given that he was far from the kind of elderly old professor who could get away with that kind of rambling, he never did. “I’ll have to move within the decade, but it’s good for now.”
It really was. Students were people that he could grow to care about without making too deep an attachment to. When he inevitably moved, he could keep up with their progress without feeling that cavernous loss when they inevitably died before him.
Nile still seemed a bit unnerved, but Booker suspected it was more to do with her own feelings. He topped up her glass from the bottle of wine he’d ordered, gesturing to it. “Your old team isn’t your team anymore.”
Neither was he, but he could serve the role of outsider. Banished from the team apparently didn’t mean banished from Nile seeking his counsel.
“Come on,” Booker encouraged. “Tell me what you’ve been up to. Your old team made their choice when you came back to them. They could have defended you. They could have chosen you, but Andy did. Joe and Nicky did.”
In less than a hundred years, Booker would return, proud to call Nile his team.
“It’s not your failing that caused your betrayal,” he promised. They weren’t alike, after all.
He brought this on himself. Nile didn’t do that.
She inhaled deeply, shaking off her nerves, and began to speak. Booker kept their glasses full, listening and nodding. It was easier, he found, to hear these stories from a distance. When Nile talked about Andy shouting at Joe and Nicky over comms because they got distracted by one another, the usual surge of bitter envy didn’t pulse through Booker. Instead, he chuckled under his breath at the thought of those idiots.
And Andy, well…
Booker could see the way Nile tiptoed around stories including her. He knew that she worried about Booker being exiled for longer than the remainder of Andy’s lifespan. He didn’t have it in him to tell her not to worry.
After all, while he and Andy weren’t grabbing coffee, they’ve figured out a way for him to be able to have her in his life.
He just had to have a little faith.
“That was nice,” Nile said, when closing time came and the bar staff had to come around to each table to let people know it was time to go. She pulled on her jacket, carefully sliding her hair back from the collar. Her gaze slid left and right, still casing the street, and then when she didn’t find a threat, turned back to embrace Booker tightly.
It was awkward at first.
Physical affection wasn’t exactly something he was used to accepting.
Still, he eventually melted into it and caught Nile’s relieved smile. Whatever she’d intended tonight to be, it clearly had worked for her. “Can we do this again, the next time I’m in Paris?” she asked. “No clue when that’ll be, but…”
“Yes,” Booker cut her off, before she could keep talking and ramble her way out of it.
She was pure sunshine when she smiled and Booker caught himself thinking that maybe she was a good kid, but that didn’t mean that he was out for the count just yet. He had a long life ahead of him and, on his own, it was time for him to forge his own path.
Until then, he could stand to listen to a few stories about how his team was doing. Soon enough, he’d be back with them, and making stories together again. Hopefully, by then, he wouldn’t be in a position to let them down.
He came into contact with Andy again at the Librairie Galignani. Booker still remembered coming to this library before he’d gone to Russia, when Napoleon’s blockade meant that you wouldn’t find an English soul in here. These days, that had changed. Tourists would drift in, mingled amongst the expats between the shelves. There were even whole sections devoted to English Literature, which only made them flock here more.
Booker spent his weekends here looking for things to read. One hundred years was a long time and he knew he shouldn’t spend all of it self-destructing, which meant turning to other hobbies.
Amongst the shelves, Booker spotted a familiar face absently reading a book on cooking, three aisles over.
She was older. Maybe he might have convinced himself it wasn’t her, but it was. The way she moved was something Booker would never forget, and he kept his eye trained on her carefully as she made a point of folding a note and leaving it in a book. Once she had, she slipped her sunglasses back on her face and left.
It felt like something out of a Fleming novel.
Booker glanced left and right, then went to find the book she’d been skimming through -- a copy of Antigone -- where he found the note in the cast of characters.
Thank you for sending Quynh to me. It took a decade, but we’ve hashed things out even if I’m down a toe as a result. She says hi.
Booker tucked the note away in his pocket. He had no paper on him, but he purchased a small notebook and pen from the store and returned to the same copy of Antigone to write his reply. It was brief and to the point.
He didn’t tell Andy that it might be a good idea to keep Quynh away for a while, and that her mental state was likely at its best around her girlfriend. Booker felt the itch to text Nicky and Joe and ask what was actually happening until he remembered that he was still banished.
That wasn’t something he intended to ignore (at least, not on his end).
He saw Andy again a month later. This time, she wasn’t alone. She had her arm draped over Quynh’s shoulders as they perused the non-fiction history section. It filled Booker with an inexplicable feeling, some combination of grief and joy, or relief and happiness, and then the loneliness and regret swam in.
Andy had found the woman she loved, but Quynh would only have her for so long. She would be outlived, the same was Booker had outlived his wife. With ninety years on his sentence, Booker had to wonder how many of them Andy would live for before Quynh understood what it was like to see the person you loved the most fade into a shadow of themselves.
This time, the note was in Quynh’s handwriting.
She misses you. I never even got to know you, but I trust my Andromache in all things. Go to the cafe, buy a coffee. Sit in the table with the red coat on it.
Booker caught Quynh’s sharp eye through the stacks, trying to communicate with his eyes alone that he wasn’t going to run off. He made his way to the cafe in the bookstore, sitting at the table with the red coat sitting opposite.
Five minutes later, he heard movement at the table directly behind him.
He ducked his head down, shaking his head as he worked to subdue his amused smile. Trust Quynh and Andy to figure out a way for them to converse without actually properly meeting up.
“Is this what you meant when you told me to have faith, boss?”
It felt strange talking to an empty chair. He wasn’t sure why they needed the production of it, but somehow it still felt like the right thing to do. He wasn’t meeting up with Andy. No one was breaking the rules. Yet, he also could have a conversation with her.
“I was just planning to crash at your place in about five years. Quynh’s reappearance moved up my schedule. What are you drinking?”
Booker looked down to see a cup of tea already at the table. “This was here when I sat down,” he said. “Quynh?” he assumed.
“It might be laced with valium. She thinks you could use something for your mood.”
She was right, but he still pushed it away. “Let me get coffee for you. Same order as always?” It had been over a decade and she was mortal now. Who knew if her tastes had shifted? He ignored the pang within him that said he’d missed so much, because he knew that it was on him. If he’d brought in the team when Copley approached him, they could have dealt with it together.
Instead, he’d betrayed them to try and find solace.
It was strange to think that he had the best version of it now, on his own. It wasn’t that he didn’t have to watch Joe and Nicky, it wasn’t Andy’s contributing cynicism being absent. It was more that Booker had to piece together his own life. He was responsible for it, and after a few years of completely messing it up, he was getting better at it.
He might even be a functioning non-alcoholic by the time the hundred years was up. Booker knew that wasn’t the intention, but it might end up being the outcome.
“Quynh got me something already,” Andy declined his offer. He heard the rustling of fabric, but stubbornly kept his eyes forward.
He was keeping to the rules of his banishment. They could choose to see him, but Booker wasn’t going to be the one to break them. He was going to serve out the years, which was what he deserved.
Still, he was glad that Andy had come around. Other than Nicky, he had a touchpoint with the rest of the team. It was more than he thought he’d get, but he was grateful for it.
“Go on, then,” Booker encouraged. “Tell me about Quynh.” He knew that she would want to. He doubted it would be boasting, but given Quynh’s fiendish and frantic desperation to get to Andy, he knew that their reunion had to be one hell of a story. “Did the toe come off before or after you told her about your mortality?”
The laugh he earned from Andy twisted up his heart with regret, relief, and hope all at once. It was better than grief, and he closed his eyes as he listened to Andy tell a reunion story fraught with blood, violence, drowning, and an inevitable truce that led to...well, whatever they had. He avoided touching his drink, mainly because he absolutely suspected it of being dosed.
Andy didn’t even sound sure about it.
“There are times when I think she wants something else, that she wants me to be something else,” Andy shared. “Immortal, obviously, but she’s putting it aside for now. She wants to be with me.”
“When you come back, she’s going to need you, Book.”
Booker exhaled, staring at his hands and grateful Andy wasn’t looking at him. The impending grief that Quynh would have to bear was intolerable and he alone understood it. “I don’t think I’m the best mentor for that,” he pointed out. “Given the reason for my exile.”
“Then spend the exile learning,” Andy advised, her tone steely and firm. This wasn’t a request. This was an order. “I need you to be there for Quynh when I’m gone, in the way that Joe, Nicky, and Nile can’t. She’s still her. She’s still my Quynh. I don’t want my loss to be the reason that goes away.”
Booker felt like this was more penance, but then, it wasn’t him that was going to be bearing the fresh loss. When he lost Andy, he would be doing it as a friend, as family, as a brother. Quynh would be losing her everything. He’d done that before. He knew how to do it. Maybe this was his penance for how he’d coped the first time.
Maybe this was his chance to start again.
“Stop talking about your death,” Booker grumbled, hating the mood being pulled low. “You’re stubborn enough that you’ve probably got another forty years in you, to say nothing of medical advances.”
“Then what do you want to talk about?”
Booker took a moment to process that question. The truth was, he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to talk about, but he was glad to have Andy here. That was enough. So long as they avoided the topic of her death, they could talk about anything and Booker would be content.
“Tell me what’s been making you happy these days,” he encouraged, eager to thrive off someone else’s happiness.
Luckily, these days, there was plenty that was making Andy happy. She talked about new lunch spots, new revolutions, new causes, and new experiences. Threading through it all, Booker understood what was driving that newfound joy -- Quynh, and a tangled up sense of purpose that Nile had provided.
She was happy. She was content.
If nothing else, it was a sign that Booker had to stop being so miserable. There was no room in his family for it, and if he wanted there to be a spot for him when he returned, he had to change.
The countdown was on, but he had decades to get his shit in order. Even for Booker, that was more than manageable.
The invitation came via post.
Booker said invitation, but it was more of a demand. He was fairly sure he’d seen more polite ransom notes over the years, but being commanded to attend a small apartment in the Latin Quarter on Sunday with a demand to bring a bottle of red wine no cheaper than thirty euros wasn’t a hard sell.
It was fifteen years since he had helped Joe to rescue Nicky. It took fifteen years for Nicky to reach out after that. Even now, Booker suspected that the invitation only came because Joe had encouraged him along.
He’d started getting texts from Joe. Nothing personal, of course, just bets on upcoming football matches and commentary on the play. Occasionally, they would veer onto the topic of Nicky, usually initiated from Booker, but Joe either avoided responding or would change the subject.
Nicky was still cross with him.
“You know what Nicky’s like,” Andy had shared during one of their back-to-back coffee meetings. “He’s hurt. He’s angry. He’s buried it all down and ignores it. For five years, he pretended he didn’t know you. We’re past that now.”
“So I should go?”
“Book, it’s Nicky.” Andy sipped her coffee, angled towards him. “He’ll kidnap you if you don’t. For the purposes of my ignorance, I’m going to stay in the dark and pretend that I don’t know what you do, one way or the other.”
Which meant that he was going. She was right. If he didn’t turn up, then he was liable to get a tranquilizer dart in his neck and wind up tied to a kitchen table, force-fed delicious gnocchi. The end result of that would be nice, but he didn’t fancy getting himself tranquilized to get there.
He found a clean button-down shirt, made sure that he was sober, and arrived at the address with red wine at seven on the dot. He knocked on the door, wary about no one being there, but within moments, his fears were assuaged when the door was drawn open and Joe stood there, sizing him up.
“Nicolò, I told you he’d come,” Joe called over his shoulder, letting him in. “He’s been in a mood all day,” he warned him, taking the wine and his coat as he ushered him in. “He’s nervous and he doesn’t want to admit to it.”
“Joe!” Nicky hissed at him sharply.
“My love, if you didn’t want me to tell Booker that you’re nervous, then you shouldn’t fret so much about his being here. Secretly, of course. We haven’t told the others you’re here. Nicky missed you,” Joe shared, like he was teasing a child about a crush.
Booker very much did not mention that Andy knew he was here. Well, he knew that he’d been invited and that he was going. She (probably) didn’t know about his actual presence on this specific day. He stepped inside, feeling awkward despite the fact that Nicky apparently wanted him here.
“Go,” Joe encouraged, but there was an edge in his words.
The unspoken, and apologize lingered in the words.
Nearly two decades later, Booker knew that he owed Nicky a one on one conversation and apology. He’d even almost figured out the words, but that didn’t stop him from panicking about saying something wrong. Handing his coat to Joe, Booker inhaled sharply and walked towards the smell of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil.
When he arrived in the kitchen, Nicky was brandishing a very large knife, which meant he had to tread carefully.
“I brought wine,” he said, which probably was expected and not a surprise. Nicky gestured for Booker to set it down, still not saying anything. It felt like a retread of that day of Nicky’s rescue. Nicky looked at him, but it felt like Booker was a ghost that Nicky intended to look right through.
They weren’t going to talk until Booker took the first step, were they?
Nearly twenty years later and Booker still wasn’t sure that anything he could say was going to make it up to Nicky. He wasn’t even sure that he felt true regret for some of the things he did. He’d been a miserable bastard and he’d been drowning under Joe and Nicky’s happiness, but he should never have taken it out on them.
“It wasn’t your fault that I wanted it to end,” Booker began, feeling like the only genuine apology he could offer was the honest one. “When I offered myself up to Copley and he said it wasn’t enough, I should have left it be. I should have come to you. I should never have let it get that far, and I shouldn’t have stayed silent about how I feel like shit that you and Joe got hurt like that.”
Nicky stirred the gnocchi in the pan, still not saying anything.
“My grief wasn’t your fault and you shouldn’t have had to pay penance for it,” Booker continued, speaking Nicky’s language by bringing religion into it. “So I am sorry. I’m sorry you and Joe got dragged into my issues. I’m sorry I didn’t say this back then. I’m sorry.”
That was the whole Catholic thing, right? The holy trinity? Maybe it would take three apologies for Nicky to even look him in the eye.
The trouble was that Nicky kept stirring and gave a quiet noise that said that he’d heard Booker. He didn’t actually say that he accepted his apology or acknowledge any of the words that Booker had said.
He should have expected that, but it was still something of a disappointment, he couldn’t lie.
“Joe, will you get the good cutlery?” Nicky called.
Well, if Booker was going to end up stabbed tonight, at least it would be with the nice silver. Booker stepped away to help Joe in setting the table, shaking his head when Joe raised his eyebrows in a silent question about whether Nicky had accepted the apology.
“I probably didn’t help,” Joe confessed quietly. “Even now, I bitch about you, but that’s just how I express my love.”
Booker waved it off, because he was here. Nicky was cooking dinner, Joe was talking to him, and he’d been invited into their home. True, it had taken twenty years, but given Nicky’s ability to hold a grudge, it could have been so much worse.
“Dinner is ready,” Nicky announced, bringing in the gnocchi on a bed of fried rapini, along with Booker’s bottle of red wine. There was a salad with fresh oranges at his elbow, and Booker was fairly sure he’d smelled custard in the kitchen while apologizing, so there might even be a cake later.
It was a lot to make for a man you hated, which Booker took as a good sign.
The conversation was mostly stilted, helped along by Joe. He asked about Paris and how Booker was enjoying it, what he was doing these days, how he’d been.
Booker told them half-truths. He talked about getting drinks with friends (but didn’t mention Nile) and talked about how much he’d been reading lately (and of course never mentioned Andy). Joe and Nicky were doing the same, though, not talking about their missions or what was happening back at their safe house, so he didn’t feel very guilty for doing it.
There were no fist fights. No one was stabbed.
In fact, by the time it was nearing midnight and Booker was leaving, he might even call it a successful dinner with friends. He didn’t think that it was so successful that he would be invited back, which was why what Nicky said next was a complete shock that had Booker gaping at him.
“Next year, the first Sunday of May,” Nicky said, handing Booker his coat. “Be here.”
That was not an order to be ignored. “Yes, sir,” he quipped, stomach full of Nicky’s excellent cooking, the quality red wine he’d brought, and a relief he hadn’t known he’d been seeking all this time.
Everyone else had given him a form of absolution or a chance to apologize. Until tonight, Nicky had been the lone holdout, but finally Booker had been able to offer his apologies. They weren’t a family, they weren’t a team, but Booker was also not a ghost in their lives anymore.
Nicky hadn’t said that he missed him. Booker had felt too awkward to press after the apology to see if Nicky had accepted it.
Maybe next May, he could try again. Maybe then, Nicky would say something in return.
He had a year to figure it out. Maybe even ask some good advice from one of his confidants. The one thing an immortal never lacked was time, and for once, Booker could put it good use.
“You can’t miss my retirement party.”
“I barely talk to you,” Booker retorted, even though it was a lie. Even though the team had banished him, Copley had done nothing of the sort. It meant that he gave him advice on how to keep the team erased from modern tracking, but also on how to deal with each of them (even if he had to let Copley figure out Nile and Quynh on his own). “Stop bothering me, the rest of them will throw you a party. Joe will make cocktails that will make you weep at how good they are, Nicky will cook the best food you’ve ever tasted, and Nile will play you music all night.”
“It’s Friday at seven,” Copley said, ignoring Booker’s insistence that he wasn’t going. “I’ll see you there. Don’t forget a retirement gift.”
Booker cursed in French under his breath when Copley didn’t even give him a chance for a comeback. He went out shopping that day for a nice leather-bound notebook and pen, because while Copley had taken over most of Booker’s duties, he was still the domino that had led to Booker’s current situation.
Put it this way -- Booker wasn’t about to buy the man a Rolex, that was all.
Still, he went. He went because Copley asked him to and because he knew that if he didn’t, the rest of the team would end up giving him grief for why he didn’t -- even though none of them were meant to be interacting with him, given the remaining years of his exile. He still kept his hopes low for his arrival, wary about the group of them telling him to go when they were all there together.
To try and combat any fears of having to sit around and await his fate, Booker arrived fashionably tardy.
Copley showed him into the main room where Joe and Nicky were squabbling over cake, Andy and Quynh were perched on the couch, and Nile was pouring drinks. “You all know Booker,” Copley said, like he hadn’t just dropped a bomb in a room, rendering them silent. “I know that you’ve given him exile, but that doesn’t include my living room. You’ll just have to deal.”
Copley moved away to help Nile with the drinks, leaving Joe and Nicky to exchange looks, which Andy and Quynh were doing as well.
“Booker,” Nile said. “It’s been so long!”
It had been three weeks. She’d called him for drinks and they’d wound up bitching about Quynh’s lack of manners for almost an hour over screwdrivers.
“Right?” Andy agreed, elbowing Quynh sharply. “Twenty years, at least?”
“At least,” Nicky said, unblinking as he stared at Booker.
Booker snorted as he shook his head. So this was how they were playing it, was it? All of them pretending as if they weren’t bending the rules so that they didn’t apply to them? Joe seemed amused at this turn of events, Nile looked relieved, and Andy had already moved on. Copley was the one who truly seemed out of the loop.
“Happy retirement,” Booker said calmly, offering him the gift bag and the bottle of wine he’d brought.
Copley was still staring at the rest of the team. “I expected more,” he said, almost like he was upset that he hadn’t caused more chaos by inviting Booker to this party. “I suppose this means that you’re on the path to absolution, my friend.”
Booker regarded his former and future family, unable to help his amused snort. “Something like that,” he agreed, knowing that in a week’s time, he would share coffee back-to-back with Andy and Quynh. In a few months, he would be at Joe and Nicky’s apartment for dinner. Nile would call him up for drinks whenever she was in town.
The whole time, they wouldn’t tell each other, but that worked just fine for Booker.
He was properly observing his exile, after all.
What they did with their free time was up to them and Booker had no intentions of stopping them.