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Take A Load Off

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Another mission done. Asset acquired and returned to it's rightful owner; all under the cover of darkness and Copley covering their tracks. Working in a team with over 7,000 years of experience didn't hurt either. After changing clothes, burying their old clothes, and finding the van Copley had arranged for them they had driven off into the rising sun. It was quiet in the van for the first few miles and then Nicky had flipped on the radio. He turned the dial for a bit before settling on a random station that came in the clearest in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. Unfamiliar music had filled the car as they put as many miles as they could between them and the job.

As they journeyed through the mountains after lunch, the radio had completely lost reception and with the van being too old of a model to have satellite radio, the group had talked. It was mostly about jobs they had done over the years. Joe doing most of the talking as he had the most natural story telling abilities, Nicky and Andy throwing in corrections and anecdotes much to the amusement of them all. Noriko had told stories of Andy teaching her to ride horses and even some from a time before meeting Andy. Nile joined in the conversation as well, sharing a few stories from her time as a Marine. Booker had smiled a little and laughed along quietly, and even though they had welcomed Booker back he still seemed wary of having his presence known. As if any loud word or action might remind them all what he had done over a year ago.

Now the sun is setting as they drive down through the mountains on their way to a safe house in Italy, in a van that is old but comfortable enough. Nicky is driving, Joe in the seat next to him. Nicky has one hand on the wheel, his free hand is gripped tight in Joe's. Andy and Noriko are curled together on the furthest back bench seat, the two rarely apart since Noriko rejoined the team four months ago. Booker is on the left side of the middle bench seat, opposite from Nile, his head resting against the window. Nile props her chin on her fist, elbow leaning on the armrest to her right wishing she had her iPod.

The conversations had quieted down after stopping for dinner. There was now a sleepy feeling in the van after a good meal and so many miles on the road, and so many more to go. The sun has disappeared and it is now dark in the car, the only light coming from the dashboard and the headlights outside. Nile leans back on the headrest, hands dropping into her lap, and she sighs. The van is quiet, only the sounds are the tires rolling along the cracked asphalt, the rattle of the van as it navigates the winding rural mountain roads, and the breathing of her companions. Nile feels herself starting to drift off as she is gently rocked by the movement of the van. That's when she hears it, the humming.

It starts off low, almost in snatches as if there are notes missing. But then it gets stronger, and Nile realizes it's a song and Andy is the one humming. Nile looks to the back of the van and her eyes having adjusted to the dim light, sees Noriko laying on Andy, who is reclining along the bench seat, using a duffel bag of clothes as a pillow to prop herself up. Andy is running her hand over Noriko's hair and back, her other arm wrapped tightly around Noriko's waist. Andy's eyes are closed and she is in the most relaxed state that Nile has ever seen her in. Then Nile hears Nicky's tenor voice beginning to sing lyrics. It's a simple quiet song, perhaps something sung late at night around a fire Nile finds herself imagining. Andy has stopped humming and is now singing along with Nicky, their two voices strong and steady. Nile isn't sure what language they are even singing in but it is beautiful.

Nile looks over to Booker, he is still staring out the window but she can just make out his reflection in the glass. He looks sad, which Nile has come to realize is Booker's perpetual state of being. She knows his story, he had told her himself when she had asked him. It had broken her heart to hear him speak of his family, to hear him tell of the loss of his children. But that did not excuse what he had done, the deal with Merrick, and the aftermath. Nile understood why the others had to make the decision they made, 100 years of exile for the betrayal of their family. It hadn't lasted 100 years though. Noriko had been the one to break it for them.

When Noriko had been pulled from the ocean, after almost 500 years, she had come up from the depths with a boundless anger towards humanity. Noriko had gotten involved in the very thing that Nile's immortal team fought against and when Noriko had figured out who was disrupting her plans, she had hunted down and kidnapped the exiled Booker, torturing him to try to get information about the rest of the group. He had refused to give in. This lead to what could be called a "difficult time for all of them".

Nile, looking back out her window into the darkness lets the singing wash over her and just tries to focus on the feelings around her, letting go of the tension in her shoulders. When the first song ends Joe begins singing. Nile knows he is singing in Arabic, but she wonders at the age of the song. For all she knows she is listening to something not heard in a thousand years. As he sings Joe stares at Nicky, Nile can tell that Nicky is having a hard time not looking back at Joe. She thinks she hears a quiet sob coming from somewhere in the car but Nile honestly can't tell who it is, it might have been her. She is surprised to find there are tears rolling down her cheeks. Nicky whispers something to Joe in Arabic at the conclusion of the song, then brings Joe's knuckles to his lips and kisses them. Nile has to look away from them.

The mood is solemn after Joe's song, something heavy but not oppressive in the air. Nile finds her self waiting, anticipating, the next moment, but unsure why.

There is a rustling of clothes from the back seat as Noriko and Andy untangle themselves. The two women now sit side by side, Andy's arm slung around Noriko's shoulder. Noriko coughs, clearing her throat as she begins. Her voice is steady and light as she begins a new song. Nile can't help but turn and watch her, this woman who up until recently had been a dream and then an enemy before becoming an ally, for Booker and Nile at least. Noriko has fascinated Nile in a way that the others have not, she is so much more complicated. Nicky and Joe are as straight forward as they come, in love for all eternity and determined to do good out in the world. Andy, even with her conflicted and sometimes down right hypocritical history, is much the same. Booker is a mess, but like the others his main driving force is in fact love, even if that love hurt him so much it made him make the worst of decisions.

Noriko had been driven by madness. She had been lost in a storm off the coast of Africa 500 years ago, Andy had tried to search for her, but Noriko was lost to them. The person that came out of the ocean was not the same woman Andy had lost and as a result it had lead to a less than ideal reunion of the parted lovers and another "difficult time for all of them".

Despite the months there is still an uneasy peace between them all.

Nile knows that deep down Andy, Nicky, and Joe are just happy to have Noriko and Booker both back, but Nile also knows it is still 'complicated'. Booker and Noriko had come to an understanding regarding what had happened between themselves, but Booker was still skittish around her. Nile and Booker have had the easiest time, she knew what he had done but it hadn't been to her personally. As a result she had been willing to let Booker off with an apology, but again understood the group's judgment. Noriko on the other hand had shot Nile upon meeting her, but then was down right polite to her from then on out. Even when Noriko showed up on the streets she had not threatened or harmed Nile in any way. Noriko, an enemy, a friend, a lover, a fighter, a complicated woman.
A woman who was now singing from the back seat and even though Nile doesn't understand the words, even she can recognize a drinking song when she hears it. Even if she couldn't there is a curl to Noriko's lips and a wicked gleam in her eye that let's Nile know that the song is less than wholesome as the lyrics fill the car. Joe, having let go of Nicky's hand, is thumping the center console with his fist and Nile wonders if he is imagining a wooden table instead. Nicky has joined in the song, then Andy and Joe's voices are picking up a second part of the song, their voices melting together in a joyous harmony and camaraderie. Another voice joins them, a deep bass that Nile realizes is Booker singing. Nile looks away from Noriko and sees Booker not just singing but smiling, at Joe who is turned in his seat smiling right back at Booker. The heavy mood has vanished. Something new, something good, something healing is settling into place. Nile finds herself tapping her foot and the arm rest in time with the song, she looks forward to the day when she has songs to sing with them.

Two songs later they pull up to the house. As they unload the car it's Booker this time who starts a song, Nile knows this one, she can't help but stop as the familiar words float through the night air.

"I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead......" Booker starts.

Joe and Nicky are at his shoulders at the chorus, "Take a load off Fanny..." their voices harmonizing and Nile joins in as Andy holds Noriko, they sway together in the dark.

Something settles inside Nile as her voice blends into the song. This is her family. It is little and it is broken. But it is hers. They will need more time to heal all the wounds and learn how to be together. But they will get there, and they will love and protect each other no matter what it takes.