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hand in hand, we stumble and we fall (then we stand, once and for all)

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hand in hand, we stumble and we fall (then we stand, once and for all)

 

Nile has been immortal for six years when one of their missions goes horribly, catastrophically bad.

Not because of some strategical mistake, nor a possible oversight of Copley’s. The head of the trafficking ring they were targeting was more paranoid than usual even for a man in that particular line of work, and in the face of competition from other groups, had acted rashly and irrationally even for his own affairs.

By the time the Guard got to their ‘business place’, guns blazing, there was nobody left to save anymore.

Thankfully for them, there were no cameras on site to catch them dying and reviving, one less worry for Copley. But Andy had been injured, she and the boys had died multiple times to cover her, and they’d left a carnage behind them. It would take days before they could move on to another country without attracting suspicion from the local law enforcement.

Joe drives like a maniac back to their safehouse while Nile debriefs with Copley over the phone. She tries to be as perfunctory as she can while talking of the dead refugees they found inside the abandoned warehouse, the people they should have brought to safety. Instead, they could only avenge their deaths and make sure that that group of traffickers wouldn’t touch anyone else.

It’s still something, she repeats to herself while Copley apologizes somberly and promises to make sure the refugees are identified and reunited with their families, if they still have one. We still did something.

Andy is cursing in the backseat of the car, but by Nicky’s cursory first assessment they should be able to deal with her wound with what they have on hand. As soon as the car stops in front of their place (a rundown and half-empty apartment building on the outskirts of Istanbul), getting her inside and bandaged becomes their first priority. Copley will deal with the clean-up.

They are all covered head to toe in blood, but somehow Nile barely feels it on her skin. She is running on autopilot, keeping her emotions firmly locked away in a corner to be dissected later, when she has time and space to unpack it all.

They’d all warned her that sometimes, trying is not enough. That things can go wrong, that they can make mistakes, that something unexpected can blindside them at the worst possible moment. They’re still humans after all. Nile knows it, has actually never felt more human and fallible as in this specific instance.

I was lucky that it took six years for something to go to shit, she thinks while she showers. She has taken to finding silver linings in every circumstance, to keep herself functioning until she can reach a safe place to freak out in peace.

She’s not ready to think about the massacres they left behind, the one they caused and the one they were too late to stop.  She knows her nightmares will feature too many agonized little faces in the near future, and she won’t forget the snarl that ruptured out of Nicky’s mouth before he launched himself at the closest trafficker anytime soon. She will keep hearing Joe sobbing in Arabic to comfort a boy they found still breathing (not for long), and will keep seeing the look of stony, unbridled rage that painted itself on Andy’s face for a long while yet. She will have to think long and hard about that satisfied thought of hope you suffer, bastard that crossed her mind when she’d shot one of the traffickers in the gut.

But those are all Tomorrow Nile’s problems.

 


 

When she goes back to the living room, however, it’s clear that something else is wrong.

Andy is all cleaned up and bandaged, but is sprawled on the armchair with her eyes closed as if the Ibuprofen had put her in a coma. She isn’t muttering like a grumpy cat, nor is she insisting on checking the perimeter of the apartment, something she does religiously after a difficult mission.

(Nile still remembers the time she tried doing that with a broken ankle, hopping around the house with Joe at her heels ready to haul her back on the sofa. Painkillers have never stopped her before.)

The kitchen is empty. There’s nothing cooking on the stove, no granola bars on the table, like she’s been used to see. Instead, Nicky is sitting on the sofa, hair damp, vacant stare fixed on the front door, barely blinking, hands clutching his knees in a white-knuckled grip. It’s like he’s expecting an enemy commando to barge in at any second, and he can’t bear to give his attention to anything else. She sees him almost jump out of his skin when one of the bedroom doors open and Joe comes out, still putting a clean shirt on, eyes low and hands trembling. They don’t exchange glances, they don’t speak. Joe looks like he could shatter if he so much as sits, so he starts pacing aimlessly, as far away from them as he can while staying in the same room and keeping them in his eyesight.

They didn’t shower together, is the thought that flashes through Nile’s mind, unbidden. It’s pretty silly that this is what alarms her, more than the obviously distressed and unusual behaviours she’s seeing happen in front of her. Joe and Nicky are hardly attached at the hip, in six years she’s seen them exist in the same room without touching or looking at each other thousands of times.

But they always shower together after a mission, especially when at least one of them has died.

None of them is behaving as they usually would after a difficult mission, and Nile suddenly finds herself unmoored by the uncertainty. There has always been something comforting in the eldest immortals’ long-ingrained habits, a security in knowing where each of them would be around the house without having to check that has helped her stay calm and rooted in herself, even when she felt like vibrating out of her own skin with stress and exhaustion.

The silence in the house is deafening. Nile can almost feel her thoughts crawling out of the back of her mind, ready to overwhelm her in the lack of sound and activity. In the jarring wrongness of her family on the verge of falling apart in front of her eyes.

She fights the instinct to run to her room, put on her earphones and drown her thoughts with blasting music. She can’t do that. She wouldn’t feel safe leaving them like this.

“I’m getting something to drink” she mutters, not expecting an answer and not receiving one, before taking refuge in the kitchen. She fishes some water bottles from the fridge, takes a long drink from one, then does the only thing she can think of.

She texts Booker.

 


 

Booker’s hundred-year long exile had taken an unexpected turn after just six months, when Quynh had seemingly emerged from her sea prison, made herself at home in his apartment and proceeded to get to know her youngest brother in her own peculiar way. Starting by throwing away all of his alcohol.

Quynh had had no intention of contacting the other immortals at the time, but Booker had reasoned that Nile would see her changed situation in her dreams soon enough. So he’d called Copley, who’d told them, still flustered at the idea of another immortal he’d known nothing about. He and the Frenchman had played messenger carriers between the Guard and their long-lost member, telling Quynh about Andy’s newly regained mortality, and using any chance they got to ask forgiveness for not having found her sooner.

The second oldest immortal had tentatively accepted their apologies, but insisted she wasn’t ready to meet them in person. She had a lot of issues to work through, she’d told them. She’d wanted to meet Nile, however. As a compromise, Nile went to stay with Booker and Quynh for a few months, wondering if that was how it felt like to be a child of divorced parents.

It had been… interesting to say the least; a mixture of post-graduation road trip and training bootcamp, with impromptu therapy sessions to deal with the many bad days. But it had felt like Quynh and Booker were helping each other heal, and answering Quynh’s questions about the modern age had been fun. She’d gone back to the group with a fairly good grasp of Occitan, a baggage of ancient Vietnamese curses, some new knife-throwing skills and an encrypted FaceTime-like app (thoroughly vetted by Copley) installed in her phone so that Andy, Joe and Nicky could talk to Quynh when she felt like it. Something that had happened with increasing frequency in the last couple of years. Booker’s exile requirements had been relaxed enough that he could keep in touch with Nile and Copley, and even help from far away if needed. Nile knew the elder immortals missed him, but still couldn’t trust him enough to share living space and  missions with him, which was fine for all involved parties.

Nile has relied on Booker a lot during her own bad days, when thoughts of her mom and brother and Jesus Christ I’m going to live for millennia threaten to drown her.

The situation she’s finding herself in seems good reason enough to call for reinforcements.

 


 

N: Mayday

B: How bad was it?

N: Total failure. Ask C for deets.

N:   A injured. High on pk rn. No grumbling.

N:   J&N showered separate.

N:   J is pacing, N is staring at nothing.

N: Never seen them like this. Dunno what 2 do.

B: Merde. Enfants?

N: :(

B: I’m sorry chérie. How r u holding up?

N: not sure I am. Feel like crawling out of my skin.

B: Know the feeling.

B: Which one are u in?

N: Polis.

B: there’s a cupboard in the living room

B: check the lowest drawer

B: you should find some board games

B: Get Monopoly out and suggest a round

N: …? Monopoly? Seriously?

B: Monopoly is to be used only in the direst circumstances, family rules

B: I think the situation u described fits the requirements

B: It sure never failed before

B: Let me know how it goes!

N: Will do.

 

Nile takes a moment to mouth a ‘what the fuck’ at the kitchen sink before pocketing her phone and bringing the water in the living room and go see if Booker wasn’t kidding about the board games. The last piece of advice she would have expected from him was to make them play Monopoly.

The other three don’t bat an eye when she puts the water bottles on the coffee table, nor when she moves towards the cupboard that is indeed in the corner. Nile wonders how on Earth she’s going to gather enough of their attention to suggest playing, let alone keep a match going.

She opens the lowest drawer, and lo and behold: a stack of board games, ranging from fairly recent to pre-World War II. And on the bottom of the pile, an Italian edition of Monopoly, still pristine. The stamp on the lid says 1985, so it’s a recent purchase for her family’s standards. They probably never played with this box.

Seems like Booker is really onto something, she muses. She checks the instruction manual, to see if her Italian level matches the game’s. It takes her a couple of minutes, but between what she remembers of the rules she’s played with in the past and what she learned from Nicky and Joe, she thinks she can get by easily. She has handled enough different currencies in the last six years that the game using lire italiane hardly worries her.

She shouldn’t doubt Booker, really. He may have thoroughly betrayed the group’s trust six years ago, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know them much better than she does. Considering the state of their relations, Nile is also reasonably sure they won’t be upset if they recognize one of his tactics in her suggestion.

Deciding to trust in the Frenchman’s advice, Nile decisively places the Monopoly’s box on the coffee table and starts to open the board, keeping an eye out to see if her fellow immortals are noticing the movement.

Joe has stopped pacing. Nicky’s eyes have migrated from the front door to her forehead, and Andy opens an eye when she hears the dice clack on the table.

“It’s been ages since I played Monopoly. Think you fossils can keep up with me?” She asks, nonchalantly shuffling the stack of Chance cards.

“I want the purple pawn” Andy replies, slowly sitting upright, careful not to dislodge her stitches.

“You know that playing purple doesn’t give you automatic rights on Parco della Vittoria, right?” Joe complains, plopping down on the sofa next to Nicky. His hands have stopped trembling. Nicky’s shoulders relax infinitesimally.

“We’ll see about that”, Andy smirks.

“The new kid plays banker. It’s tradition.” Nicky interjects, softly. His eyes are focused on the board, and he looks more present in himself now.

“That’s very nice of you”, Nile replies, looking up the manual to see how much money to distribute. She starts handing out stacks of banknotes, and observes with some amusement how each of them places the money on their gaming area.

“Don’t be fooled, it’s just because we don’t trust anybody else to handle the money and be able to actually keep count”, Joe counters, debating between the dog and the top hat as his pawn. Neither of them is painted purple.

“Weren’t you a merchant once?”

“I was good at persuading people to buy things from me and to sell me their products, but accounting? I happily left that to my brother.”

“Andy just doesn’t know how much money is worth”, Nicky adds, face serene but tone lifted in affectionate teasing. “She has left hundreds of dollars worth of tips to random waiters in the US because she couldn’t be bothered to check the number on the note.”

“Strangely, that doesn’t surprise me” Nile quips, thinking of the random American waiters who got their lives turned upside down by an immortal woman who doesn’t care to understand the concept of money.

“Says the man who literally took the clothes off his own back to give them to a beggar. Multiple times”, Andy says, accepting the dice from Nile with a regal gesture. She gets a five.

“I may not know the Bible by heart like some Medieval priest at this table, but I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Scriptures about clothing the naked and all that” Nile replies. Nicky sends her a look that she could easily call conspiratorial, and something in her that she didn’t know was tense relaxes.

The game is on.

 


 

“I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE IT!”

Joe hollers in triumph, as Nicky calmly collects a hefty rent from Andy for the third time in a row.

“These dice are loaded. It’s the only explanation.” Andy growls, looking at the board as if it personally insulted her ancestry. “And will you stop cheering for your husband, Yusuf? This is not a team effort!”

“I’m already on the verge of bankruptcy, Andromache. I have chosen to live as Nicolò’s kept man, and for us to enjoy ourselves he needs to be richer. Every lira he accumulates is a win for us both!” Joe replies with a beatific smile and waving languidly at the miserable amount of money left on his stash. The only reason he’s still in the game is because he bought one of the stations early on, and they all seem to end up on that spot pretty regularly.

Nile is desperately trying not to laugh at Joe’s antics, nor at Andy’s utter bad luck. She’s never seen someone pick up so many shitty Community Chest cards, nor end up in prison so many times in a game. She, herself, is in a pretty cushy situation, and being the banker is giving her a bit of a complex.

No wonder billionaires are such horrible people, she thinks, money gets to your head.

Nicky… Nicky is playing as if his and Joe’s livelihood truly depended on what he gains in the game. He has played conservatively in the first few rounds, then bought and built with a clearly well-developed albeit obscure strategy, and with the addition of some lucky card draws, has now turned into a financial shark, dominating the board like a true lord of the land. He’s stricken quite a few hard bargains with Nile and Andy, except then turning around and selling a deed to Joe at market price, almost a gift with a pretty bow on top, making sure that by the next round Joe was generating enough of an income to not go bankrupt.

“If this is how you always play, Nicky, I get why you’re not allowed to be the banker”, she comments even as Joe groans and has to hand her a banknote because he falls on one of her hotels.

“He’s letting out the inner Genovese that still lives in him”, Joe interjects, passing the dice to his husband with the lightest caress between their fingers. “They’re famous for being thrifty, and they did invent the first bank after all.”

“I’m just lucky”, Nicky demurs. “And I’m hardly strategizing, most of this is common sense, really.” He falls on a Community Chest space, picks up a card and promptly grimaces. “See, Andromache? You complained, and now I’m called to give back some of the money I took from you.”

“Yeah, and you’re just ecstatic at the thought, aren’t you?” Andy replies, her smile sharper than a wolf’s, taking the notes from Nicky as if she’s accepting a duel challenge.

Nile is pretty sure she hears him mutter “avevo dei piani per quella somma, in realtà” under his breath, but she’s not going to call him out on it.

“Anyone interested in some deeds of the Electrical Society?”

 


 

“You cheater. Nile, back me up, this is cheating!”

Andy has to repeat herself because whatever she said did not come out in English and Nile is not sure she wants to know how long ago that language has gone extinct.

“Se le regole non lo vietano si può fare, Andy, lo sai” Nicky replies, looking for all intents and purposes as if he didn’t just blatantly save Joe’s ass for the third time in the match.

“Yusuf, tell your husband to stop coddling you and lose like a man!” Andy snarls around a bite of olive focaccia, angrily munching in Joe’s direction.

Joe, who has been slowly sprawling deeper and deeper into the couch as the game started dragging into the second hour, stops nibbling on his own cheese-laden bread piece and shrugs. “I’m not going to add my input on this conversation, Andy. I’ve been playing by inertia for the last… fifteen rounds, I think?”

Andy throws a pillow at him, and Nile almost chokes when Nicky’s hand catches it in mid-air before it can collide on Joe’s face, and promptly sends it back.

Now, this is what I’m used to with Monopoly, Nile thinks when Nicky and Andy start bickering in a language that sounds familiar but she can’t pinpoint. Even without knowing it she can guess that insults are flying.

The board is now a mess of tokens, houses, cards, bottle taps and peanut skins. Around the hour mark, Nicky had noticed the lack of food on the table and, since he’d ended up in prison, he’d raided the kitchen and brought back enough snacks to constitute a dinner. The more the game went on, the more quips and jabs in increasingly variable languages were exchanged. It had turned into a sleepover.

She exchanges a look with Joe, who isn’t doing anything to stop the arguing. His eyes are sparkling with laughter and when she raises an eyebrow in question, he just shrugs.

“Well, Nicky, maybe it’s not cheating, but it’s a bit against the point of the game, don’t you think?” She muses during a pause in the argument. Nicky and Andy turn to look at her, and she feels like two tigers just zeroed in on her.

“Also, Andy…” she waves a hand over the board. “I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, you know? Keeping Joe afloat? Every time he’s given him something, it’s actually aided his own game. He’s just so much of a sap that Joe’s financial health is literally part of his strategy!”

Nile is surprised by her own words. It really occurred to her as she was explaining it out loud, but it’s actually what’s going on. They really are two saps, Jesus.

Andy looks flabbergasted for a second, then snorts and shakes her head, completely amused by the thought. “Why am I even surprised?! Of course he doesn’t even know he’s doing it!” The only thing stopping her from exploding in a full belly laugh is her wound.

Joe looks up at Nicky with stars in his eyes, murmurs a heartfelt habibi and drags Nicky into his arms. “You didn’t have to do that, heart of my heart. Let me lose, so I can cheer for you openly. You can destroy our sisters much more easily if you don’t have me dragging out your game!”

Nile and Andy sputter in outrage at the affirmation, and Nicky hums in contemplation, as if weighing his options, then presses a kiss on Joe’s cheek and nods decisively. “You are wisdom personified, anima mia. I’ll do as you say.”

Now, this is not an insult Nile can let go unchallenged. “Destroy your sisters my ass. I’ve been going easy on you, bro. Get ready for the big guns.”

Andy actually cracks her knuckles, to emphasize the point. Nicky looks at them for a long second, before letting his mouth stretch in a smile as sharp as a bear trap.

“Fatevi sotto, signore.”

 


 

Nicky wins.

But it takes him two additional hours. Nile had been holding out on them, because she was being considerate, thank you very much.

Joe has fallen asleep at some point, his head on Nicky’s lap the only thing stopping him from gesticulating too wildly in some more heated phases.

Every scrap of food on the table has been eaten, the water bottles are all empty, and the clock on her phone tells her it’s 2 AM. Nile is sprawled on the floor, stomach full, eyes unfocused and mind fuzzy with the happy exhaustion of a long gaming session.

“If you dare say that it was a pleasure doing business with us, Nicky, I’m going to break all your fingers”, she grumbles, observing Nicky tidying up the game pieces to put them back on the box.

“I wasn’t going to say it, sorellina” he replies, smiling down at her.

“He may be a little shit, but at least he’s a gracious winner” Andy adds, rolling her head clockwise to make her neck crick.

“Don’t call my husband a little shit, Andy” Joe grumbles from the sofa. He could sleep through a bombing, but somehow always wakes up when he hears Andy call Nicky ‘a little shit’. Nile once theorized it was a Pavlovian reaction. “Did you win, ya amar?”

“I did, but Nile was a worthy opponent.” Nicky murmurs, gently smoothing a crease on Joe’s t-shirt when he passes next to him. Joe mumbles a ‘good’ and scrunches his nose, seemingly unsure between falling asleep again and moving towards waking up.

The silence enveloping them now is gentler, calmer. It feels like the air after a thunderstorm, when all the electricity has been discharged and all that’s left is the smell of petrichor and the whisper of a breeze.

“You should tell Booker we haven’t killed each other, you know?” Andy’s voice, soft as a caress, breaks the bubble. Nile turns to her, surprised. “It was his idea, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah…” Nile says, raising on her elbows to look at the others. They don’t look upset, just thoughtful. “He told me where to find the board games.” She swallows, needing a second to brace herself. “I was a bit out of my depth.”

Andy’s eyes look grey with sadness in the low lamplight. “We were a mess, weren’t we, kid?”

“He’s always been good at distracting us when we were spiraling”, Joe murmurs, fidgeting with the ring on his finger. “Always betting that he would finally beat Nicolò at poker…”

“Not that he ever did” Nicky adds, closing the lid on the box. His hands are steady and his face is smooth, but his voice trembles slightly. “The only bets he’s ever won with me were over Andy’s tastebuds. Baklava or otherwise.”

“And football games”, Joe corrects gently, reaching for one of Nicky’s hands. His husband accepts the clear invitation, sitting woodenly down on the floor, so his head is level with Joe’s on the sofa.

“He did that with Quynh, too. Whenever she had a bad day, he would pick up a stack of cards and teach me a new game. After a few hands, Quynh always started looking at us and then asked to play. She always trounced us after two rounds.” Nile reminisces, thinking of a memorable game of Scala Quaranta that had left both her and Booker with no dignity whatsoever.

Andy laughs wetly. “My beloved was always good with cards. It’s good Booker is teaching her the new games, he knows so many of them”. Her voice breaks on the last sentence.

She sniffs, pinching the bridge of her nose. Then, she raises her eyes decisively, and stares at Nile. “I’m sorry you had to pull us out of our asses, Nile.”

“Hey, none of that.” Nile counters, sitting up fully. “You’re allowed to feel like shit too, you know? I wasn’t going to just leave you guys here staring at the walls until next morning. I wasn’t exactly feeling peachy either.”

“We still keep underestimating you, huh, azizti?” Joe’s tone is a mix of amused resignation and soft brotherly pride. It feels like one of his hugs.

Nile shrugs, a small smile on her lips, ready to give a teasing retort on how she is still the kid after all, when Nicky’s strangled voice interrupts her.

“We should be better at this. At making you feel safe. We should…” He clenches his jaw so tight Nile is sure she heard his teeth crack, and his face suddenly crumples like a collapsing wall, and the next moment he’s sobbing on the crook of his elbow.

“Oh, Nico…” Joe whispers, his eyes filling as he slides down to the floor and wraps himself around his husband’s body, looking for comfort as much as giving it. Nicky is moaning mi dispiace, mi dispiace under his breath like a chant, a chant countered by Joe’s anche a me, anche a me, just as broken.

Nile stares at them, wide-eyed and confused, until it dawns on her.

It’s not her, or each other, they’re apologizing to.

Oh, she thinks, swallowing through the lump lodging itself in her throat. She looks towards Andy, and sees that the woman is crying too, but silently, tear tracks cutting through her cheekbones, a sculpture of a grieving goddess.

They had relaxed. They were safe. They could let it out now.

Nile bites her lip hard enough to draw blood, and crawls over to the older woman, her mentor, her rock, her sister, and Andy’s hand is on the nape of her neck as soon as she’s within reach, and gently guides her head to her thigh, because she can hardly bend to hug her with her injury but at this point Nile doesn’t give a fuck, she just needs –

She doesn’t know for how long she sobs against Andy’s thigh, but at some point she feels Nicky’s hand on her shoulder moving her towards his chest, and she sees Joe gently maneuvering Andy out of the armchair to sit with them on the floor, and then they’re all gathered in a cuddle pile, arms and legs tangled in a mess, heads bowed and sharing breaths, sobbing and sniffling.

An indefinite time later, when the worst of the grief has washed over them, they listen to each other’s breathing, synchronizing their rhythms, grounding each other on their points of contact. It’s the best Nile has felt in hours.

“I don’t wanna sleep alone tonight”, she whispers in the empty space at the centre of their circle.

“And you won’t have to”, Andy states, almost commanding. “I’m not letting anyone of you out of my sight tonight. It’s an order.”

“Seconded” Joe and Nicky whisper in unison, then letting out a chuckle, as if it wasn’t a normal occurrence for them to end each other’s sentences.

“We just need a pillow fort and then we’ll have officially done a family sleepover…” Nile muses, letting her head loll on Nicky’s shoulder. It’s ridiculously comfortable.

She doesn’t notice Joe and Andy exchange a look over her head, but she hears Joe take a deep breath and then ask, tentatively: “Um, Nile? What’s a pillow fort?”

Nile blinks in bafflement. Then, she decisively rises from the ground and plants her fists on her hips. “Oh, I’m so going to blow all of your minds. Get up, boys. We’re going pillow hunting.”

 


 

B: Hey Nile? U guys still alive?

B: Did it work?

N: Yup. U people have a fucking switch, istg

N: also N is a Monopoly monster

N: We’re going 2 sleep now

N: [attached picture]

Q: what a nice tent

Q: are you going to sleep there?

N: Oh hi Q

N: yeah it’s called a pillow fort

N: none of us wanted 2 sleep alone but I draw the line at sleeping on the floor with no pillows

N: A is not immune to backaches anymore

B: Don’t expect her to accept that justification for long

B: glad Monopoly worked btw

B: did A get Parco della Vittoria at least?

N: Nope. I got that one. ;)

B: VINDICATION

B: [attached gif]

N: DID U JUST REACTION GIF ME

N: OMG I’M SO PROUD OF U BRO

Q: Sébastien, why does that picture move?

B: I’m literally next to you, Quynh. You can just ask me.

Q: Never mind. Nile.

Q: Sébastien has been showing me around Aotearoa.

Q: It has proven to be very relaxing and conducive to our peace of mind.

Q: I think it’s time I meet with my little brothers and my heart again.

Q: Since you clearly need a break from your activities, would you like to join us?

N: HOLY SHIT U SERIOUS?!

N: THEY’RE GONNA GO APESHIT OVER THIS

N: I’LL LITERALLY HAVE 2 STOP A FROM STEALING A PLANE

B: Whenever you guys are free to move

B: we can discuss living arrangements later if they’re ok with it

B: Now PLEASE go to sleep, you need it

Q: Goodnight Nile.

N: yeah yeah ok I’ll let u know nighty night!

 


 

“You coming, Nile?”

She looks up from the phone and peeks inside the pillow fort, where Andy is waiting for her, still on her knees, while Nicky and Joe have already reached their standard sleeping position, a spooning so tight Nile is sure they actually share a heartbeat.

Nile turns the phone off, gets rid of the shoes and crawls inside, plopping down next to the mound of pillows that is going to be Andy’s designated spot. She’d protested, but had been thoroughly outvoted from sleeping directly on the floor.

Nile is sure she won’t be able to sleep now – Quynh wants to meet them all! In New Zealand of all places! She’s always wanted to go there, and this will be the first time Andy and the guys see Quynh in person after five hundred years… She knows how much Andy aches for her lover, and so does Quynh, even if she never said it out loud. And Booker! They’ll have to find separate lodgings, won’t they? She’ll have to ring Copley to ask him how to get them on the other side of the world –

“Come lie down, sorellina. I can hear you thinking from here.” Nicky’s voice interrupts her thought flow, and she turns to see his barely open eyes, shards of sea glass looking at her with tenderness. He disentangles a hand from Joe’s grip and pats the space in front of him. “Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.”

Nile lets out a huff of laughter. “Yeah, I guess it can”, she mumbles, picking up a pillow and crawling closer to Nicky, before lying down facing him. She hears some shuffling behind her, and then Andy is at her back, a mirror parenthesis to Joe on the other end, her axe over their heads but still within arm’s reach. The older woman gently wraps an arm around Nile’s stomach, and Joe reaches out to place a hand over said arm, keeping them both under his touch. Nicky reaches over and takes one of Nile’s hands in his large one, and all of a sudden Nile feels all the muscles in her body relax.

Ok, maybe I’m more tired than I thought, she thinks blearily. But before letting sleep envelop her, she wants to tell them. It’s a silver lining she can offer, something to look up for in the near future. Heaven knows they all need it.

“Quynh and Booker are in New Zealand. She’s invited us to go stay with them for a while, if we feel like it.”

They’re physically connected in so many places that she feels the moment the words and their implications register in all their minds. Andy’s breath hitches somewhere on the back of Nile’s neck, Nicky’s hand squeezes hers for a moment and Joe’s eyes appear behind his husband’s shoulder, to look down at Nile in wonder.

“All of us?” Andy’s voice is small, unsure. It tastes like hope you don’t dare express, but can’t help from feeling.

“I don’t think she would refer to either of these two oafs as her heart, Andy. Yes, all of us.”

The boys snort, even as Andy lets herself break into a smile against Nile’s braids, squeezing her tighter in happiness and gratitude.

“She’s definitely called us worse names than that”, Joe laughs. “But oafs, now that’s a new one. And here I was, ready and eager to teach my baby sister how to surf!”

“Nicky, is there something your husband over there can’t do?” Nile asks, giggling in unison with Andy. She can’t stop smiling, and Joe looks incredibly satisfied by it.

“Play Monopoly”, Nicky answers, deadpan, eyes closed and the smallest smile on his lips. Joe groans dramatically, but also immediately smothers his laugh against Nicky’s neck, curls falling over the Genovese’s jaw.

They let the laughter subside naturally, and then breaths deepen, eyes droop, muscles relax, and slowly, gently, sleep lays over them.

Tomorrow, Nile will write Quynh and Booker to enthusiastically approve of their plan. Andy will ask Copley to find them a way out of Turkey and to the other side of the world, for a needed break. Tomorrow, they’ll walk down the road to healing from the pain and suffering they weren’t able to stop.

And like always, they’ll walk it together.