The door hasn't miraculously unlocked itself or gotten any flimsier since the last time Nile tried to open it, but hope springs eternal. It feels better to be doing something at least, even something as futile as kicking a steel-lined door than sitting with Nicky, who Nile thinks might actually be meditating. He's been in the corner of the room with his legs drawn up to his chest since almost as soon as they were thrown in here.
'Nile, please do not worry.'
Nile twitches at Nicky's soft voice but doesn't look at him. Can't look at him, not right now. Not with the looming threat of this room hanging over them. Whatever he's going to say is going to be some useless platitude and she doesn't need that right now.
'I am confident our family will be here before anything untoward should happen.'
'But if they are not, I assure you,' continues Nicky, seeming not to notice how tense her shoulders are. 'I have been with a woman before, I know exactly what to do here.'
Not like that. That one stands out.
Nile turns her head very slowly towards Nicky, wondering if she misheard him. He blinks his big placid cow eyes at her, nothing on his face showing any awareness of how insane he sounds.
Nicky blinks at her some more. She's noticed that he blinks slightly out of sync, his left eye closing a fraction before his right. She focuses on that, using it to ground herself in the face of how surreal this conversation is turning out to be.
'If the worst should occur,' says Nicky, in the same tone he uses to say things like, pass me the ammunition, or, I am going to the store - would you like anything? 'And we must consummate this sham of a marriage, I know what to do. I have experience in these matters.'
There's a record scratch noise echoing in Nile's ears. Never in her life has someone suggested they'd have sex with her while looking and sounding like that. Nicky looks like a Catholic martyr waiting to die.
It wasn't either of their first choices, but with Andy nursing a broken wrist in the last stages of healing, and the rumoured vicious Islamophobia of the cult, all of their usual couples-infiltration tactics were unusable. Nile would like to be able to say that's a logical reason why she's now half-married to Nicky according to the foundations of an extremist end of the world cult, but really, none of this is logical.
Another exceptionally illogical thing is the sudden and intense grim curiosity consuming Nile at the thought of what the fuck Nicky might be talking about, because as far as she understood, he and Joe had been one soul in two bodies for nine hundred years.
Nile sits down across the room from Nicky, both of them on either side of the terrible little pallet bed they've been provided with for the "ceremony".
'Nicky,' says Nile gently, looking him over in case he's injured his head at some point and she's going to have to inform his husband that she somehow broke Nicky on their first solo mission together. 'What the fuck are you talking about.'
'I am very proficient in understanding the workings of the clitoris and the vagina,' says Nicky easily, still blinking calmly at Nile, who struggles not to choke on the hysterical laugh that wants to break out of her. 'You needn't worry it will be an unpleasant experience for you, should we be forced to consummate this farcical marriage before Joe can rescue us, or before the Children of the Righteous Dawn can kill us.'
Some distant part of Nile's brain wonders if she wrote this conversation down she'd be able to submit it for that bad sex in writing award Jay used to love. The more immediate part of Nile's brain is busy recoiling in disgust. Nicky is a very handsome man, she's not denying that, but between his and Joe's obvious and extremely enjoyed monogamy, and the clinical tone of voice, this is about as sexy a conversation as that time Nile's grandmother tried to explain tampons to her.
'I… don't think it'll come to that, Nicky,' says Nile, carefully, fighting to keep her eyebrows from raising any further than they already have. 'But I'm glad to know you have, um. Theoretical? knowledge of the proceedings.'
'Please, Nile,' Nicky begins, frowning for the first time. 'I have practical knowledge also.'
There's a voice in Nile's head screaming at her not to ask for details, that she won't want to know, but the part of her brain that makes her want to look at car crashes is far more powerful.
'What practical knowledge?' asks Nile helplessly, fully aware she might be about to hear about some historical orgy straight out of Game of Thrones.
'I have delivered now four healthy babies,' says Nicky, utterly serious. Nile thinks maybe the cult drugged them before they locked them in the Honeymoon Suite, and somehow the drug was strong enough to overcome their healing factor. It's the only explanation.
'And I have lived with Andy for almost seven hundred years,' Nicky continues, which yeah, Nile has to give him that one. 'And I have had coitus with a woman. Once.' Nicky looks a little unsure at that, frowning at his lap the way he does when he's thinking hard about something. 'Yes,' he says finally, nodding to himself. 'Yes, I was involved enough there for it to count.'
What the fuck does that mean? thinks Nile.
'Nicky, what the fuck does that mean?' asks Nile.
'Ah,' Nicky looks unsure again, rubbing at his chin as he thinks. 'In the 16th century? Possibly the 17th, I'm not sure which, Joe and I brought a woman to our bed.' Abruptly serious, Nicky looks straight at Nile. 'Don't worry, Nile, we were very respectful- we would never dishonour a woman or besmirch her reputation, she approached us first. She was a widow, you understand.'
Almost all of the time, Nicky sounded just like any other guy. A little old fashioned maybe, but Nile put that down more to his soft voice and strong accent than anything else. Right now she feels like she's reading some salacious harlequin romance written by an accountant.
'Of course, Nicky,' she says, trying to hide how much she wants to laugh at the earnest look on his face. 'I never doubted you.'
Nicky nods, the lines of his face softening again.
'Well, we brought her to our rooms. Joe–he was Josef then, and he had such long hair, it suited him so nicely, and the fashion at that time was smooth legs under stockings so he had tried one of the parlours where they took beeswax–'
There he goes again, thinks Nile fondly, relaxing back against the wall. Nicky's hands have been draped loosely over his bent knees the entire time they've been trapped together, but now his usual gestures are slipping out as he tells Nile in detail how Joe was the hottest piece of ass in 16th-maybe-17th-century-Paris.
'And Melinda,' continues Nicky, before he pauses and thinks. 'Yes, that was her name, apologies Nile, I was off track. Melinda had ideas involving someone-' Nicky's voice breaks just the tiniest bit, and red slips into his cheeks. 'Melinda wanted someone inside her, while someone else used their tongue. Joe is very good at using his tongue, and-and it was no hardship to, to be with her while Joe worked. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening, although I will admit, I mostly remember Joe's legs.'
Nile looks at him. He's squirming, but not like the memory of some long-ago threesome has his blood moving. More like he's embarrassed. Nile smiles at him, helplessly fond. In the grand scheme of their lives, she hasn't known Nicky that long, but long enough to know that he really is a sweetheart.
'That's it?' asks Nile, tilting her head and smiling at him. 'That's your practical experience?'
'Well,' says Nicky, shrugging, his hands back loosely over his knees. 'What is relevant, in any case.'
'Thank you, Nicky,' Nile starts, trying not to laugh, and about to reassure him that they'll figure something else out far before it becomes necessary to increase his practical knowledge, when the heavy door groans. They both turn to look at it, tensing in readiness for whatever might be on the other side, when it pops open on silent hinges to reveal a grinning Joe.
'Are we having a happy honeymoon, lovebirds?'
Nile's never been so happy to see Joe's shit-eating grin. From the corner of her eye, she can see Nicky smiling back at him.
'Like Cairo, ‘66,' says Nicky, hopping to his feet and holding out a hand for Nile. She takes it without hesitation, standing and holding her arms out to Joe for a hug.
Joe laughs as he embraces her, speaking over her shoulder at Nicky.
'That good, my love? You'll make me jealous.'
'He's my man now,' says Nile, squeezing Joe around the waist. 'You can fight me for him. He has "practical experience ".'
Nicky laughs and pats her on the shoulder as he passes her by on the way out the door, lifting a gun from Joe's waistband as he goes.
Nile tells Joe about their conversation that night as she makes tea for them in the safe house. Nicky's been in the bath for an hour, the one indulgence other than good food and Joe that Nile's ever really seen him enjoy.
'And then he said,' says Nile, laughing helplessly, 'that all he really remembers from the night is your legs. I gotta tell you Joe, I love your husband, but I don't think I believe he has "practical experience" with "the clitoris and the vagina".' Nile tries her best to match the cadence of Nicky's voice.
Joe laughs, deep and from his chest, before he shrugs, smiling down at his mug.
'I've never had any complaints,' he says easily, winking at her.
Nile opens her mouth to respond when something about Joe's expression sinks in and gives her pause.
'He's always known his way around mine very well,' continues Joe easily, reaching for the teapot to top up his drink. The world shifts momentarily, and then realigns itself for Nile.
'He's just not into women though, or family,' Joe says, almost idly. He looks up through his eyelashes at Nile, something very serious under the humour on his face. 'Or making young women afraid of him, even by someone else's force.' He takes a sip of his drink, humming happily. 'Thank you for the tea, Nile.' Joe stands, and rounds the table, his mug held carefully away from her. 'I must go fish my silly husband out of the bath before he dissolves.'
Nile lifts her face to Joe's mouth as he leans down to kiss her as he passes, his soft beard scratching gently against her cheek as his lips brush her cheekbone. She has some thinking to do, it seems, starting with the way she now realises that every single second they were in that room together, she could see Nicky's hands, and he made himself smaller than her.
She can hear Nicky now, can hear laughter and splashing and the warm murmur of fond voices from the bathroom across the hall from the kitchen, and she smiles into her tea.
She was afraid, she remembers. Maybe not of Nicky specifically, but still, she was scared. And then she wasn't. By the end, she was laughing.