Nile chokes back a sob as she peers through her scope. Half a mile away, and a whole world apart, Jacob takes the stage. A cheer erupts from the crowd. He is brilliant and smiling in his cap and gown, the picture of success. Pain and pride swell in Nile’s chest, the combination threatening to overwhelm her.
On the stage Jacob takes his diploma and shakes a professor's hand before walking down the steps to more cheers. Nile watches him join a crowd of his peers who greet him with high fives and open arms. In the crowd she has already picked out the back of her mother’s head.
Tears obscure the optic and Nile is forced to pull her eye off the scope long enough to wipe it clean with her shirt. Behind her, Quynh shifts to place a supportive hand on her back. She had insisted on accompanying Nile and thus far her presence has been the only thing keeping Nile from breaking down completely.
Nile sags back into Quynh’s arms as she watches Jacob go to join their mother. “It just hurts,” she says, another tear splashing down her cheek.
Quynh hums and nuzzles her face into Nile’s neck. Just providing a warm presence.
“I just- I always thought I would be there to congratulate him myself, you know?” Nile feels Quynh nod into her neck. “I never thought he would have to go through this alone.”
“I do not think he was alone,” says Quynh, “look.”
Nile peers back out at where Jacob is hugging their mother, surrounded by his friends.
“I know it is not the same as if you were there with him but he is loved. And you helped get him there.”
Nile snorts, “He would have gotten scholarships whether I made Copley fake one or not. Turns out having two dead vets in the family is great for college apps.”
Quynh frowns at the bitterness in Nile’s voice. “I must admit, I do not know exactly what that means. But I do think you should be more kind to yourself.”
“To myself? I’m the one who abandoned them, I deserve no kindness here.”
“Nile, you were thrust into an impossible situation that you could never have been ready for. And you have approached it with grace and aplomb. I know that that doesn’t take away the pain and the loss but I for one am very glad you did not die that day.”
Nile shifts a little, “I mean, I kinda did though.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” she sighs, “I guess I am too. Thank you, Quynh.”
“Anything for you, little sister.” Quynh cups Nile’s head in her hands and presses a kiss to the younger immortal’s forehead. “It will keep hurting, that never goes away. I myself still dream of my sisters some nights.”
An expression of surprise crosses Nile’s face. Quynh has only passingly mentioned her family before.
“I… I do not remember their faces any more. They were blurry even before and then the sea stole the remainders from me. But I remember their laughs and smiles. The way it felt when we braided each other’s hair. How it felt to be young and inseparable.” She chuckles, wrapping her arms around Nile. “Every one of them died before their time. Sickness, childbirth, injury. I was the last. I still am the last...”
Nile leans into Quynh’s hug and presses her face into the woman’s chest. They sit together in comfortable silence; watching the last of the graduates cross the stage.
As the crowd begins to trickle from the stands Nile and Quynh extract themselves from each other’s arms and stand to leave. The rooftop they had been spying from was set far enough away from the stadium that no one would see them go.
“Thank you for coming with me, Quynh.”
“Like I said, anything for my little sister.”
“I didn’t ask though.”
“I know you well enough that you didn’t have to.”
Nile smiles and wraps an arm around Quynh as they trace their steps back to the building’s stairwell. The loss of her family still hurt. And it would continue hurting for a long time. But as long as it did her new family would be beside her to help her along.